Bhutan is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a hereditary king, the "Druk Gyalpo," who governs with the aid of a Royal Cabinet and a National Assembly (the Tshogdu). In the past, the king appointed members to a Royal Advisory Council and to a Council of Ministers. Following the political reforms of 1998, however, these two councils were combined to form the cabinet. This body consists of six ministers elected by the National Assembly, six advisors also elected by the National Assembly, a member nominated by the king, and two representatives of the clergy.
The unicameral National Assembly (established in 1953), known as the Tshogdu, consists of 154 members. Of these, 37 are appointed by the king to represent government and other secular interests; 105 are elected to three-year terms by groups of village headmen, who are, in turn, elected by a one-family, one-vote system; and the remaining 12 are chosen by the lamas acting in concert. The Tshogdu meets twice a year at Thimphu, the capital (previously known as Punakha). Candidates file their own nominations. The assembly is charged with addressing the king on matters of national importance. It also enacts laws and approves senior government appointments. A simple majority is needed to pass a measure and is conducted by secret ballot. While the king may not veto legislation, he may return bills for further consideration; the king generally has enough influence to persuade the assembly to approve legislation he considers important or to withdraw proposals which he opposes. Since 1969, it has become a more active, independent influence on government policy through its power to overrule bills proposed by the king or his advisors.
During the 1960s, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (r.1952–72) was a prime mover behind political and administrative changes that took the country in the direction of constitutional monarchy. When Crown Prince Jigme Singye Wangchuk assumed the throne upon his father's death in July 1972 and was crowned in June 1974, he continued his father's policy of sharing authority with the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly. In 1998, the king announced ambitious political changes that moved Bhutan further down the road towards a true constitutional monarchy. He relinquished his role as Head of Government and assigned full executive powers to a cabinet consisting of ministers and advisors to be elected by the National Assembly (in reality, the National Assembly chooses from a list of nominees proposed by the king, who also retains authority relating to security issues). The Council of Ministers, a subgroup of the cabinet, elects one of its members on a rotational basis to serve a one-year term as chairman. It is this official who is the Head of Government. As part of his reforms, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk also introduced legislation by which any monarch would have to abdicate in favor of his hereditary successor if the National Assembly supported a vote of no-confidence against him by a two-thirds majority. And in December 2002, the king issued a draft for a first constitution for Bhutan, which is to be debated in the country's 20 districts before it is considered by the National Assembly in June 2003.