By Bishal Rai
In May 2018, the third group of National Council members took charge of the apolitical but a critical body of the democratic machinery with the responsibility to provide a non-partisan direction to the country.
The transition to a new set of leaders—minus the eminent personalities and those reelected—was deemed a success. But the question still lingers about what this new group is capable of. Did voters elect the right people for the House of Review?
On the lighter side, the memory of the national-level debates of the contesting candidates from some parts of the country continues to be a source of amusement. The Samtse debate is a case in point
To start with, most contestants’ spoken Dzongkha was hilarious. It is not too much to ask for, especially since the candidates are born, raised, and educated in Bhutan. Otherwise, perhaps, it is time to interpret Article 7 (Clause 2) of the Constitution on the right to freedom of speech, expression and opinion in the language one is comfortable with, and which the audience too can comprehend.
Second, the content of their speeches were as shallow as their grasp of Dzongkha vocabulary. More worrying was their promises which showed little did they know of what needed to be done in Samtse, a district that once was flourishing both in agriculture and as a growing industrial hub. There is a lot that needs to be done in Samtse. One only has to look up the existing data on poverty, youth crimes, suicide rates etc., where it leads most of the dzongkhags, and turn those challenges into opportunities.
Which brings forth the stark lack of leadership among people’s representatives, while candidates (aspiring, losing, and winning) are a plenty in our country today. Joseph S. Nye categorizes good leadership to a mix of art and science or ‘contextual intelligence’ where innate skills are complimented with training and practice.
Learning from experience has been deemed the most common and most powerful of learning leadership. But being analytical, or learning to analyze situations and context was important too. And which, even as a lay observer, is not difficult to see it missing among most of our democratically elected leaders, including the apolitical National Council Members. They are, to be sure, a very good teacher, the most loved tourist guide or an actor, or a successful businessmen/women, but whether they have the temperament or the intellect to be leaders remains to be seen. In the past 10 years, however, such a signal from the leadership of elected representatives, were rare.
Niccolo Machiavelli, writing in 1513, compares the ‘craft’ of good leadership to a clever archer who, designing to hit the target too far away, and knowing the limits of the strength of his bow, takes aim much higher than the mark, so to reach the target. He suggests that a good leader should follow the path taken by great men, imitate them, so that even if his/her ability does not equal as such, it will at least carry the flavor.
Most of our elected leaders come from the bureaucracy. The rest comprise businessmen, actors, tour guides, and graduates just out of college. As a result, a fuzzy line seems to separate democratically elected leaders from that of government bureaucrats. As bureaucrats enter politics to fill the leadership vacuum, the bureaucracy loses its expertise, and therefore its capacity and professional leadership.
Either way the vacuum is acutely felt given the small base of professionals that is poached by political and apolitical institutions in search of a potentially good leader. There is no compelling evidence to support the basis that a professional bureaucrat, expert and efficient in his line of work will also provide good leadership as people’s representative.
Proponents of modern leadership theory posit that emotional intelligence, which leaders use it to ‘channel charisma and personal magnetism’, is as important as the analytical intelligence or cognitive skills. Today the deficiency of emotional intelligence, that factors in self-discipline and empathy, is increasingly being noted in leadership across the world.
In other instances, the world is witnessing an increase in career politicians, who in turn are facing a growing cynicism about their effectiveness. The World Economic Forum survey of 2016 found that citizens in democratic countries trusted their leaders less than in other forms of regimes. Similarly, a 2015 Pew Survey found that more than 80% of US citizens did not trust their government to do what was right consistently.
Back home, with democracy becoming a source of employment, for the foreseeable future it will be naïve to expect emotional or analytical intelligence among the elected representatives of the people.
Democracy as a regime is about governance, not government, and governance conveys how society conducts itself as a system. For that to happen the society has to progress, advance, and be awakened to the need for democracy. A case in point being how the Western society’s attempt to export and ‘install’ democracy abroad, with money or through aggression, or both, has failed so far.
In Bhutan, the elected representatives of the people, political and apolitical alike, talk about being a ‘bridge’ between the people and the government, which, in its true sense is more apt for other types of regimes, not democracy. The concept of zhung or the government, translated as central power and authority, perhaps should read differently in the context of democracy, which our elected representatives have entirely missed. Personally, I don’t know what I am voting for as they neither have a vision nor an ideology, but simply some myopic and often quixotic promises such as the promise to tame the elephants in the South. For that matter, I do not even know the person I am voting for.
Bishal Rai is a former journalist. The opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent offices or agencies that he is associated with.