The King is Dead, Long Live the King



“The King is Dead, Long Live the King”

The ‘charismatic’ issue facing the Lee family has become entrenched at least in their own psyche. The continuing dominance of Lee offspring in the large economic institutions in Singapore seems to allude to a rather old and tested impetus of transition of power from one generation to another. The argument from the powers that be is that ‘they’ are the most able. Do they claim that the qualities of their father have been genetically passed on to them, by chance of birth and genetic imprint? Surely the ‘nature/nurture’ debate has more than ‘genetics’ as an answer.

In his famous typology of forms of authority, Max Weber distinguishes the traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal types. Charismatic authority disrupts tradition, and rests only on support for the person or leader. Weber defines charisma as ‘a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as leader’ (Economy and Society, 1922).

Yet we are told the selection process is based on principles of ‘meritocracy’. The soon to arrive hand over of power to Lee Junior will result, if not Singaporeans becoming aware of the dynastic under-pinning of the structure of authority in Singapore, then the non-Singaporean ‘economic herd’ becoming aware of it in all its tainted glory. And the ‘economic herd’ is a jittery species. Investment in Singapore has already taken a turn for the worse.

Weber viewed charisma, as a force of social change but it is unstable. Many will feel that it is their duty to obey the leader. However, as Weber puts it, ‘from a substantive point of view, every charismatic authority would have to subscribe to the proposition, ‘It is written… but I say unto you…”‘

Constant intervention in disputes between the SIA and pilots seems to imply this motivation. Can one man or family dictate policy, policy that alters electoral boundaries, Universal Humans Rights, and employer-employee contracts at will?

Charismatic phenomenon is unstable and temporary. In the longer term, he or she will die. For that reason, charismatic authority is often ‘routinised’ during the life time of the leader and succeeded by a bureaucracy vested with rational-legal authority or by a return to the traditional structures that have now become infected with the charismatic impetus.

The authorities in Singapore would like us to believe that it has been replaced with ‘rational-legal’, but the placing of the charismatic leader’s son in power will undermine such an attempt. The coming hand over of power will need to be handled extremely carefully. Currently there is no question of power going to other cabinet members and so the PAP seems determined to go ahead with ‘the plan’. But as soon as power is handed to Lee junior the international press will throw the spot light on the process and the process needs to stand up to scrutiny that M.P.s in Singapore do not have to face in local press.

The local media may be able to screen the nasty comments aimed at the process from the gaze of Singaporean’s, but the ‘economic herd’ is beyond the PAP’s authority. The people of Singapore have taken blow after blow in the current economic slump, if it is exacerbated by ‘the plan’ of the PAP, things can only get worse. A testing time is on the horizon. The full might of the PAP’s authoriy and dominance will swing in to action to dampen discussion within the country, and Internet activity will be heavily scrutinized. Recently introduced legislation seems to be gearing up for a showdown.

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About soci
Lived in Singapore for 6 wonderful years and has been blogging since 2003, under various names but always on Singaporean issues.

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