Our Emperor Fetish

July 13, 2011

One of the key differences between a monarchy and an elected government is the source of legitimacy. In monarchies, the King or the Emperor enjoys moral and political legitimacy because he is ordained by Heaven. And because the Emperor is ordained by Heaven, he enjoys the power and the perks that come with empire or imperialism.

In elected governments, individuals enjoy moral and political legitimacy by being elected into office. It is only when individuals enjoy this legitimacy are they allowed to enjoy the perks and benefits of that office, whether ministerial or presidential.

 If you read the article in CNA reporting that Members of Parliament Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong still enjoyed staff support from the government, you’ll be forgiven for wondering which political system we’re operating here.


Having resigned from Cabinet, these two should have left behind the perks and benefits that come with their respective offices. Getting an array of secretaries, press secretaries, and clerical assistants makes a mockery of their resignation.

The rationale for these perks and benefits is perfectly in line with that of monarchical legitimacy. These men are special, people look up to them and foreigners want to meet them not for the office they represent, but for who they are. And it is because of who they are, not the office they hold, that they are getting taxpayers’ support. Lee and Goh undermine the concepts of resignation and retirement where power is given up, and underline the meaning of monarchies where power resides in the Emperor until he dies.

Singapore, that freak of colonial invention, is a political bastard yearning for civilizational parentage and we look to the closest civilization and imagine ourselves echoing in the great kingdoms. Our romance with monarchies is not yet dead.   

Such decisions only further entrench the cynicism amongst many Singaporeans over the PAP government’s ability to reform. It shows that their resignation from Cabinet was pure gesture, a symbolic move to shock and awe the hoi polloi into believing that an era had ended and a new political paradigm had begun. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


2 Responses to “Our Emperor Fetish”

  1. useless president Says:

    Oh! Everyone has emperor fetish.
    To be the most powerful, to have
    all the beautiful girls, to live forever
    etc. Most, of course are dreaming,
    but those with top power and
    income could live much like an
    emperor indeed.
    Fetish or dream, some will just
    behave their fetish way.

  2. map of the world Says:

    I believe that this emperor fetish is something deeply seated in our Asian culture, and will be for some time. Many Asian countries have taken up the democratic process as a front mainly as a reaction to globalisation and the growing Western influence. In truth, many countries still operate like emperors and dynasties. The eunuchs and officers will endlessly ingratiate themselves, and swear blind loyalty to emperors, corrupt or not. Many ambitious people crave power, and many others crave servitude to those in power. It is difficult for many people to break out of this mentality. Singapore has progressed into a first-world nation, with nice buildings and clean environments. The people have good education and ability to think and produce, but the people’s true nature has never changed. Their inner selves still yearn for classes in society, and they still want somebody powerful to lord over them – to whom they will submit to without questions. And for those who have established themselves in that position of power, they will have the support of the multitudes of people. Most people don’t and won’t even know the true capabilities of their leaders, but are content to swear blind loyalty to them.

    A small nation that wants to continue punching above its weight need to continue working hard to put up a great wayang show. The supreme leader may make a few moves due to public pressure, in a bid to show the ignorant, naive people that the emperor does indeed have some new clothes, but it’s what happens behind the scenes that truly matter. The public and may be pacified by moves, but those among the people who truly have eyes to see cannot help but notice yet another layer of dirt beneath that red carpet.

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