Tue, Jan 08, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Dynastic successions in Asia present tough challenges

Dynastic succession may be a pattern, but leaders who feel a sense of entitlement are likely to fail

By Kishore Mahbubani

South Korea is clearly a successful country that is struggling to define itself. In theory, it should be celebrating its economic and cultural achievements. In practice, as a small country in a troubled neighborhood — and with North Korea a constant source of tension — it lives in existential anxiety.

Park Geun-hye, whose victory has not diminished her people’s ambivalent attitude toward her father, must know that healing the obvious divisions in South Korean society will not be easy.


The most difficult job is the one that awaits Rahul Gandhi. No single party can dominate Indian politics as the Congress Party has done since independence, implying a future of difficult and quarrelsome coalitions. In these circumstances, India needs, above all, decisive leadership. Yet, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rahul seems uncertain. He could have taken the job several years ago, if he had chosen to do so. His hesitation must reflect a deep anxiety.

Yet his reluctance is understandable. Again, dynastic succession does not ensure success.

For example, Razak has made an enormous effort to reunify his country with his “1Malaysia” message. Yet all the indications are that he will face an extremely hard-fought election this year. Though unlikely, his Barisan Nasional coalition could fall apart. No such prospect faced his predecessors.

In Japan, Abe is universally regarded to have performed badly in his first stint as prime minister between 2006 and 2007, despite his distinguished lineage. Now he takes over an even more troubled country with huge domestic and external challenges. Few are betting on his succeeding.

In short, Asia’s pattern of dynastic leadership does not render it immune from the challenges that the rest of the world faces.

As Asia creates the world’s largest middle class — projected to grow more than three-fold, from 500 million to 1.75 billion, by 2020 — it will also have to cope with demands for more competent and more accountable governments. In Asia today, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Kishore Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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