Bhutan's charming king emerges from father's shadow

Wed Nov 5, 2008 2:33am EST
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By Simon Denyer

THIMPHU (Reuters) - He was first feted as "Prince Charming" and has now been acclaimed the "People's King." Bhutan's 28-year-old Oxford-educated monarch has already won hearts at home and abroad.

On Thursday, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck takes on a more solemn responsibility, when he is formally crowned -- by his own father -- as the tiny Himalayan nation's fifth king.

Already he is showing signs that he can emerge from his father's shadow and become a powerful symbol of stability, unity and at the same time of youthful vigor, in a country still grappling with its gradual move into the modern world.

His father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, will be a hard act to follow. The 52-year-old is a formidable man, who ran this deeply traditional land for three decades, opening it to the outside world, imposing democracy and then abdicating.

The father still commands love, respect, awe and even fear in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

The son, in his largely ceremonial new role and relieved of the burden of governance after the introduction of parliamentary democracy, is an altogether different person, gentler, more approachable.

"He's got his own style, he is very natural with the people," said Kinley Dorji, managing director of state-owned newspaper Kuensel. "He has that charisma."

The new king displayed his charisma in bucketloads on Saturday, spending the whole day mingling with crowds as he made his way back to the capital Thimphu, often on foot, after another sacred coronation ritual in the central town of Punakha.   Continued...

<p>An undated portrait of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is seen in Thimphu November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Royal Palace/Handout</p>