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02/23/2024 Bhutan (International Christian Concern) – The small Himalayan country of Bhutan held elections for Prime Minister last month. Boasting a population of less than a million people, Bhutan has only recently transitioned to a governance of democracy, with this election marking the fourth in its history.

In contrast to neighboring Bangladesh and India, little corruption or public disturbance characterized this election. With a voter turnout of more than 75% and “no reported violence, nor crackdowns or boycotts,” according to Foreign Policy, Bhutan’s election was a success.

The religious freedom conditions in Bhutan, however, are unlikely to change. Achieving reelection to his position as Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay is a practicing Buddhist who upholds traditional Bhutanese values, including a high appreciation for the country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) measurement.

Because of this prioritization, the rights of religious minorities are often overlooked and undermined. Several global religious NGOs have reported persecution of Christians including denial of burial plots for deceased loved ones and intense pressure to return to the original religion after conversion.

Throughout his 10-year reign as Prime Minister, Tobgay has failed to prove his dedication to the human right of religious freedom. Instead, Tobgay has prioritized the GNH and the values of Buddhism.

However, efforts conducted by international religious freedom groups may contribute to a shift in the priorities of Prime Minister Tobgay. In an interview with the Guardian, reporters asked Tobgay if his practice of Buddhism obstructed his ability to strengthen the economy. He responded, saying, “If by competitiveness you mean winning alone at all costs and at the expense of your competition, whom you see as an archenemy, that’s definitely not Buddhist. But if by competition you mean working together as a team with others and achieving results, that is competition also. That, I think, is Buddhist.”

While conditions for Christians in Bhutan are unlikely to change drastically due to the consistency in the leaders of the government, there is hope that Tobgay will uphold his Buddhist convictions to value the lives of all beings, including Christians.

We pray that the new rule of Prime Minister Tobgay will show a comprehensive value for all Bhutanese people, including Christians. We pray that the shift in prioritization toward the economy will provide further stability and established democracy. We pray that the Bhutanese Christians will be bold in their faith and feel the love of Christ in their daily lives.