Oligarchy, is a form of government in which power rests with a small segment of society distinguished by royalty,wealth,family ties or religious hegemony and often controlled by politically powerful families whose children are heavily conditioned and mentored to be heirs of oligarchy.
More often than not, oligarchy goes hand in hand with plutocracy, a government ruled by the wealthy in which political power is provided by the power of wealth.
South and South East Asia is a region more prone to this system of government where children of powerful politicians are groomed to continue the family tradition in politics.
Power in such states also means the power to amass wealth through abuses and corruptions.
A good example is the making of the business oligarchs in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union where state enterprises were privatised and left in the hands of a small group of people.This handful of men who had become extremely wealthy and powerful were greedy to the point of being criminal.Their chicanery eventually caught up with them.They have become so powerful that the government of Valdimir Putin found them becoming a big threat to his government and the nation.A crack down ensued.The arrest and jailing of the wealthiest man in Russia.
Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion.The 'people capitalism' as the Russian called it made people like Khodorkovsky filthy rich almost overnight.He was reputedly worth US$15 billion in that short span of time. Khodorkovsky was a case of business oligarch going against the ruling oligarch which has limitless power to put anyone in misery.
I will concentrate my findings mainly to Malaysia and to a lesser extent other South East Asian countries where oligarchical political power is almost institutionalised.
In Malaysia, oligarchy cover the whole political spectrum, left and right.The epithets would be our Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the son of former Prime Minister Tun Razak Hussein, Hishammudin Onn, also the son of a former prime minister,Tun Hussein Onn and Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.Najib and Hishamuddin are cousins and Najib is closely allied to Mahathir.
Family members of the oligarchs are also prominent in business.
Najib's brother Nazir Tun Razak control the CIMB group, a government linked company and a leading banking group in Malaysia.He is the second highest paid CEO in Malaysia earning RM9.35 million in 2007. Mahathir's son Mokzani and Mukriz control a number of private and public listed companies.Mokzani is reputedly worth around US$300 million.Forbes reported his net worth at US$290 million in 2008.Another prominent business figure is the son of former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Kamaluddin controls the Scomi group of companies and have net worth in the hundreds of million.Scomi was involved in the controversial manufacture of centrifuge parts for nuclear weapons destined for Libya through shady business partner.His foreign partner was jailed under the ISA.Kamaluddin escaped prosecution under plea of ignorance.At the time of the controversy his father Abdullah Badawi was prime minister.Badawi also created controversy around his premiership in the name of his prodigious son-in-law, a young Oxford graduate rising faster than he should in the political hierarchy that stymied other more senior and long serving party members.The oligarchs within the party weren't happy.Abdullah got booted out as prime minister by the party in April 2009.Since than the son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin has toned down.
The man that could surpass the Forbes' list of the richest in Malaysia is none other than the once most powerful man in Malaysian politics who has kept himself low-key and out of public eye. Former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin wealth is almost impossible to evaluate due to the intricate network of his private holdings.
The prodigy of the Mahathir's administration Daim was tasked with all of UMNO's business dealings and political fund.The party never disclosed its financial affairs and Daim was almost the sole guardian of the party financial secrets.Daim left in 2001 and with him the secrets of UMNO's financial dealings.Many party members believe he pocketed billions that belonged to the party.Daim denied it and no evidence has been brought against him.
In spite of some of its failings the BN is still the best formula of power sharing in a multi-racial and multi-religious society.The tri-party Pakatan Rakyat looked too fragile a coalition to be able to govern as a united body.
If you think oligarchy only exists in the ruling elite than you are very wrong.The oppositions in Malaysia are just as embroiled in the practice as those running the nation.
Take PKR for instance. The party is run by Anwar and his family.Wife and daughter are all in the midst of it.Drawn into politics not for their credentials or political ambitions but out of sympathy.
PKR is in a fix.Anwar has problem keeping his men loyal to the party.The departure of many PKR's elected representatives has to do with the oligarchs within the party.The little napoleons that surround Anwar to narrow the power base and confined it to the inner circle.The maestro of this power play is Azmin Ali, the blue-eyed boy of Anwar. Some of those who have left are victims of his dirty politics.Anyone, who become too entangled and a threat to his anointed position would be ridiculed and ostracised making their stay in the party untenable. Those who can't stand the heat left.PKR leaders who branded those who left as 'sampah' and claimed is good for the party and a cleaning up process is conned by their own lies.Those who left were simply fed up with Anwar's autocratic leadership.
Khalid Ibrahim is getting the brunt of Azmin psychological warfare.If Khalid cares to trace the source of his troubles he be surprised to find where the tributary leads him to.
A question once asked to me by a friend why Tunku Aziz joined DAP and not PKR?I told him I am not sure what the answer is but I guess he probably know Anwar better than us.Only Tunku Aziz knows the answer and I guess he wouldn't tell.
The biggest phenomena since March 2008 is the new heartthrob of the Chinese community.
DAP, is no less embroiled in nepotism.The Lims virtually control the DAP from head to toe.Although, he does not hold anymore senior position in the party, Lim Kit Siang has a stranglehold on the party and can exert undue influence on party members.The power he wields can be seen from the appointment of his son as the chief minister of Penang brushing aside the imperative of appointing a Penangite to the post.
His son Lim Guan Eng, like him, is from Malacca but has become national leader.He is now an icon of Chinese political prowess and power.Guan Eng's wife is State Assemblywoman for Kota Laksamana in Melaka.Karpal Singh the National Chairman of the party can only roar but can't bite.DAP is certainly Lim's Incorporated.
With its massive Chinese support the party will grow from strength to strength and is likely to end up as the second or third largest single party in Parliament after the 13th General Elections. The BN would not be able to check the massive outpouring of Chinese support for the party.MCA and Gerakan would become completely irrelevant.The BN only hope is to concentrate in Malay and Indian areas.
In the Philippines, the height of oligarchy was during Ferdinand Marcos's reign as president.Marcos, after few years in the presidency declared martial law and ruled the country by fear and decree.He closed down Congress, media establishments, arrest opposition leaders and militant activists and run the country with an inner circle of sycophantic advisers, hanger-ons and political soldiers of fortune.He was implicated in the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr which eventually led to his downfall through people power revolution.
Philippines, not unlike Malaysia, is a place where powerful political dynasties exist.Powerful politicians groomed their children to take over their roles in politics.Where the stack is high and where it is momentous in keeping the family fortune protected from political backlash the oligarchs must have family members in the running of government.
In the Philippines the current president Gloria Macapagal is the daughter of the late former President Diosdado Macapagal.The forerunner in the current presidential election Benigno Aquino III is the son of Benigno Aquino Jr, a senator assassinated during Marcos's time and mother to late former President Corazon Aquino.Corazon came from the Cojuango family, a wealthy Chinese-mestizo family that own vast tract of sugar plantation in Central Luzon and other businesses.
More surprising is the entry of former President Joseph 'Erab' Estrada running for president again.He was ousted in 2001, indicted and imprisoned for corruptions, plunder and shady dealings while he was president.He was pardoned in 2007.
The Filipinos must be very forgiving people.He is currently trailing Aquino at number two.Astrada's son Jinggoy Estrada is a senator and another son is Mayor of San Juan City of Metro Manila.
To be continued.