June 21, 2012

Leading up the garden path

A hapless public looks on as party politics ravages on in our country Maldives. True, politics is about conflict because it’s always about how power, authority and position are to be apportioned or dispensed in society. In a true democracy, political interests will not subordinate the needs of the people. Graft and greed being a basic nature of human beings, democratic processes were devised with the hope of limiting that nature by the so called processes of checks and balances. If those balances cannot maintain the balance, we cannot but say we are engaging in hypocrisy.

Politics when used to solve society’s issues has to be tempered by principles of morality. It has to deal with solving issues without being seemingly unfair to our constituencies. The better politician is the one who can assuage the concerns of the polity while carrying the advantage of the gains he wants for himself (or herself). Total disregard for morals and bullying for selfish gains is the law of the jungle. (No, that may not be quite true either, for, no animal kills or eats more than it needs. There is a limit to even the lion's hunger -- at some point he is full and until hunger strikes again he would not kill; but sadly, that may not be so with humans).

Political leaders are elected to solve or manage society’s issues. By its nature, an issue is always neutral in its essence. The need for safe water for everyone, sharing of wealth, accessing health care and the like are all concerns of our societies that need solutions. They remain as neutral issues (non-controversial) that need solutions until we attempt to figure out ways of solving them with the resources called people money and material. Taking action on these necessitates the apportionment of roles and responsibilities to people or institutions that must carry out these. Here is when conflict sets in because the next step requires that there has to be a hierarchy of responsibilities -- somebody to lead and others to follow. It is at this point that our egos clash and the nature of our past nurturing comes into full public display. Some may profess that this is inevitable in every human effort. No denial on this. But given that we, in public life, have been given the public’s trust, must strive to give back commensurately. We must be ready for the negotiation – the give and take, and the balancing needed of these public positions so that public interest is maintained as priority against the buffeting personal interests. Perhaps because we are such a new democracy, with an uninformed and unaware public about the nature of democracy as a mechanism for governance – only just graduating from years of authoritarian rule that has our minds fossilized to the ways of the oppressor -- we are unable to decipher this new approach. But I would think it is at moments such as these that our leaders must lead with compassion and not lead the public up the garden path. It is here thus our maturity as leaders must come in, and equally, it is here that we need to expend much greater effort in educating our public about the virtues and vices of this thing called democracy. It is time for being aware that this new freedom is not for saying and behaving as we please, but with certain boundaries of ethical control and responsibility that respect the other’s sense of rights too. Even though it would be very hard for us to quickly give up our egos and settle into an objective frame of negotiation, the situation require of us this maturity as leaders, to attempt to solve our problems because we have been placed on that pedestal of authority and trust by the public to do precisely that. We must exercise that power with commensurate responsibility.

To engage in endless selfish wrangling with nothing but selfish motives to guide us would be the epitome of disservice to our nation – to the communities who elected us. This is not the purpose or process of democracy. It is the reason we showed the door to authoritarianism. If we don’t clean our act, we will be only playing out a charade and being deceitful to ourselves.    

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