June 21, 2024

Bhutan Elections 2024: Analysis and its Geopolitical Implications

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By: Pinkle Gogoi, Research Analyst, GSDN

Bhutan: source Internet/


The recent victory of Bhutan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the National Assembly elections holds significant implications for the nation’s foreign policy, particularly its ties with India. Economic recovery took centre stage during the election campaign, with the PDP emphasizing a commitment to modernizing bilateral relations through investment and commercial ties with Indian cities like Mumbai and Bangalore.

The article discusses the evolving foreign policy dynamics, noting the shift in power from the outgoing Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) party to the PDP. Despite the economic focus of the election, cooperation with India remained a key theme among all major parties, with the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party explicitly underlining the need for closer ties with New Delhi.

Historically, Bhutan has had to delicately balance relations with its large neighbours, particularly China and India. The 2017 Doklam standoff and subsequent developments in Bhutan-China boundary talks have added complexity to the diplomatic landscape. The article highlights the differing threat perceptions of Bhutan and India concerning China, with Bhutan primarily concerned about herders from the north swamping its remote hinterlands.

While Bhutan’s relations with China have intensified in recent years, its unique and trust-filled relationship with India has been sustained by regular high-level visits, dialogues, and socio-economic support. India has played a pivotal role in Bhutan’s economic development, particularly in the hydropower sector.

The article also discusses the potential opening of a Chinese embassy in Thimphu and its implications for India. It notes the delicate balance Bhutan maintains between its neighbors, guided by its sensitivity to India’s security concerns. The recent visit of Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to India in November 2023 set the stage for enhanced connectivity and economic cooperation between India and Bhutan.

The focus on improving India-Bhutan connectivity, the development of the first-ever rail connection between Bhutan’s Gelephu and Assam’s Kokrajhar, and the exploration of new avenues for economic and commercial ties were key outcomes of the royal visit. The article underscores that hydropower cooperation is likely to remain central to the India-Bhutan bilateral economic partnership.

As the newly-elected Tobgay government takes charge, the article anticipates a continuation of efforts to strengthen bilateral ties. It emphasizes the significance of ongoing projects and agreements, highlighting areas such as trade, technology, cross-border connectivity, and mutual investments. The Tobgay government is expected to seek additional funds from India for Bhutan’s economic stimulus package, maintaining a guided approach in pursuing relations with India.

Elections 2024

The runoff election held in Bhutan on January 09, 2024 resulted in Tshering Tobgay and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) claiming victory over their opponents. They defeated former bureaucrat Pema Chewang and the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP).

The PDP secured a significant win, capturing 30 out of the 47 seats in the national legislature. The election saw the participation of 3.2 lakh out of the registered 5 lakh Bhutanese voters.

This victory comes after a primary election in November 2023, where three parties, including Lotay Tshering’s ruling centre-left Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa party, were ousted.

Tshering Tobgay, aged 58, is noted for his background as a conservationist and a former civil servant. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University. Tobgay founded the liberal People’s Democratic Party in 2007 and had previously served as the prime minister from 2013 to 2018.

It will be interesting to observe the developments and policies that Tshering Tobgay and the PDP implement during their term in office.

The report highlights Bhutan’s democratic process as a promising and transparent model, contrasting it with the situations in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where election fairness is often a subject of concern. Even after the incumbent’s removal in November, Bhutan maintained a peaceful political transition without reported crackdowns, violence, or imprisonment of opposition figures on politically motivated charges. 
Indeed, Bhutan’s transition from a monarchy to a parliamentary democracy in 2008 is a remarkable accomplishment. Despite retaining a symbolic role for the monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, actual political authority lies with elected officials, reflecting the country’s commitment to democratic principles.

The evolution of Bhutan’s democratic system over the past 15 years is noteworthy. From the initial elections that featured only two competing parties, the recent runoff election involved five candidates. This growth in the number of candidates suggests a maturing democratic process and a broadening political landscape.

