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The Aging Theory of Political Science: President Marcos of the Philippines, President Suharto of Indonesia, and Hmong General Vang Pao

Source: Asian Pages

The Aging Theory of Political Science argues that the longer the politicians, especially the heads of states, stay in power the more corrupt they become. Serving offices without term limitation, office holders often go down in history with ugly legacies because of their corruption and leadership incompetence. This occurs when leaders are aged but stay in power for an extended period of time (more than 15 years), not knowing when to get out of office. As politicians stay long in office, their ideas misrepresent the interests of the people, but they retain power through co-optation, coercion, and thus cooperation.

Manipulation and consolidation, however, do not guarantee power if the intellectuals who possess not only political knowledge but also new visions to better serve societal interests have been prevented from raising their voices.

The above theory seems to hold and explain many leaders across the continents, but this article zeroes in on the following Southeast Asian leaders - Presidents Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesian, and Hmong General Vang Pao - as specific examples.

Dr. Gary Haws, an American scholar on the Philippines, argues that President Marcos would have been recognized as one of the great leaders in the Philippines, besides President Ramon Magsaysay, if Marcos had complied with the Constitution and left office after his second term in 1972.

Under his leadership, Marcos commanded not only political stability but also economic development (7% rate of annual growth), making the Philippines one of the fastest growing economies in SEA.

In September of 1972, Marcos, however, abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law, arguing that the communist insurgents were on the rise threatening national security.

Thus, he needed extraordinary measures to prevent the national crisis, but the truth was that, according to Haws, the Constitution limited the President to serve the office of the presidency for only two terms of 8 years, limiting Marcos to seek his third term. Marcos, therefore, abolished the Constitution, imposed martial law, and ruled the Philippines with decrees under his authoritarian regime for the next 14 years.

To retain power under his `New Society' dictatorial government, Marcos appointed all his confidants to head all major departments, principally the military, and to build up a "crony capitalism," placing his close friends in charge of the business conglomerates despite their lack of business acumen, according to Dr. Clark Neher. Marcos also curtailed the basic civil liberties, censored the presses, and purged all his opponents, including Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., Marcos' principal rival, who was shot to death at the very moment when he stepped off the airplane in Manila upon returning home from exile in the United States.

The death of Aquino coupled with Marcos' corruption and repressive regime of the New Society motivated the "People Power," who were led by Mrs. Aquino, to unite publicly forcing Marcos not only to step down as President but also to flee into exile in Hawaii where he eventually died.

The demise of Marcos was similar to fall of President Suharto of Indonesia in 1997. Dr. Dwight King, a noted American specialist on Indonesian affairs, argues that if Suharto had resigned his presidency ten years ago, he would have gone down in history as an honorable, outstanding leader not only in Indonesia but also in Third World countries in terms of economic development.

In 1965, the state of the Indonesian economy was so dismal (the inflation rate had reached more than 1000%), and the situation allowed a coup d'etat which brought Suharto to power. The New Order of Suharto was able to improve the economy: the $100 annual income per capita of 1965 reached its apex of $1,086 in the 1990s, according to King.

Suharto's family, however, controlled all major industries in the country, making his children some of the world's richest people. Suharto's son Tommy, according to King, owned the company that manufactures the "national car," the Timor. Tommy's exclusive tax exemption and tariff concession allowed him to sell the Timor about half price monopolizing the markets.

Suharto's eldest daughter, Tutut Siti Hadijanti Rukmana, also controlled the company that collects revenues from Java's principal toll roads.

Moreover, she also held a senior position in Golkar, the political apparatus of Suharto's government. Is this nepotism?

Suharto's corruption combined with the Asian Financial Crises of 1997, which badly affected the Indonesian economy, brought thousands of students and intellectuals onto the streets throughout the country protesting against Suharto's government and demanding Suharto's resignation. As the protests grew bigger and bigger from East to West and from South to North, Suharto, despite initial defiance, ultimately resigned. Now, Suharto is guarded in Jakarta, the nation's capital, waiting for his corrupt trial.

Comparatively, the above examples well explain Hmong General Vang Pao's leadership. No Hmong or Laotian would deny that Vang Pao was a capable military leader, who fought bravely against the communist Pathet Lao to defend Laotian democracy. This he did in the Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War alongside the Royal Lao government and the U.S. CIA.

