Can Widodo help liberate the Asean region from dynasties?

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Across the globe, whether in advanced democracies or in banana republics masquerading as democracies, there is one sustained narrative in politics: the rule of political dynasties, or, at the very least, the rule of leaders from entitled families. More so in our own region.

The rule of dynasties and the rule of entrenched families, without a doubt, has its nerve center in the Malay world. Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have their brown races deeply infatuated with political royalties. In fact, a once-part of the Malay world that is associated with First World growth and amazing meritocracy, Singapore, is even presided over by a legacy prime minister. Though Lee Kwan Yew’s son seems as bright and competent as the original.

But casting competence aside, you will see that the Malay world, including Singapore, is still under the grip of legacy politics in the 21st century.

If we include Thailand, where the brother-and-sister prime ministers educated at universities in the Appalachians —Thaksin Shinawatra at the low-ranked Eastern Kentucky University and sister Yingluck at the third-tier Kentucky State University—are unacceptable to the political royalists who prefer those from Oxford-Cambridge, we have the four original Asean countries with enduring love affairs with elite politics.


There has yet to be a serious academic study on why legacy politics throbs and thrives in the region. Surely, it should be looked at it in-depth. So far, the region is only topped by Stalinist North Korea on its preference for dynastic politics.

Until, of course, the July elections in Indonesia that elected Joko Widodo, the well-loved governor of Jakarta, as president. That was a welcome break for a huge nation too politically attached to its past. Is Indonesia about to rewrite its long infatuation with legacy politicians, leaders with military backgrounds, Bung Karno’s heirs and the remaining cronies of the despot Suharto to really test the liberating impact of meritocracy?

And, would his victory over a remnant of the Suharto regime, perhaps help temper the dynastic impulses in our own region? Hopefully. The political leadership, and by this we mean presidencies and prime ministers and not just regional posts, cannot be the monopolies of a few political families forever and ever.

The Philippines is Exhibit A of families monopolizing the top leadership.. Diosdado Macapagal and daughter Gloria Arroyo. Then Corazon Aquino and Benigno Aquino 3rd. Indonesia, with its more than 7,000 islands and its massive population, is hardly the locale where dynastic politics would thrive. But we have President Sukarno and daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri. And the remnants of despot Suharto spread out in positions of power. In Malaysia, the 6th prime minister, the incumbent Najib Razak is a son of the 2nd prime minister, Abdul Razak Hussein and nephew of the third prime minister, Tun Hussein Onn.

Why would the third largest democracy in the world, Indonesia, have a father and daughter as president. Why would one of the most populous country on Planet Earth, the Philippines, do that twice over? Why would a country with pretensions to 21st century modernity, Malaysia, have an incumbent prime minister who is the son of a former prime minister and the nephew of another prime minister? Mind you, these are not small, hole-in-the-wall democracies. They were also colonies that fought for liberation and its citizens are not pliable softies.

Legacy politics and its perfect acceptability in the Philippine setting helped incumbent President Benigno Aquino 3rd come about with the regrettable statement that he is worth a second term.

Why on earth is our region so pathologically attached to incestuous politics? To paraphrase Cassius, why would men, born equally free, be so enamored of political demigods and bow to them. The fault, he told Brutus, “is in ourselves.” Indeed, the fault is in ourselves.

The Widodo victory is instructive. The region can slay the dragon of dynasties and make us choose fresh leaders with fresh surnames. But Widodo has to do a lot of work. He is a fresh face and he is not attached —encumbered rather—to the political establishment of Indonesia. What he needs to do is pick cabinet members who share his background and start the tough process of weaning away his huge democracy from legacy politics.

The Philippines has the ideal environment to vote for a Widodo. For the past 13 or so years, our two presidents have been legacy presidents and straight up we can say that both governments, to be nice about it, have been uninspiring. Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Aquino have governed like entitled brats.

The actuations of a leader who came up from privilege, like what Mr. Aquino have been demonstrating of late, should make us resolve to untie our politics from its dynastic moorings. Enough.