Furthermore, the shift in election dynamics is evident in the candidates’ engagement with specific promises and positions. In contrast to earlier elections, candidates in the recent race presented more defined stances, providing voters with a more nuanced and challenging decision-making process. This development signals the increased sophistication of Bhutan’s democratic framework and the growing engagement of both candidates and voters in the political process.

The continued progress of Bhutan’s democracy is a positive sign for the nation’s political development, showcasing a commitment to expanding political participation and fostering a genuinely competitive and vibrant democratic environment.


The backdrop of Bhutan’s recent election was marked by significant economic challenges. The nation’s tourism industry is grappling with the prolonged impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a staggering 29 percent youth unemployment rate adds to the economic woes. With over half of Bhutan’s population under 30 years old, classified as ‘youth,’ addressing youth unemployment becomes a critical concern.

Furthermore, data indicates that one in eight individuals in Bhutan is currently “struggling to meet their basic needs for food” and other essentials. Over the past five years, Bhutan’s GDP has shown sluggish growth, averaging around 1.7 percent. This economic stagnation has contributed to a surge in young people emigrating from Bhutan, seeking better opportunities, with destinations like Australia becoming increasingly popular.

The economic challenges present a complex backdrop for the recently elected Tshering Tobgay and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Their victory comes at a time when the country is grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, high youth unemployment, and a slow GDP growth rate. Addressing these economic concerns is likely to be a priority for the new government as it takes office, with a focus on revitalizing key sectors and exploring strategies to retain and create opportunities for the youth population.

Geopolitical Implications

India remains a key player in Bhutan’s political and economic landscape, acting as the country’s largest donor and ally. The recent election victory of Tshering Tobgay and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) comes at a critical juncture as Bhutan faces economic challenges, with India expected to play a crucial role in the nation’s recovery.

India is actively involved in funding various infrastructure projects in Bhutan, with a newly announced railway project being among them. Bhutan, known for its untapped hydroelectric potential, presents an opportunity for collaboration with India, making it a potentially lucrative client.

Despite the strong ties between India and Bhutan, the region has been a stage for tensions involving China. The Doklam border region, claimed by both China and Bhutan, witnessed clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017. Recent satellite photos released by India’s NDTV purportedly show a Chinese military presence on land claimed by Bhutan. Bhutan, while not maintaining formal diplomatic relations with China, engaged in joint cooperation with Beijing under the previous Prime Minister, Lotay Tshering. He signed a cooperation agreement in October 2023, outlining the responsibilities of a joint technical team in delineating the border between the two nations.

The article underscores the delicate geopolitical balance Bhutan must navigate, caught between the longstanding alliance with India and the complexities arising from its proximity to China. The evolving dynamics in the region will likely be a significant factor in shaping Bhutan’s foreign policy and economic strategies under the new government.


The recently elected Bhutan Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, is perceived as pro-India, marking a significant shift in the country’s political landscape and offering a boost to India’s strategic interests in the region. This contrast in diplomatic inclinations becomes crucial against the backdrop of recent tensions involving Bhutan and China.

Tobgay’s pro-India stance has been acknowledged by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, extended his congratulations to Tobgay via Twitter (now X). In his tweet, Modi expressed his “heartiest congratulations” to Tobgay, referring to him as a friend, and conveyed anticipation for working together to strengthen the “unique ties of friendship and cooperation” between India and Bhutan.

The congratulatory message from Modi underscores the importance India places on fostering strong and cooperative relations with Bhutan under Tobgay’s leadership. As the geopolitical dynamics in the region continue to evolve, Tobgay’s pro-India position is likely to play a crucial role in shaping regional alliances and partnerships.

The article concludes by highlighting the potential collaborative efforts expected between India and Bhutan under Tobgay’s premiership, further solidifying the close friendship and cooperation that has long characterized the relationship between the two nations.


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