The Kingdom of Bhutan, whose voters are called to the polls on Tuesday 9 January to elect their representatives, may be at a turning point in its history. One of the rare countries on the planet with a negative carbon footprint, this small Himalayan nation of 780,000, which invented the concept of “gross national happiness,” rejecting the logic of growth, urgently needs to boost its economy. The youth unemployment rate has reached nearly 30%.
Active youth, government employees, teachers, and nurses, in search of attractive jobs and better living conditions, flee to Australia, Canada, the Gulf states, and even Japan. More than 15,000 Bhutanese have obtained visas to travel abroad in 2023. As a result, labor shortages are being felt across all sectors.
Economic issues dominated the campaign for the legislative elections, the fourth since the transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary monarchy in 2008. The country, a landlocked country stuck between China and India, is still suffering from the repercussions of the Covid-19 epidemic. It managed in a perfect way from a health standpoint (only about twenty people died) but it caused Bhutan's vital tourism to wither due to the severity of the lockdowns. Most of the income comes from hydroelectric power production and tourism. Visitors must pay a daily tourist tax of €100 to be allowed to visit this gem.
Residents, especially in urban areas, suffer from high prices of fuel and basic products, which are already expensive in normal times because Bhutan depends on imports. “The year 2022 has been marked by deep frustration among the population in the face of declining purchasing power post-Covid-19. There is no shortage of manual jobs, and 50,000 Indians work in Bhutan, but Bhutanese youth aspire to skilled jobs.” notes Françoise Pommaret, a Bhutan specialist and honorary consul of France.
Discussions between the candidates focused on recovery strategies. In a recent report, the Asian Development Bank says Bhutan needs to strengthen the private sector further if it wants to achieve its goal of achieving a GDP of $10 billion (9.1 billion euros) by 2034, up from 2.6 billion euros. today. Regulatory hurdles are numerous.
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