It is surprising fact that when world was fighting for democracy, Bhutan which had semi-democratic form of government adopted monarchy in 17 December 1917 by crowning Sir Ugyen Wangchuk as first hereditary monarchy of Bhutan.
During the era of Zhabdrung, apart from Desi, three penlops were appointed at rank of minister to look after three regions, Trongsa Poenlop for eastern Bhutan, Parop Penlop for western Bhutan and Daga Penlop for central and southern Bhutan. There were also many appointed Dzonpons( head of district) out of which two Dzongpoen; Punakha Dzongpoen and Thimphu Dzongpon had power equivalent to Penlop. After the demise of Zhabdrung in 1652, the power struggle for post of Desi, Penlops and Dzongpoens began often resulting into assassination and cold-blooded battle. Some Desis ruled the nation as short as three months.
At such period, the father of first Monarch Jigme Namgyal who was semi-literate and descendent of Pema Lingpa became courtier under Tronga Penlop Ugyen Phuentsho.Trongsa Penlop was governor of eastern region and arguably the most powerful man in the country even more powerful than Desi. Later as personal guard/Chief of protocol, Jigme Namgyal single-handedly saved the life of the then Penlop Tshokey Dorji. He was promised post of Penlop in gratitude after the retirement of incumbent. Thus the rise of Jigme Namgyal began and he was to remain one of the most powerful men despite few attempts on his life. Jigme Namgyal had promised Tshokey Dorji that he would vacate his post for latter’s son Tshondue Gyeltshen after three years which he never kept. Due to refusal to keep promise, Tshondrue Gyeltshen and Jigme Namgyal had to fight famous Battle of Samkhar which was indecisive. Later central monk body and central government intervened. The truce was signed creating fourth post of Penlop in Bumthang known as Jakar Penlop. Jigme Namgyal become then undisputed penlop and later became 49th Desi of Bhutan in 1870.
However in the battle of Dewangiri against British in 1864, Tshondrue Gyeltshen and Jigme Namgyal joined hands to counter advancing British force. Tshondru Gyeltshen was said to have died in the battle though written account of how he was killed was not there. Some believed Jigme Namgyel couldn’t take reinforcement on time. During this period Jigme Namyal became so powerful that important decisions regarding country was not taken without his consent. He survived many battles and coups thus clearing ways for his son Ugyen Wangchuk. He also played king-maker appointing his relatives and trusted people to important post till his demise in yak accident in 1881 at Simtokha.
After demise of indomitable Deb Nagpo( nickname of Jigmi Namgyal), his son Ugyen Wangchuk became most powerful man in the country. After last battle, the Battle of Changlimithang where he defeated rebellious Phuentsho Dorji (his adopted brother) and Alo Dorji(adopted brother), the nation who was fed up with carnage and bloodshed crowned Ugyen Wangchuk as first hereditary Monarch of Bhutan thus ushering the era of stability and peace in the country.
Kings of Bhutan though descendent of Terton Pema Lingpa (Treasure Discoverer), the fifteen century Nyingma saint, followed Drukpa Kagyud ardently. After abolishment of Zhabdrung institution which had many problems, King is now considered the final authority on both political and religious matter. King with recommendation from monk body appoints Je Khenpo, the abbot of nation who wear same scarf as king does. Je Khenpo is real authority delivering religious duties and monarch hardly interferes in pure religious matter.
The institution of monarchy is not only symbol peace and selflessness but also sacred symbol of presence of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan. It is highly respected institution and pictures of king with chief abbot of Bhutan can be seen anywhere even in the remote corner of the nation which once prompted college mate of fourth king to ask if king was practicing the personal occult which was unlikely and untrue considering unassuming nature of His Majesty, the 4th Druck Gyelpo.
In 2oo6, King Jigme Kheser Namgyel Wangchuk was crowned as 5th Druk Gyalpo, the Dragon King. Due to his intimate consultations and interactions, he is lovingly called as People’s King. In 2008, Bhutan became democratic constitutional monarchy. Druk Phuntsum Tshogpa (loosely translated as Bhutan Goodwill /prosperous Party) formed government winning 45 of 47 seats. Today, Bhutan has bicameral parliament where upper house or National Council which is apolitical is directly elected by people and appointed by king (20 members elected by people and 5 imminent members appointed by king) while members of National Assembly or Lower House is directly elected by people nominated by political parties. Both upper and lower house enjoys same authority and privileges.