The anti-dynasty bill up in the Senate will help. But it needs some changes, including the sponsorship. The senator-sponsor, Senator Guingona, is a poseur, is a legacy politician and lacks the high moral ground to rave and rant against dynastic politics.

So it is upon us free men to undo the years of enslavement to legacy politics and dynasties of all kind, whether the garden variety types and the major political families from whose gene pool we have—knowingly and without coercion – selected our presidents. Across the globe, whether in advanced democracies or in banana republics masquerading as democracies, there is one sustained narrative in politics: the rule of political dynasties, or, at the very least, the rule of leaders from entitled families. More so in our own region.

The rule of dynasties and the rule of entrenched families, without a doubt, has its nerve center in the Malay world. Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have their brown races deeply infatuated with political royalties. In fact, a once-part of the Malay world that is associated with First World growth and amazing meritocracy, Singapore, is even presided over by a legacy prime minister. Though Lee Kwan Yew’s son seems as bright and competent as the original.

But casting competence aside, you will see that the Malay world, including Singapore, is still under the grip of legacy politics in the 21st century.

If we include Thailand, where the brother-and-sister prime ministers educated at universities in the Appalachians —Thaksin Shinawatra at the low-ranked Eastern Kentucky University and sister Yingluck at the third-tier Kentucky State University—are unacceptable to the political royalists who prefer those from Oxford-Cambridge, we have the four original Asean countries with enduring love affairs with elite politics.

There has yet to be a serious academic study on why legacy politics throbs and thrives in the region. Surely, it should be looked at it in-depth. So far, the region is only topped by Stalinist North Korea on its preference for dynastic politics.

Until, of course, the July elections in Indonesia that elected Joko Widodo, the well-loved governor of Jakarta, as president. That was a welcome break for a huge nation too politically attached to its past. Is Indonesia about to rewrite its long infatuation with legacy politicians, leaders with military backgrounds, Bung Karno’s heirs and the remaining cronies of the despot Suharto to really test the liberating impact of meritocracy?

And, would his victory over a remnant of the Suharto regime, perhaps help temper the dynastic impulses in our own region? Hopefully. The political leadership, and by this we mean presidencies and prime ministers and not just regional posts, cannot be the monopolies of a few political families forever and ever.

The Philippines is Exhibit A of families monopolizing the top leadership.. Diosdado Macapagal and daughter Gloria Arroyo. Then Corazon Aquino and Benigno Aquino 3rd. Indonesia, with its more than 7,000 islands and its massive population, is hardly the locale where dynastic politics would thrive. But we have President Sukarno and daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri. And the remnants of despot Suharto spread out in positions of power. In Malaysia, the 6th prime minister, the incumbent Najib Razak is a son of the 2nd prime minister, Abdul Razak Hussein and nephew of the third prime minister, Tun Hussein Onn.

Why would the third largest democracy in the world, Indonesia, have a father and daughter as president. Why would one of the most populous country on Planet Earth, the Philippines, do that twice over? Why would a country with pretensions to 21st century modernity, Malaysia, have an incumbent prime minister who is the son of a former prime minister and the nephew of another prime minister? Mind you, these are not small, hole-in-the-wall democracies. They were also colonies that fought for liberation and its citizens are not pliable softies.

Legacy politics and its perfect acceptability in the Philippine setting helped incumbent President Benigno Aquino 3rd come about with the regrettable statement that he is worth a second term.

Why on earth is our region so pathologically attached to incestuous politics? To paraphrase Cassius, why would men, born equally free, be so enamored of political demigods and bow to them. The fault, he told Brutus, “is in ourselves.” Indeed, the fault is in ourselves.

The Widodo victory is instructive. The region can slay the dragon of dynasties and make us choose fresh leaders with fresh surnames. But Widodo has to do a lot of work. He is a fresh face and he is not attached —encumbered rather—to the political establishment of Indonesia. What he needs to do is pick cabinet members who share his background and start the tough process of weaning away his huge democracy from legacy politics.

