Political dynasty: Bane or boon? — Khoo Ying Hooi
JUNE 6 — In a recent interview with Malaysiakini, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali said he was against the practice of dynasty politics in the country.
Though he “defended” Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s family members (wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and daughter Nurul Izzah are respectively the party’s president and vice president) whom he said were democratically elected to their posts, he warned PKR not to fall into the trap of “nepotism and cronyism” as in the case of Umno.
The practice of dynasty politics exists in both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is the son of the second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak; Mukhriz Mahathir is the son of former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad; DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng is the son of senior advisor Lim Kit Siang; Karpal Singh’s sons, Gobind Singh and Jagdeep Singh, are both elected representatives; PAS Youth deputy chairman Nik Abduh is the son of PAS Spiritual Advisor Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat, and the list goes on.
We have dynasty politics everywhere, although it is most apparent in Asia. For generations, political dynasties have dominated politics and governance in Asia, particularly in South Asia. Like the Nehru-Gandhi family in India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan are one of the world’s most famous political dynasties.
From the United States, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh in South Asia, to Japan and China in East Asia and Singapore, Philippines in South-east Asia, prominent family background has proved to be a central factor for one’s ascendancy to the pinnacles of power. This phenomenon takes place regardless of the independent levels of economic development, cultural differences, and types of political systems.
A brief list includes: in the United States, former President George W. Bush (son of former President George Bush); in Argentina, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (wife of former President Nestor Kirchner); in Japan, former Prime Minister of Japan Yukia Hatoyama (grandson of former Prime Minister Ichirō Hatoyama); in Thailand, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra); and in the Philippines, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal).
In the Philippines, for example, dynasty politics is very pervasive. Each time there’s an election, it serves as a regular reminder of the roles that feudal instincts and the family name play in that nation’s politics. The current president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is the son of the former president Corazon Aquino.
According to Raymond “Mong” Palatino, a former civil society academic turned Congressman who blogs about Filipino politics, Aquino belongs to the most prominent family in the Philippines today – in fact to the most powerful political family in the past half century.
While dynasty politics continues to conquer the Senate and Congressional contests and political dynasties continue to dominate local politics so much that, there have even been demands for laws against these dynasties. Although Filipino law limits incumbents to three consecutive terms of three years each, families find a way to maintain their power through a loophole that allows relatives to run for the same office.
Such dominance, however, has grown more extensive in recent years. In a political landscape populated by family names, the prominence of so many dynastic elites makes it seem like a family business. Children of the dynasties seem to own a “licence” regarding their political power and positions while ordinary citizens can only accept the arrangement as destined.
So what are the possible consequences of the dynasty politics? Apart from contributing to corruption, the inequality in the distribution of political power may reﬂect imperfections in democratic representation. The dominance of dynasties anticipates the expansion of political participation and empowerment of people. There are more fundamental problems, too.
They are also in a way preventing new talent, new ideas or literally, new blood from entering politics. A senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, Sota Kato, said, “it takes a blood test to get elected these days”. With dynasty politics, politics becomes about personalities alone and name recognition places a much more important role than the competence.
The Kennedys were the most famous Western political dynasty, while the Bush election as the second instance in American history of a father-son presidency ascertains that dynastic politics do not just happen in Third World democracies and dictator regimes.
So are we ready for another political dynasty?
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.