Despite a scathing attack by the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader not only stood by his earlier statements on the UN Security Council Bid and Bhutan’s foreign policy but also raised additional points and questions on the issues.
The Opposition Leader in an exclusive interview with The Bhutanese said that the Prime Minister calling his UN bid comment ‘irresponsible and unpatriotic’ not coming from a ‘loyal citizen’ was a personal attack that lacked any substance.
The Opposition party member Damcho Dorji read out and stated the Opposition party’s stand on the issue in a general press conference later on Friday afternoon (see page 3 for press conference story)
The Opposition Leader said, “I am not surprised as the Prime Minister has consistently sidelined, intimidated and even attacked any and all alternate views especially those that challenge his own views.”
He said that he was not surprised with the personal attacks and he saw it coming. “That said I am deeply saddened that the head of the first democratically elected government would resort to mudslinging, fear mongering and personal attacks to divert the nation’s attention from the real issue at hand.”
He said he expected that in the ‘Meet the Press’ the government would give counter arguments which they didn’t and rather focused on personal attacks.
The Opposition Leader also stated that in a democracy where there is free speech the Opposition Party or any other ordinary citizen can comment and criticize the country’s foreign policy.
PM’s pet project
The Opposition leader pointed out the fact that when the decision to run was made in 1999 the current Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley was at the time the Prime Minister from 1998-1999 and the foreign Minister from 1998 to 2003 as well.
“I say this (UN bid) was ill conceived as the same Prime Minister was the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister then in 1999. It looks like more than the foreign policy of a country it is driven by one person’s perceived priorities for the country,” said the Opposition leader
“Between 1999 and 2010 there was absolutely no interest and suddenly in this government’s term there is interest,” he added.
Damaging our national interest
“The government’s biggest foreign policy move is the UNSC bid that is a significant move away from the earlier foreign policy. This significant move has damaged Bhutan’s international standing and our national interests,” said the Opposition leader.
He said that any diplomat with any meaningful experience would have said that Bhutan did not stand a chance and that we should never have continued.
“On the campaign itself the government said that they went all out with no stones left unturned, if that is the case then we have to seriously evaluate our capacity in international diplomacy as we got only 19 votes. If we were serious and ran a serious campaign we would have got more than 19 votes. The government should never have gone for the bid,” he said.
“Among countries that campaigned for the seat we probably got among the lowest votes,” said the Opposition Leader.
The Opposition leader said that his earlier statement is very clear. He had said that ‘Bhutan has always followed a prudent and far-sighted foreign policy befitting a small country located in a geo-politically sensitive region has served us very well’.
“My statement is based also on information on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. We also believe that while continuing with a conservative foreign policy the focus of the government should remain within the country where a lot of work remains to be done,” said the Opposition leader.
One of the biggest events of the UN bid was a meeting between Bhutan’s Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo where leaders of both countries were quoted by the international press saying that diplomatic relations would soon be established between both countries. Bhutan’s PM was looking for Chinese support on the UN bid.
Apart from the fact that China eventually backed Cambodia, statements from the meeting generated considerable speculation in the international and Indian media and official circles on Indo-Bhutan and Sino-Bhutan ties.
The Opposition leader said, “This matter is related to the UNSC bid. If the Prime Minister wants to meet the head of our neighboring countries he should do it but properly given the geo-politically sensitive nature of our region, and without upsetting the sentiments of India and certainly without raising unnecessary suspicions.”
“We are a small country and our independence and sovereignty cannot be taken for granted and we need to build to strengthen it. A lot of it has to do with strong fundamentals within our country but also a consistent and predictable foreign policy,” he added.
Quality over Quantity
The PM had also stated that for the sovereignty and independence of a small country like Bhutan, having relations with as many countries as possible was vital. One of the reasons for joining UN was to secure the sovereignty and independence of the country. He also said that a lot of foreign aid for capital works came from outside.
“Yes, we are members of so many committees and commissions in the UN. For Bhutan in terms of foreign relations what matters more is quality than quantity. The big numbers are not going to jump for Bhutan. In fact though we had relations with around 42 countries more than 50 percent of them did not vote for us,’ said the Opposition leader.
On the foreign aid component the Opposition leader said that the government should give the numbers instead of broad sweeping statements. “Besides Government of India, Japan, European Union, World Bank and Asian Development Bank what new donors have come?”
Insulting the armed forces
Lyonchhen in his reply to the Opposition Leader had said “Making contact and interacting with other countries ‘strengthens our image, raises our profile, and enhances and secures our sovereignty.’ He added that Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence can hardly be guaranteed by its army.”
The Opposition Leader picking up on this issue said, “I disagree with the PM completely and absolutely when he said that Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence can hardly be guaranteed by its army. It is an insult to our armed forces that have and continue to put their lives on the line day in and day out to guard our borders and to protect the sovereignty of our country,” said the Opposition leader.
“The PM already seems to have forgotten that it was our armed forces under the personal leadership of His Majesty the Fourth King who secured our sovereignty by flushing out militants who were well entrenched, armed to the teeth and highly motivated. It was in 2003. I cannot believe that the PM has already forgotten the sacrifices of our armed forces and their contribution towards securing the sovereignty of the country,” added the Opposition Leader.
He said that even today there were elements outside the country that brought occasional threats to the government and the country and it was the men in uniform laying down their lives to protect the country. “We should be celebrating our armed forces and not undermining their capability,” said the Opposition leader.
The GNH argument
The Prime Minister in his response to the Opposition leader said that Bhutan is a ‘thought leader’ in a world that has no vision.
The Opposition leader said, “Whether we are a thought leader in a visionless world or not is immaterial, unless we can prove the prosperity and happiness levels within our own country. Unemployment is on the rise and there are thousands of youth without jobs, alcoholism and alcoholic diseases are on the rise, juvenile delinquency and vandalism is becoming rampant, our suicide rates are a cause for concern, our economy is under threat, most of our farmers still continue to struggle eking out a subsistence living and many high level corruption cases are on the rise.”
He also said that Bhutan’s decision to spearhead and parade the concept of GNH in the world has taken a lot of resources and the Prime Ministers time. He said Bhutan has benefitted, but not commensurate with the investment especially since there was no focus at home.
Apples and Oranges
In response to the Prime Minister’s statement that using the same UNSC logic PDP should also not have participated in 2008 the Opposition leader said it was like comparing apples and oranges.
“In losing the UNSC bid we have minimized our international standing since we lost by such a big margin. Where as in 2008 firstly we believed that we would win and secondly while we lost we got 33 percent of the vote. It is not the trashing that the seats in the Parliament seem to suggest and thirdly in losing we have secured the responsibility to serve the nation as a loyal opposition,” said the Opposition Leader.