Quezon and Ataturk: a study of strongman rule | Inquirer Opinion

Quezon and Ataturk: a study of strongman rule

/ 04:00 AM August 24, 2011

(First of two parts)

Strongman usually emerge on the tail of historical convulsions ending empires and giving birth to new nations. Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippines, first president of the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935, and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, founder of the first Turkish Republic of Oct. 23, 1923, were two such leaders who established the structures of two modern republics of the early 20th century.


As founding fathers of transitional states, these men molded the shape of their embryonic republics with their visions, political and social ideas that turned upside down the political culture of the dying social order, with their audacity for change and innovations, as well as their idiosyncrasies and their foibles.

This author has studied the political careers of these two men since our own People Power Revolution of 1986 put an end to the Marcos dictatorship. This comparative study of leadership style draws on a number of parallels in the methods and, sometimes, impulses of these leaders—both marked by authoritarian tendencies. Both leaders, like most rulers who have remade the face of their nations in the course of revolutions, dominated men and the direction of events through the sheer force of their personality. They unleashed no less than cultural revolutions in transforming their political and social systems during their leadership.


Quezon, who was born on Aug. 19, 1878, started his public life as a military aide of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the dictator president of the first Republic, who presided over the failed Philippine Revolution of 1898, after the American annexation of the Philippines, that ended more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. Filipino resistance to the American military intervention ended with the capture of Aguinaldo in the mountains of Isabela, and Quezon witnessed the captivity of Aguinaldo in Malacañang.

That ended the short-lived Philippine-American war, and Quezon’s brief stint as a soldier against the American invader but not against Spain.

With the resistance vanquished, the Spanish empire vanished into history, like many other empires. Quezon’s public life changed course as the new American empire established at the start of its own colonial rule co-opted the revolutionaries and guerrillas into its own system of empire. Quezon completed his law studies and, after being licensed as a lawyer in 1903, joined the new civilian government installed by the Americans as fiscal for Mindoro. He later moved to his home province of Tayabas, also as fiscal. His political life started when he was elected councilor in 1906. In the same year, he was elected governor.

The American colonial administration started building the political infrastructure at the executive level. The first elections started with local offices in 1902, establishing the pattern that henceforth the political system would be based on local executives, particularly governors. Thus the first leaders of early American colonization were local executives, establishing the foundation of strong executive leadership and dominant central government.

Quezon and his foremost rival for national leadership, Sergio Osmeña, and most governors became the main recruitment material when the first national elections for the Philippine Assembly was held in 1907. Quezon won a seat in the Assembly, and was elected majority leader, starting his rise to power and leadership of the Nacionalista Party, which was eventually to become the ruling party of the single-party democracy of the Commonwealth period, and as the standard bearer of the Philippine independence movement.

No less a patriot and nationalist, Ataturk was born in 1881 and died in 1938, three years after the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. There is no evidence of correspondence between him and Filipino leaders. Trained in a military academy, Ataturk rose to power as a soldier. According to the Encyclopedia of the Middle East, Ataturk was one of the officers who took part in the Young Turks’ Revolution in 1908. After taking part in military maneuvers in France, Ataturk fought in wars against the Italian invasion of Turkey. He also fought in the Balkan War in 1912.

Ataturk favored Turkey’s neutrality in World War I, with the possibility of eventual Turkish intervention on the side of the allies. But he was overruled by Enver Pashas, one of the Young Turks. Atarurk fought under the German “advisor” Otto Liman von Sanders, who was in charge of the Galipoli peninsula during the allied invasion.


Gallipoli guarded the Dardanelles, which was a potential trade route for Russia through the Black Sea. The landing at Gallipoli proved to be a military disaster for the English and French forces, which suffered heavy losses. Ataturk, commanded a strategic salient in Gallipoli, and is credited for the decisive defense that repulsed the invasion.

According to the encyclopedia, “Though the allies gave much credit of the victory at Gallipoli to von Sanders, subsequent events seemed to indicate that von Sanders was at best a mediocre general. Ataturk’s brilliant defense of Gallipoli made him a national hero, and his address to his soldiers has been immortalized in Turkish military annals. Ataturk told them: ‘I am not giving you an order to attack. I am ordering you to die.”’

After Gallipoli, the gates were flung open for Ataturk’s rise to supreme political power in Turkey. His path to create the first secular Muslim republic in history was cleared. Ataturk took power upon the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

(Next: The political reforms of Quezon and Ataturk.)

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TAGS: dictator president Emilio Aquinaldo, founder of the first Turkish Republic, Manuel L. Quezon, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, Philippine Commonwealth of 1935
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