“We have emerged stronger”

Kuensel recently interviewed me. Their piece is reproduced below:

 How have you grown since the time you became the country’s first opposition leader and today as you exit your first five-year term?

It’s not for me to say whether I’ve grown or not in the past five years. I certainly hope I’ve grown. But that’s for my family and, more importantly, the people to judge. What I can say is that I have learnt a lot in the past five years. I have had the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life – the poor and the rich, the young and old, farmers and businessmen, monks and students, soldiers, teachers and countless other public servants. I have been able to listen to them and to learn of their deepest hopes and aspirations. And that has been an extremely enriching experience. On democracy, I have learnt that it is hard work, that it is not free, and that the most difficult part of democracy is the exercise of checks and balances. In this context, PDP has had the difficult yet distinguished responsibility of serving as the Kingdom’s first opposition party.

You have been very critical of the government’s performance in a number of areas. Any area you feel the government did do well and deserves credit?

The transition to democracy has largely been stable and peaceful. For this, the government must be given due credit. However, this transition would never have been possible without the complete support and constant guidance of His Majesty the King. Furthermore, the government could have done a better job in strengthening democratic institutions and in minimizing the anxiety levels that our people have sometimes been subjected to.

One area in which the government failed badly?

The government has failed to inculcate a healthy respect for the rule of law. Some times, the government threatened to amend laws, including the Constitution, to suit their narrow, immediate purposes. At other times, they themselves blatantly violated the rule of law, like when they imposed taxes unconstitutionally. That led to the first constitutional case which they eventually lost. What followed was unprecedented – the government was made to return the taxes that they had collected unlawfully.

Another important area where the government failed is the economy. The economy has become extremely vulnerable with debts rising and short-term Rupee borrowings spiralling out of control. At this rate, we are heading towards an economic crisis, a crisis that will undo the benefits of decades of hardwork and subject the country and people to unimaginable hardship.

Some political pundits indicated 2013 election is more about who will become the opposition…

I hope the political pundits are wrong. If the pundits are right, and if the 2013 elections is only about who will become the opposition, it would mean that DPT is invincible and will form the government again. Such a foregone conclusion would also mean that democratic choice would be undermined. Therefore, it becomes crucial for all of us, including the political pundits themselves, to support the other parties so that they can offer credible alternatives and healthy competition.

Some former PDP candidates and members said they were hardly consulted while opposition played its role and that the party should have been regrouped years ago than now. What happened?

The opposition party has just two members in the Parliament. As such, we have had to work extremely hard during the past five years, especially since the very idea of an opposition was nonexistent until then. It is hard to imagine that anyone associated with PDP, including our former candidates, would be upset if the opposition were able to play its role successfully. As far as the two opposition party members are concerned, we have actively sought to consult any and everyone available, both inside and outside the party.

All of us agree that PDP should have regrouped years ago. But that is easier said than done. Our party was in shambles. The president had resigned taking moral responsibility for the 2008 loss, and the party was burdened with huge financial debts. Added to that, many candidates resigned, some for professional reasons, some to form a new political party. It was testing time for the party, but we have not just overcome our difficulties, we have emerged stronger and are now well-positioned for the coming elections.

You made many remarks on the Rupee issue the country continues to reel under. Had your role reversed to play the government, how would you address the issue?

I raised the Rupee issue way back in 2009. Since then, the opposition party has consistently raised the issue in the Parliament. Today, even though we have a full-blown Rupee crisis, one that is holding our economy at ransom, the government still has not admitted that we have a problem. Any other government would have understood that our economy is small, that imports exceed exports, and that, as such, foreign currency, Especially the Rupee, must be managed very carefully. Past governments, in which many of the current ministers also served, were acutely aware of this and ensured that shortfall of Rupee never assumed critical proportions. So I, like many others, am extremely disappointed that the DPT government has failed to prevent this crisis.

What would we have done if we were in the government? We would have exercised caution right from the start. We would have monitored the economy carefully and ensured that trade imbalances did not spiral out of control. We would have reined in exessive government spending, while making sure that agriculture, services, manufacturing and small businesses thrived throughout the length and breadth of our country. In short, we would have made doing business in Bhutan easy and enjoyable. So a Rupee crisis would never have occurred under our watch. But if it did, we would have accepted the problem, studied it, and addressed it head on.

Five political parties this year. Where does PDP stand?

That is for the people to decide. On our part, we will work hard and work honestly; we will leave no stone unturned to provide a credible alternative; we will serve to fulfill the promise of democracy and the hopes and aspirations of our people.

Your priorities if PDP came to power…

If PDP comes to power, our first priority, like that of any other party that comes to power, would be to undo the damages done by DPT. Government expenditure has been excessive. Our economy is in a mess. Doing business is cumbersome. Youth unemployment is rife. Poverty is still very visible. Agricultural production is dismal. Education quality is an issue. Roads, especially farm roads, are in urgent need of repair and reconstruction. Corruption hasn’t been tackled boldly. Private media has been weakened.

Given the opportunity, PDP would strengthen democratic institutions, and devolve power and authority from the centre so people can enjoy the blessings of liberty, equality and prosperity. That’s what PDP’s ideology, Wangtse-Chhirphel, is all about. That’s why PDP promises Power to the People.

Disloyal? Unpatriotic?

The opposition party’s statement on the government’s failed UNSC bid drew a strong response from the prime minster. Instead of clarifying the government’s position, or responding to the our request for a full disclosure of the expenses incurred, he called my remarks “disloyal and unpatriotic”.

We will not engage in personal attacks. But we cannot ignore the PM’s malicious assault which was obviously intended to malign the opposition members and undermine institution of the opposition party. So we felt compelled to issue the following  statement to the press last Friday:

 

The Opposition Party deeply regrets the unwarranted remarks of the Honourable Prime Minister during the recent press conference in which he labeled the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal” for expressing his views on the failed UN Security Council bid, and for calling on the Government to review its foreign policy.

By calling the Opposition Leader “disloyal and unpatriotic” the Honourable Prime Minister seems to have no respect and regard for the institution of the Opposition Party or the duty of the Opposition Party as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Honourable Prime Minister’s derogatory remarks indicate that while the Government wants to take all the credit for any success, it does not want to be held accountable or face criticism for any of its failures.

The Opposition Party is not surprised that the Prime Minister has gone on record to term the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal”. Such incidences have occurred before, as when the Government demeaned the Judiciary when they lost the Constitutional Case. Similarly the Government has also undermined the institutions of the ECB, ACC and media on various occasions.

We feel that the Prime Minister’s remarks are an attempt to deflect public attention from the Government’s failed UN Security Council bid and from the series of allegations of corruption that continue plague the Government.

However, the Opposition Party will not be intimidated by the Prime Minster’s derogatory remarks. Instead, we shall continue to discharge our duties faithfully – without fear or favour – in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and in the interest of the country and people.

Accordingly the Opposition Party calls on the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government to take the views and concerns of the Opposition Party constructively, and to recognize that all of us share the common objective of strengthening the nation and fulfilling the aspirations of our people.