The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

What kind of leader do we want?

Bhutan Times

THE RECENT POLITICAL brouhaha over the PM’s State of the Nation address brings one thing to the fore: The growing concern over the excessive strength of his personality and government.

To his detractors the Prime Minister’s stance is an imperious show of strength by an already powerful government, to his admirers it is what we have come to expect from the man—an honest if highhanded sharing of what he thinks would be the best way for us to work together in the interest of the nation.

Clearly we have elected a man of action, a man who is not afraid of calling out and suggesting a code of conduct for an entire institution and, indeed, the nation if he feels the need. In this respect the PM’s State of the Nation address was not the evidence of a man playing to the lowest common denominator but that of a leader attempting to reason to the highest common factor: our Bhutanese sense of honor, restraint and decorum.

However, given the subsequent criticism of the PM and his statements, the question we might ask is this: what exactly do we look for in a leader?

Do we want someone who is always affable but indecisive? Or are we better off with the kind of person who is not afraid to take risks if he’s convinced about the course of action his government needs to take? It is interesting to note that history best remembers the leaders who were not afraid to speak their minds even though it might not have been the smartest political move at the time.

Going against popular wisdom Winston Churchill once said:

We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets

The outcome of the Second World War vindicated Churchill’s leadership and immortalized these words. Think where he and, indeed, his nation would be if he had simply raised his hands and said “I surrender”. Obviously the perceived conflicts between the government’s position and such elevated bodies as the National Council are being resolved in the higher corridors of power for the political health of the nation. As responsible media professionals we can strive to report the events simply as they unfold without coloring it with opinion, hearsay, or editorializing on pages where the reader looks for news.

While on the subject of the media, we could remind ourselves that even in the world’s freest, most accessible democracies, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State often take questions on issues of national importance but mainly at scheduled press conferences. To be invited to one, a reporter needs to earn a press pass through years of consistent work. As a writer myself, I hope the current accessibility of the government doesn’t change, but perhaps it is time to understand that even in the oldest of democracies a reporter can’t just lob a question at a head of state and expect to have a response instantly.
The complex and intricate relationships with reliable government sources and access to the highest echelons of power are generally cultivated through responsible and balanced journalism, an unerring pursuit of the truth and, above all, respect for one’s sources. Or else, a President or Prime Minister can easily deny access by invoking national security concerns or perceived threats to his or her personal safety.

Worse still would be to fall into that deplorable category of lowbrow journalism considered to be in “poor taste”. That’s why no reporter who ever worked for the National Inquirer, a sensationalist rag in the US, can claim to have interviewed a President, Prime Minister, or indeed anyone of any significance.

Yes, an independent media must hold the nation’s elected officials responsible. But, by the same token, journalists must also conduct themselves professionally. Do your research first to ensure you do not waste the interviewee’s time, which, as elected officials with manifold obligations to the public, one must assume to be valuable.

Whether we admire or bristle at the PM’s style of leadership, the election results have left us with the people’s choice. Now let’s let him do his job. Electing a government by such an overwhelming majority only to render it ineffectual by hobbling it with political quibbles seems counterintuitive.

The humble suggestion of this column would be this: Let’s reserve our judgment until the government has undeniably failed our trust. Then, render your verdict in that most democratic of ways—by pushing the all-important button in the privacy of your voting booth.

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