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Debate: Asian democracies, disallow succession of close relatives to top posts

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Should Asian democracies disallow succession of close relatives to top posts?


Background and Context of Debate:

The role that democracy plays in Asian countries is different from the role it plays in most Western countries. While many Western countries no longer have functional monarchs, royal blood in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Brunei and Nepal still own a special position and prerogative in their home countries. In Malaysia, the position of the Malay Sultans is protected by tradition as well as the constitution. Despite not owning direct legislative power, the Sultans still have the prerogative to reject or accept any bills proposed by Parliament.

The tendency for political power to run within the circle of close relatives seems to derive from their historical monarch rule, where the people are likely to support individuals because of their supposed inherent leading capability, via bloodline. In India, the Nehru family's long term grip in the political arena has led them to be termed the Nehru Dynasty.

The Nehru Family of India

The close relationship between a person's rise to power and his network or blood-ties in Asian democracies have raised questions as to whether or not it is the spirit of democracy. Corruption and nepotism that happens because of overlapping interests (familial and political) further fuels negative sentiments pertaining to the ability, through age-old connections, of a politically powerful family to ensure that interests of the people are not jeopardized. However, supporters of political families argue that the experience the family has and the effectiveness of governance is more important than upholding the 'principles' of democracy. Other factors in defending relatives' succession to political positions lies in the individual right to participate in the politics, and that a person should not be punished and exorcised from this right just because he/she was born in a family with another political talent.

Anwar Ibrahim & daughter, Nurul Izzah of Malaysia

Does possible cronism & nepotism or perceived cronism & nepotism supersede right of individual to run for post?


  • As most of them would already have established themselves in political scene through the influential family member succession can be due to cronism as opposed to capability-based appointment. For example, in Malaysian politics, many link the quick elevation to power of Khairy Jamaluddin, at only 32 now is the Deputy Chief of UMNO Youth and a Member of Parliament, is linked with his father-in-law being the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi
  • The politically established family member could use the successor are a means to still exert influence and power over the government, thus any changes in the political scene is only superficial and not substantiated in new policies and ideas.


  • It is unfair for an otherwise talented and capable individual to be deprived of a post just because he is related to blood ties. Perception of bias does not provide a direct harm on anyone and does not justify removing a person of his political participation. Public perception can easily change positively once a relative moves into a post and does a good job.
  • Public perception can also work in their favor. Individuals who are offspring of talented leaders often become supported by the public and are requested to continue their father's leadership. In Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was widely supported by the people because of the public loved her father, Diosdado Macapagal, the 9th Philippine president, known as "The Incorruptible". In Malaysia, currently two young political figures are quickly gaining popularity because of their fathers' legacy. Nurul Izzah Anwar of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is loved by supporters of former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim; while Mukhriz Mahathir gains support from supporters of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Does it turn democracy into a form of monarchy?


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Even if it did, it should not matter. What should matter when judging the effectiveness of a government is its ability to improve the living standards of its people. Even with a highly restricted democracy, Lee Kuan Yew and his circle have turned Singapore into a rich and prosperous country. The Kims in North Korea, on the other hand, have run their country into the ground. Succession is not the issue; the capacity of the person(s) succeeding is the issue.

Does it undermine the credibility of the candidate & jeopardize his ability to serve the people?


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Hardly. Those who grew up around political families may be better able to serve the people and may have more credibility than those without such experience. Consider the Benazir Bhutto's courage in navigating Pakistani politics or the unique credibility and savvy that Ang Sang Suu Kyi's father's legacy bequeathed to her. Again, disallowing succession would only make sense if all such successions were a bad idea. The bottom line is that many are good for Asian countries, meaning a blanket ban without considering context would stunt freedoms and prosperity in many Asian countries.


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