Sunday, September 20, 2009

Asia's political princesses step forward

It may be just a coincidence, but a number of Asia's political princesses are stepping forward at the same time to reclaim a part of the limelight enjoyed by their parents and build political spaces of their own. Some of them have been called the ninjas of their nations and others labelled spoilt brats riding on the wave of support.

No matter. Together, they are livening up the region's political scene. Sceptics are keen to see how they will perform. New faces even appeared in Myanmar last week. The daughters of two former Myanmar premiers jumped into the political fray with intentions to contest elections next year.

Ms Than Than Nu, 62, and Ms Nay Yee Ba Swe, reports say, will team up with Ms Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, the daughter of a former deputy premier, to form the Democratic Party. Their bid has raised questions about what it would do for the fortunes of another political princess - Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of former military General Aung San, who remains under house arrest.

Elsewhere, other daughters are attempting to join the ruling class.

Ms Park Geun Hye, 57, is the daughter of late South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee, who is revered for transforming the country's moribund economy into an industrial powerhouse yet despised by some for his authoritarian ways. She is now among leading contenders to be president when elections are held some time in 2011 or 2012.
Indonesia's Puan Maharani, 36, is the granddaughter of former president Sukarno and daughter of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.

She could become the conciliatory political figure who brings together her mother's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party. Political observers say she may well be offered a position in Dr Yudhoyono's next Cabinet and that she might accept. Encouragement is coming from her father Taufik Kiemas, who reportedly believes that it would not be advantageous for the PDI-P to remain out of government.

In the Philippines, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos' daughter Imee Marcos turned heads last month when she attended the funeral of former president Corazon Aquino, who inspired the people-led revolution that toppled the Marcos regime. Filipino political pundits saw her appearance as a conciliatory gesture to restore rapport between the two prominent political families.

Indeed, dynasty descendants often gain a special position in the region's political landscape. While this treatment is similar for both sons and daughters, the latter often attract more attention, with the respect accorded to them seen as a gesture to elevate the status of women in Asia's male-dominated societies. Among these daughters, those who rose to the highest levels of power exhibited their own strengths as well.

This list would include India's late prime minister Indira Gandhi and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, both of whom were assassinated, and Sri Lanka's former president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Yet there is no denying the similarities that these daughters share with their fathers add to their appeal.
Puan Maharani, observers have said, has the charisma of her mother.

Ms Park, on the other hand, it is said, reflects the strengths of her father. In 2006, she remained unfazed after an assailant pounced on her and slashed her cheek with a small knife, leaving a 10cm cut that required 60 stitches. Less than 10 days after the incident, she was back at work. Likewise, in 1974, her father had remained unshaken when his wife was slain by an assassin's bullet that missed him. He proceeded to conclude his speech before turning to her.

As the chairman of the Grand National Party three years ago, she had helped to consolidate its gains in the elections that took place then. Yet, in a region that is embracing modernisation, there is closer scrutiny of the privileges that such dynasty children enjoy and whether it is commensurate with their contributions.
Manila-based political scientist Benito Lim points out that Ms Marcos went to a university in the United States to study but reportedly did not complete the programme. Still, because of the popularity she enjoyed in the province where the family lives, she became a governor. Today, as she remains in the public eye, there are questions about why she does not do more to improve the plight of her people.

Likewise in Japan, the reappearance of the outspoken, non-conformist, former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka, 65, last month got people talking. She joined the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) just before the election campaign began, promising to play a bigger role. Yet her critics wonder what the daughter of former premier Kakuei Tanaka can contribute, especially now that the DPJ Cabinet has been announced. Some political observers believe she could still play an important role given that DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa was her father's protege.

But her stint in government left much to be desired. As foreign minister in former premier Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet, she upset senior bureaucrats and criticised then US President George W. Bush's missile shield plans. She also clashed with Mr Koizumi, which eventually led to her departure from the Liberal Democratic Party in 2002.

According to Dr Lam Peng Er, a senior research fellow at the East Asia Institute in Singapore, her reappearance is because patronage politics remains alive in Asia. Perhaps she is keeping the seat warm for her son, he suggested. Elevated status
Dynasty descendants often gain a special position in the region's political landscape. While this treatment is similar for both sons and daughters, the latter often attract more attention, with the respect accorded to them seen as a gesture to elevate the status of women in Asia's male- dominated societies. The Straits Times (Singapore) Shefali Rekhi

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