Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rising Above The Moral Quandary

The venue was the same – the SAARC conference hall. The difference lay in the reason, timing and the nature of the sudden gathering. Yesterday, the Prime Minister held an impromptu meet the press session. This was not a regular session but a passionate call by the Prime Minister to get his government’s views across on proceedings regarding the Supreme Court’s verdict and where the government stands in light of that decree. He began by with an apology and “regret” in light of the anxiety caused among the people over the government’s deliberations and decisions.

The Prime Minister stated his case empathically. He began his stand in Dzongkha, flanked by the MoWHS Minister to his right and the Finance Minister to his left. The audible air of quiet anticipation turned into rapt attention as the Prime Minister made point after point, case after case, as to where his government stands and why it has taken the course of action that it has.
The three-day deliberations within and amongst party members, he said, was concluded with the decision that if the Supreme Court verdict stood as it stands, than the government had to take into consideration “moral accountability.” And that moral accountability was, as deliberated and agreed amongst party members, the dissolution of the government with the Prime Minster himself paving the path with his resignation, both as the President of the party and as the Prime Minister of the country.

The apprehension in the room was almost tangible when the Prime Minister got to this point. But there was still more food for thought as he continued. It was a simple message. The government felt the verdict of the courts had, in more ways than one, crippled their efforts and to use a metaphor, had them in crutches. And that the language in which the verdict was passed was equally grave. The Prime Minster cited certain words contained in the verdict such as “sabotage” – causing an abrupt halt to the government’s many activities and that the government was rendered awkward and dubbed as “violators” engaged in an “unconstitutional” act.

The moral quandary was that the government does not and never did anything deemed “unconstitutional”. If indeed this was the case, than the moral responsibility was to dissolve the government. But that being said, the Prime Minister stated that the government could not, again on moral grounds, dissolve – for the simple reason that over 70% of the Bhutanese electorate voted for them. That the last thing the country can ill-afford at this particular junction is the dissolution of the government and reelections. That the government owes it to the people to make certain that programs and policies are effectively implemented before they see out their term. The Prime Minster made no excuses. He expressed the duty of the government to the Triple Gems – King, Country and People and that the confidence placed in his government was demonstrated time after time.

In that light, the Prime Minister stated that the judiciary must also be questioned, and that as much as the media kept a keen eye on the government, so it must on all aspects, institutional or pertaining to the private sector, in the interest of democracy and in nurturing a strong democracy. A point he reiterated regarding the government’s decision to dissolve was, the Prime Minster said, based on the fact that future governments should not have an excuse when it comes to governance and morality, that the main decision behind that call was to avoid setting a bad precedence for future governments. “We are caught between the people’s will and expectations and the court’s verdicts,” he said. “We cannot fail democracy.” The Prime Minister reiterated that his government will see out the “remaining term responsibly even if it is in the face of adversity.”
The Prime Minster also questioned the validity of the verdict. “Where did the talk of unconstitutional come from?” He stated that the High Court and the Supreme Court must have their own interpretations leading to the verdicts but stressed that the main point was that the government had not transgressed the interests of the country. He stated that his party members were “morally concerned” regarding the “legitimacy to rule.”

“Is it guilt by intent?” the Prime Minister asked rhetorically. He also stated that nobody in his cabinet or party has benefited in trying to introduce taxation. “If we could we would have left the seat, but that would be detrimental to democracy, with reelection worries, unnecessary expenses – all of which does not bode well for the country,” and that inasmuch as they would like to take the moral accountability, they simply could not “because of the disappointment it might bring to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the architect of our democracy, His Majesty the King and the people of Bhutan at this juncture in time.”

That the Three Jewels is what counts and that is where this government will hold its ground, complete its mandate as entrusted by the people and see out their remaining term, whilst maintaining the accountability.

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