Childhood & Early Life
He was born on September 9, 1952, in Chhokhor valley in the district of Bumthang, as a descendent of an influential family of Bhutan who were closely associated with the royals and served the monarchy since its inception.
His father served the Royal Secretariat as an official and relocated to Thimphu after the third King decided to shift Bhutan’s capital from Punakha to Thimphu.
Though his primary education started in Bhutanese language, later in Dechenchholing he studied in Hindi and English.
He studied in ‘Dr Graham’s Homes’ in Kalimpong, India, after his father secured him a government scholarship. He displayed great leadership skills since his school days. In his final year in school, he emerged as School Captain and was also elected as President of Youth Club of the school, in its very first election.
He also participated in sports and other extra-curricular activities during his school days. During his final year in school, he became the leader of its athletic squad at the ‘Darjeeling District Interschool Games’ and earned the ‘All Round Best Boy Award’.
His reputation as a capable student later earned him a membership at ‘Board of Management’ of the school, a position he held till his induction as Ambassador to the ‘United Nations’ in New York.
After school, he studied in Delhi, India, in the ‘St. Stephen’s College’ from where he completed his graduation in 1974.
He attended the coronation ceremony of Jigme Singye, the fourth King of Bhutan and it is here that his close association with’ The Majesty’ began that remained throughout the rule of the fourth King.
It was ‘His Majesty’ who commanded appointment of Thinley into the civil service, especially to look after the palace affairs.
Upon proposition of His Majesty Jigme Singye in early 1975 and sponsorship by the Bhutan government, Thinley went to the United States for further studies. He attended the ‘Pennsylvania State University’ and obtained his post graduation degree, an MA in Public Administration.
He also studied at the ‘Manchester University’ in England and received a certificate in manpower planning and management.
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In 1976 he started his career in civil service in Bhutan and although the first few years were not so fruitful, the 1980s saw him rising up the career rung by leaps and bounds.
He was conferred the title of ‘Dasho’ and also awarded the ‘Red Scarf’ in February 1987.
He was made the Eastern Zone administrator in 1990.
In 1992, he was promoted to the rank of secretary in the ‘Ministry of Home Affairs’.
Thereafter in January 1994 he was inducted as ‘Deputy Minister of Home Affairs’. The same year he received the ‘Orange Scarf’ and towards the year end he was inducted as ‘Permanent Representative’ of Bhutan to the ‘United Nations’ office and also in other international organisations in Geneva.
On July 20, 1998, during the pre-democratic period, he became the Prime Minister of Bhutan for a one-year term holding office till July 9, 1999. The council’s chairmanship was based on yearly rotation and decision of order of rotation was made based on count of votes obtained during election to the council.
From 1998 to 2003, he served as ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs’ of Bhutan and thereafter as ‘Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs’.
He received the ‘Druk Thuksey’, which implies ‘Son of the Heart of the Thunder Dragon’ from the King of Bhutan on June 2, 1999. This Royal Order of Bhutan was awarded to him in recognition of his contributions in the development of Bhutan.
Again from August 30, 2003 to August 20, 2004, he held the position of Prime Minister for a second one-year term prior to the democratic transformation of Bhutan.
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The first democratic election of Bhutan held in March 2008 saw him leading the ‘Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’ party which eventually won 45 seats out of 47 in Bhutan’s ‘National Assembly. This paved his way to become the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Bhutan and he took charge of office on April 9 that year. He held the position till April 28, 2013.
He represents the constituency of Nanong Shumar, a place in Eastern Bhutan’s Pemagatsel.
He laid focus on ‘Gross National Happiness’, thus policies and programs of his government including agriculture, foreign trade and transportation were based on such notion instead sheer economic factors. The motto was not to judge the programs by the economic benefits but by the happiness attained thus strengthening the policy of the Fourth King Jigme Singye, which focus more on maximizing ‘Gross National Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross National Product’.
His government also enforced the tenth five-year plan of Bhutan.
On December 17, 2008, he was conferred with the ‘Druk Wangyal’ medal, the ‘Order of Great Victory of the Thunder Dragon’ which is bestowed to recognise excellent dedication, commitment and loyalty and is considered as one of the highest civilian honours of the country.
Thinley became a member of the ‘International Advisory Board’ of ‘Netherlands Development Organisation’ in July 2009 and aided in the organisation’s endeavour in reduction of poverty and continual work on development by contributions from his personal experiences.
Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium conferred him with an honorary degree on February 3, 2014.
He has attended various seminars, conferences and meetings including addressing the ‘United Nations General assembly’ several times. He has given speeches in international meetings including in ‘SAARC’, the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’ and the ‘BIMSTEC’ in the capacity of Bhutan’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.