The Philippines has the ideal environment to vote for a Widodo. For the past 13 or so years, our two presidents have been legacy presidents and straight up we can say that both governments, to be nice about it, have been uninspiring. Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Aquino have governed like entitled brats.

The actuations of a leader who came up from privilege, like what Mr. Aquino have been demonstrating of late, should make us resolve to untie our politics from its dynastic moorings. Enough.

The anti-dynasty bill up in the Senate will help. But it needs some changes, including the sponsorship. The senator-sponsor, Senator Guingona, is a poseur, is a legacy politician and lacks the high moral ground to rave and rant against dynastic politics.

So it is upon us free men to undo the years of enslavement to legacy politics and dynasties of all kind, whether the garden variety types and the major political families from whose gene pool we have—knowingly and without coercion – selected our presidents.

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4 Comments

  1. legacy politics nobody could avoid it because in the family, the father and the mother is the first person in the life of children, they become the example of their children that if you ask them what would you be when you grow up, the boy without hesitation will say i would be like my father and it is also true to girls following their mother. Children are great imitators so most parents who are ambitious also mold their children to be a better citizens by giving a very good educations that with a plan that the chidren will be much better than them as life is a relay. Since in our experiences, corruptions becomes part of the system, the objective is to make our country economically stable that can give comfort to the populations by allowing big foreign businessess to invest here with some attractions such as tax incentives or 100 % ownership subject to our laws. Going back to politics, our legislature should formulate a leaders qualifications thus has already enough wealth that with his position the temptation of enrichment is no longer his priority so he will do the best for the good of our country the philippines.

  2. pinoy voters should make a change this time. Right now, there is no good presidential candidate among the current politicians. Friends of pinoy, binay and family, Fernando poe and family, marcos and family. and all the rest who are grandchildren or great grandchildren of politicians of yore. It is time that pinoys should take their chance on a new face, new policies, new rules, new games, new outlook, new everything. PLEASE DO NOT VOTE FOR ANYONE IN THE CURRENT LIST OF WANNABEES.Let us try a new method and if we lose, we will lose anyway with the politicians that we have right now. why not try a new face with a new set of principles? We must all unite to junk all the current politicians and vote for someone totally new, with a some college educational background, with principles, preferably a very strong woman who never ran before. Women are less likely prone to gimmicks except of course the queen of pdaf. Women does not easily fall to a man’s romantic gimmicks but men are weaker in that avenue. let us find a new face a strong personality that cannot be persuaded by money and power. Maybe if we are lucky we can have the first 4 years in good hands until that person becomes blinded by money and power. At least we have the 4 years whereas if we vote for the current politicians, we will have hell from day 1. Or maybe the mayor of Davao will run and rule with an iron fist and make life easier for us with less drugs, less crime, and a clean Philippines/

  3. There is another factor to this “legacy politics” that has spawned the vicious cycle of the same breed of politicians ruling here and this is, as identified by your fellow columnist, the concept or element of “winnability”. In all presidential elections the candidate who appears most winnable attracts the support of business tycoons who will want to ensure that the next president will be their friend (or “bata”) and coming from a family of entrenched politicians is a major consideration of being a “winnable”. Of course there are other considerations like name recall and popularity as an actor like Erap and FPJ which the tycoons have in the past recognized (Erap was bank rolled by Lucio). In the end it is the candidate who has the biggest winnable image (when Cory died the winnability of pnoy soared) will be the candidate who gets the largest war chest and the support of everyone (media, SWS, etc.) follows and the rest is another repeat of history. You may be right that as Cassius says we are at fault and we deserve the government we

  4. another attempt to your legacy politics, mar roxas, bongbong marcos, chiz escudero, allan cayetano and so many wannabees are lining up to be the next president.

    it transcends the whole country, the SK chairman being the son of the barrio captain, a budding councilor being the son of the mayor, not to mention the wife of the governor running for congress and vice versa. it is the culture of stupidy, more than legacy politics that will rule the philippines in the next thousand years.