Fighting to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through the eastern border of Laos to South Vietnam, the General and his Hmong forces prevented the Vietminh forces from reaching South Vietnam, prolonging the war for 15 years since 1960s to 1975.

In addition, for the Hmong, Vang Pao should be considered one of the capable leaders who could develop his people.

At his best, even though Vang Pao was a military leader, he had a vision to educate his Hmong about modernization. Under his leadership from the 1960s to 1975, schools and hospitals were built into Hmong villages throughout Laos, and about one hundred of the Hmong villages throughout Laos, and about one hundred of the Hmong students were able to study abroad despite discrimination against them that was highly prevalent across the country. These educated people are today's Hmong community leaders, doctors, and engineers.

Moreover, although ethnic abuse against the Hmong was standardized in Laos, the Hmong, under Vang Pao's military leadership, were appointed to become national judge, minister, governors, and mayors in the country. Above all, viewing Vang Pao's leadership contributions to the Hmong society, he deserves a good legacy in Hmong history prior to 1975.

On the other hand, after 1975, Vang Pao himself created an ugly chapter of history. His policies not only misrepresented the interests of the Hmong people but also corrupted them. In 1975, when the Pathet Lao took over the country, Vang Pao and other officials of the Royal Lao government resigned their official duties, airlifted to Thailand, and eventually became political refugees in the United States, France and Canada.

Once Vang Pao and hundreds of Hmong arrived in Thailand, the General organized the Hmong resistance fighters to retake Laos by force although he was well aware that only the Hmong Diaspora would never conquer Laos with such a approach. The General, however, had to form such groups, so he could continue claiming the Hmong leadership. (Otherwise, to lose the leadership, Vang Pao would have acknowledged his own failings.) His supporters, nevertheless, have been primarily made up of his former soldiers, who have little or no formal education but experienced engaging in guerrilla fighting.

To finance his guerrilla activities, Vang Pao has created two methods of raising money in the Hmong community here in the U.S.: the General has established an "unofficial" leadership system. That is, Vang Pao has appointed his followers to become the designated ministers, generals, governors, mayors, and police chiefs responsible to govern Laos when they retook the country. Each appointee, in return, has paid (and continue to pay) a handful of money (depending on the rank) to the General.

Another way of raising money has been to celebrate the Hmong New Year several times per calendar year. Thus, Vang Pao and his groups, using all means necessary to make money, have ruined the Hmong New Year: celebrating the New Year from September throughout December from California to Minnesota each year has degraded Hmong culture and tradition, diluting the values of the Hmong New Year.

Moreover, the celebrations have succeeded in confusing people outside the Hmong community: there are several "new years" per calendar year!

The General and his people, however, have earned thousands of dollars from each celebration, allowing him and his closest confidants a rich lifestyle in the U.S. without engaging in any job. Indeed, they are all too busy enough organizing more Hmong new years!

Anthropologists, i.e. Margaret Mead, argue that cultures identify people. A Buddhist, for example, believes in reincarnation, whereas a Cao Dai believer holds that the ideal creed should combine both religious and secular principles. These religious differences explain who the Buddhist and the Cao Dai are as believers. In a larger context, the logic may be used to explain people. For example, the Hmong New Year Celebration and its activities, such as dressing in the Hmong finest cloths and tossing special balls, differentiate the Hmong from other peoples in terms of culture. But Hmong culture, especially the New Year, has been ruined!

Ethnically speaking, political scientists, i.e. Michael Brown and Sumit Ganguly, argue that in order for a group of individuals to be recognized as a people in terms of social, political, and economic rights and determination, they must have their own culture, such as language, arts, dances food, and the like, and such culture must be preserved. On the other hand, a group of individuals without culture cannot socially and politically claim their rights of self-determination.

As an ethnic group of people, we Hmong must preserve our culture: celebrating our New Year at its traditional time, November or December of each year. Specifically, we propose that our Hmong New Year should be celebrated on specific days: December 26th to the 1st of January each year. We, therefore, strongly advise Vang Pao and his organizations to stop using our New Year Celebration as a method of personal enrichment, raising money starting in September and lasting in December of each year.

The Aging Theory of Political Science is truly valid. If, like Marcos of the Philippines and Suharto of Indonesia, Vang Pao has lost his focus, then he too needs to be shown to the exit.