A spate of tributes was paid and several articles appeared in global and regional newspapers on Angela Merkel as she decided not to seek re-election after 16 years as Chancellor of Germany. Undoubtedly, she is a leader of outstanding merit and unique in multiple ways. She is calm, steady and driven with a passion to serve the country and its people with dedication and unflinching loyalty. Her aura was simple but she remained resolute in steering Germany through difficult times and established the country as the de facto leader of Europe. Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany in 2005 and served four terms.
In her first term, she steered Germany through a major financial crisis and placed it on a solid foundation that led to growth and prosperity of its people. It is no wonder that she had established herself as the most respected and trusted leader in the European Union. She spoke and threw her weight when the party and the country’s interests so demanded, but avoided making unnecessary statements or engage in trivial verbal duels. Her highest priority and that of her government was to promote the economy and ensure the well- being and prosperity of the people. During her chancellorship, Germany attained its rightful place as the economic and political leader of European Union.
Chancellor Merkel understood the value of Germany’s and EU’s relations with the US. But she also maintained strong economic and trade relations with China — something that has contributed significantly to promoting growth and exports of both countries. The Chancellor generally stayed in the background in the US-China rivalry as it would affect her country and EU interests. This policy has proved to be very successful as it has benefited Germany. Although there is a school of thought that during Merkel’s chancellorship, trans-Atlantic relations were cooler. She fostered good relations with Russia and did not exhibit any ill will despite being born in East Germany. This showed her pragmatism and overriding priority being the interest of the country.
Perhaps few leaders would have such a strong academic background as Chancellor Merkel has and would be able to successfully apply it to the advantage of the country. She has a doctorate in quantum chemistry that helped her in promoting science and research and knowledge-based pursuits so crucial for keeping Germany ahead in the present highly competitive world. From what is in public domain she worked toward promoting cutting-edge technologies that have a great potential yet were in their initial stage of development. This includes artificial intelligence and quantum computing and other advanced technologies. Her interest in promoting science was so profound that she would chair meetings related to science regularly. Not surprising that Germany remains also in the forefront of innovations and developments in automobile industry and manufacturing technologies especially in the higher price bracket. In Europe, Germany is a clear leader in science and technology, and its products and strong economy are a manifestation of it.
In a world which is barren of quality leaders she was an exception. Despite her humility and easy demeanor, she exhibited resolve and toughness when it came to defending principles and advancing the genuine interests of her country and those of EU. Understandably, there is keen interest among global powers as to how the incoming informal leader of Europe would steer the continent’s interests. France’s Emmanuel Macron is the most likely choice to lead Europe, and the world would be watching closely how the alliance adjusts to this change and relates to the world.
Democracy in the United States during former President Trump’s period went through a serious crisis and there remains a lurking danger of his making a comeback. India the largest democracy under PM Modi is witnessing a strong surge of Hindutva to turn it into a Hindu India and drifting away from being a secular democracy. Within the EU, there are countries like Hungary and Poland wherein their leaders are displaying strong authoritarian tendencies. In these circumstances it becomes even more critical for the leaders of France and Germany to set an example of good governance and strong democratic values.
Are there any lessons that Pakistani leadership could draw from Merkel’s success in governance? The conditions and challenges in developing countries are very different and unique due to historical and cultural factors. But there are certain universal attributes that are common and essential for national leaders across the board to possess if they have to succeed and make a mark. Besides, people in developing countries are the best judge and will soon discover which leader is relatively more capable of providing good governance and implement policies that will lift them from the shackles of poverty and ignorance. Pakistan’s democracy is fragile and institutions are weak and it is this factor which prevents them from exercising their judgement fairly. For people to exercise judgement according to their free will, democratic institutions have to be strengthened and a safe and secure environment has to be created. And leadership has a critical role in contributing positively toward that effort. Regrettably, one does not discern any movement in Pakistan in that direction. The more worrisome aspect is that the trust in government and its institutions to deliver is fading and needs to be restored.
In fact, the more the PM and ruling party are trying to ram through its projects or process legislation unilaterally the more it is getting bogged down with much less to show. Another phenomenon that perhaps has not caught the attention of our leaders is the growing discontent which is fuelled by the rising cost of living and deteriorating law and order. It is manifested in several protests and sit-ins in cities by different groups of citizens and professionals. A continuing leadership crisis and an underperforming economy could contribute toward people losing confidence in political parties and their leaders and encourage militant forces to step up their subversive activities. It is crucial that Pakistan’s challenges are addressed head-on by the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2021.
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