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.