“Lights are stronger in the contrast.” Charles Dickens’ line came to mind when TV footage showed Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay clad in starched barong, flinging instructions at aides, trying to look, well, presidential. He did not differ from the suave but lagging-in-the-polls Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.
See the stark contrast in the seventh president-elect of Indonesia: Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, 53. Binay is 71 and has no assurance he’ll enter Malacañang after the 2016 elections. Come October, Widodo will work from the white-colonnaded Merdeka Palace.
“Joko appeals to ordinary Indonesians and international business,” Michael Bachelard wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. The skinny kid, whose family lodged in a bamboo shack and was evicted thrice, is “a breath of fresh air—the best hope Indonesian democracy has yet produced to end corruption and cronyism entrenched by a cozy usually ex-military elite.”
Like Widodo, Binay was a man of modest means—at the start. “Back in the mid-1980s, I covered Binay as a human rights lawyer. He was anything but wealthy,” blogged Raissa Robles, Manila correspondent of South China Morning Post of Hongkong and Radio Netherlands.
Not anymore. “When I interviewed Binay shortly before his June 2010 inauguration, I was astounded by his huge, fully airconditioned dining room and by the bountiful breakfast there—like a hotel buffet complete with ham, bacon and cake for dessert. His kitchen is industrial-type.
“I know because I was made to pass through the kitchen door” and saw his huge, long dining table, fully carved chairs, old religious icons on display, etc. “The ceiling centerpiece is a lovely Venetian-type chandelier.” So, when Binay displayed his paksiw na isda at the May 27 Makati Stock Exchange buffet lunch where he was guest of honor, the obvious PR bid boomeranged.
Widodo’s wife Irina shies from the public limelight, unsullied by scandal. They shield their five children from publicity. In contrast, Dr. Elenita Binay is a political figure on her own. So is the family. They battle several raps—from sleaze to abuse.
Doctor Binay’s lawyers will sue a special prosecutor of the Ombudsman for reviving cases against alleged overpricing of hospital beds at the Ospital ng Makati when she was mayor. “That was dismissed with finality three years ago,” she fumes.
Binay’s son has not tamped down the “Makati gate” scandal. Subdivision guards told his convoy the gates were closed for exit at 10 p.m. and to use the alternate exit five minutes down the road. He spent an hour berating, then arresting, the guards.
The election of Widodo demonstrates “for the Philippines and Malaysia a break from dynastic politics,” writes Philip Bowring, Asia commentator for the International Herald Tribune and former editor of Far Eastern Economic Review. For Burma (Myanmar) and Cambodia, he says, Indonesia shows genuine elections can produce change without chaos—provided power holders concede or institutions are sufficiently responsive to prevent elections from being hijacked.
“In Thailand, the military’s solution has been to abolish voting because of the embarrassment of having to nullify the results in the name of a king who appears incapable of speech and a crown prince incapable of being respected.”
Bowring continues: President Aquino the son was elected because of his name and the nation’s respect for his parents. In previous years, he appeared to have made most of the right decisions. And he led his country to a less corrupt, more dynamic future with social reform as well as economic growth. But his image is tarnished by disrespect for the constitutional process.
Did this come from “an assumption that the Aquino names and his own previous high standing would prevail”? His confrontation with the Supreme Court has had a disastrous impact that will hobble his remaining time in office, Bowring notes.
“So is there a Philippine Jokowi in sight?” Bowring asks. Absolutely not. And yet one is needed at least as badly as Indonesia did.
Bowring answers himself: “As of now the leading contender is Vice President Jejomar Binay. He lacks the reputation for personal integrity that Noynoy enjoyed; he is (also) a classic exponent of dynastic politics.” At the local level, he was succeeded by wife and son as mayor of Makati and at the national level by a daughter who became a senator despite minimal experience.
“Then there is the Marcos clan. (They) continue to be reelected ad infinitum despite the fact that the patriarch, Ferdinand, stole billions from the treasury and generated a kleptomaniac class that ruined what had been a vibrant economy.” In contrast, “Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong has the good sense to keep his offspring and relatives out of politics.”
Bowring then looks to other countries: Next up for a desperately needed break from dynastic politics is Malaysia. Najib Tun Razak is the son of one prime minister and an in-law of another. Leaders in the ruling party include the son of one prime minister and grandson of Umno’s (United Malays National Organization) founder. Mukhriz Mahathir is the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
“Numerous offspring of former Umno bigwigs feed at the great Umno trough. The opposition too is prone to dynasties as well. Lim Kit Siang’s son runs Penang and the Democratic Action Party and Anwar Ibrahim’s wife and daughter are very active in his support.”
In Bangladesh, democratic politics has for years been undermined by the dynastic appeal of two feuding women and their families. In Sri Lanka, family rule has replaced both party rule and real democracy with a dangerous and perverted pseudo-democracy.
“The Philippines and Malaysia need outliers in the mould of Joko: men of unquestioned integrity” and who “spread power to newer groups and individuals.” Tell that to Binay now on the campaign slog.
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