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His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the first National Assembly of Bhutan in 1953. It was based on an eight-articled document called Bangzhung lhami sidey chigdril gi chimi tshogtam. The translation means ‘Manifesto of the people’s government consisting of representatives of humans and gods’. The document was adopted at the Namgyal Tse Tshogkhang in Punakha Dzong. The founding document of the National Assembly was later referred to as ‘Rules and regulations governing the functioning of the National Assembly’.

The Assembly started with 36 members - five representatives from dratshang (Monastic Body), sixteen nominated government officials and 15 representatives of the people. All of them were signatories to the founding document.

There are three reasons for the establishment of the National Assembly:

  • The representatives of the people shall assemble to articulate the issues of the people and provide solutions to their problems.
  • The Assembly will come up with plans and ideas to benefit the development of the kingdom and strengthen it.
  • The Assembly will record accounts of revenues in the Kingdom as well as annual expenditure incurred for the government and for development purposes.

The Paro Dzongtsab, Dasho Kesang Dawa, was the first Speaker of the Assembly.

After the formation of the National Assembly and its first session in Punakha Dzong, the subsequent sessions were held in Thimphu Tashichho Dzong (2nd-13th), in Paro Rinpung Dzong (14th 28th), and then again in Tashichho Dzong (29th 73rd). Since 1993, the National Assembly sessions were held in the present Parliament building (Gyalyong Tshonkhang).

Over the years, the number of National Assembly members increased to 150. 99 of them were elected representatives of the people; 6 Royal Advisory Councilors, 35 nominated representatives from the government and 10 from the clergy.

Powers of the National Assembly

The National Assembly of Bhutan was the unicameral Parliament of Bhutan until the introduction of Parliamentary democracy following which Bhutan got its bicameral Parliament (National Council and National Assembly). It had been the highest decision-making body in the country.

The 1954 constitution of the National Assembly had that His Majesty reserved the right to amend all its decisions. However, in 1968 it was decided that from then on the decisions of the National Assembly would be final and binding and not even His Majesty would be permitted to amend them. If He had misgivings about the soundness of the Assembly’s decisions, He would address the Assembly to propose to reconsider the decisions. His Majesty the King proposed to make the National Assembly a sovereign institution and the Assembly members endorsed it.

Strengthening the National Assembly as a supreme body, His Majesty introduced the vote of no confidence in monarchy despite the Assembly’s outright rejection in three consecutive sessions. The introduction of vote of no confidence in the Monarchy meant the King surrendering his veto power and vesting all the legislative power in the National Assembly.

In 1998, His Majesty the Fourth King empowered the National Assembly to elect the council of ministers who would be entrusted with the responsibility to take care of the governance affairs of the country. The Assembly was also empowered to develop a mechanism for registering a vote of confidence in King.

The National Assembly was formally dissolved in 2007 in the lead-up to Bhutan’s historic transition to parliamentary democracy in 2007 – exactly after 100 years of progressive monarchical rule.

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