Asian models of governance

Asian models of governance Featured

IN past columns, we made a case for pursuing alternatives to our kind of democracy that is not working as intended by our American colonialists. We compared democratic governments and authoritarian regimes — isolating criteria that could work for us and those we need to discard. Whether a government is democratic or authoritarian, it must, above all, serve and promote the welfare of its people by protecting their security and well-being, maintaining law and order, and providing essential public services, which are equated with universal access to health care, education, employment and dwelling (HEED). For this to be possible, governments must ensure that their economy grows and are stable. Freedom of speech, choice of beliefs, freedom to dissent, and even freedom to bear arms are subordinate. The controversy and clash of ideas start with how Western and Eastern cultures define and perceive these freedoms as central to their system of governance.

Democratic and authoritarian priorities

From here on in, their methods deviate, consistent with their ideals and ideology, springing forth from how their power is ultimately arrived at and dispensed with. On the two extremes, a democratic government is elected by its citizenry, deriving its power from that fact. An authoritarian government, by contrast, draws its power from a few selected individuals who control government. Both systems, therefore, originate diverse priorities impacting how their responsibilities to their constituencies are carried out. In the former, serving the people's interest and promoting the common good is its mantra. In the latter, the ruling elite's interest takes precedence. Both approaches are anathema to each other, thus fueling the geopolitical misalignments, dividing the world into different camps.

Our progressive Asian neighbors

The working methodologies from both democratic and authoritarian systems are what we seek for the Philippines. This mix of democratic and authoritarian practices, which is the core of the success of our three Asian neighbors, is what we should emulate. To better understand these mixed features, a telescoped version of each country's government and its development during the tutelage of their most effective political leaders may be relevant — Lee Kwan Yew (LKY) of Singapore, Mohammad Mahathir of Malaysia and Park Chung-hee of South Korea.

Singapore has a parliamentary form of government with a unicameral legislature where members of parliament (MPs) are elected at large in a general election under a political party system. LKY, the prime minister in power since the country's founding in 1965, sculpted Singapore politically and economically from a backward country to a developed one after being booted out of Federal Malaysia. His political vehicle, the People's Action Party (PAP), dominated a freely elected democratic parliament.

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament and a ceremonial head of state, the hereditary monarch (king). Real political power resides in the prime minister (PM), elected by a parliamentary majority of the lower house, the Dewan Rakyat. The upper chamber or senate, known also as Dewan Negara, essentially a sinecure, is appointed by the king upon the PM's advice.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad propelled Malaysia into joining the world's developed countries. In a multi-party system where elections are regularly held, his ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, was the dominant political power until it lost power in the 2018 general elections.

South Korea has a unitary presidential system of government similar to that of the Philippines. The president is the head of state and government and is elected by the people for a single five-year term. The country has a multi-party system. But unlike the Philippines, it only has a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly, that oversees government and passes laws, no competing power bloc equivalent to the Philippines' Senate.

Park Chung-hee, president of South Korea for 18 years until his assassination in 1979, oversaw the rapid political and economic development of the country while the government was under military dispensation. He implemented policies pursuing export-oriented industrialization, promoting heavy industries, and encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI), transforming South Korea into a global economic power.

Mixed democratic-authoritarian features

Mulling over the successes of these three countries with mixed democratic and authoritarian governments, headed at one time or another by charismatic but despotic leaders, we focus on the results instead. Overall, the improvement of the living standards of people is imperative, lifting them from stark poverty brought about under a democratically elected representative government but with an authoritarian mindset of their leaders.

Although ostensibly a democracy, both Singapore and Malaysia, particularly under LKY and Mahathir respectively, have at one time or another during their rule curtailed certain aspects of democratic ideals, which they deemed to be Western values incompatible with the cultural contexts of their Asian constituencies — Malay, Chinese, Indian — restricting freedom of speech, political opposition and on occasion, suppression of dissent. Emphasis instead was put on economic freedom, enabling citizens to accumulate wealth.

As to South Korea, starting as a military-run government for four decades, they have not put closure to their war with North Korea, and with such a belligerent neighbor that could restart the war at any time, their democratic freedoms are tempered and shaped by these realities. Under President Roh Tae-woo, another former military general, a full transition to democracy was realized only after Park Chung-hee laid the foundation for the country's transformation into a world-class economy.

Political, structural and economic reforms

These three countries' success is no doubt attributable to several distinct factors, foremost of which are drastic political reforms imposed by a strong, authoritarian and charismatic leader. True, these leaders restricted freedoms, but the trade-off was a rapid increase in the living standards of their people, emancipating a large segment from stark poverty. For specifics:

1. They embarked on a massive investment in human capital, education system, and skills development directed toward an industrialized economy where their workforce is poised toward global competition. Regulatory capture by industrialists was eliminated in Singapore while bureaucratic corruption in government in Malaysia and South Korea was minimized with a harsh rule of law applied.

2. Markets were opened, and foreign direct investment (FDI) was encouraged, prioritizing economic development and industrialization. This was an impetus for growth that allowed them to invest in infrastructures and technology, improving further living standards and the quality of life of the citizenry.

3. The three charismatic authoritarian-bent leaders created strong progressive-minded political party majorities and thus, with strong governance, created efficient institutions, allowing a pragmatic approach to policymaking, and prioritizing practical solutions involving local leaders and civil communities.

4. The governance system of our three neighbors tolerated a certain amount of political stability favorable to long-term planning. Such a climate is conducive to conceptualizing policies and strategies for social progress and economic growth.

Contrast this with the Philippines. From the very start, we have been given a political system and a form of government that, over time, surfaced the least desired trait of our datu-sultanate culture — political patronage. This was ingrained in our political culture, permeating the very sinews of a good part of our political life. Our political system itself is a perversion, and this travesty has been embedded in our Constitution.

Next week: How do we fix this?000
Read 413 times Last modified on Thursday, 28 September 2023 01:33
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