It is rather depressing to note that the majority of leaders who indulge in these practices are not dictators who snatched power through a military coup, but presidents and prime ministers who were actually elected to those positions of power and authority by the citizens.
by C. Sugumar
( October 3, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We have all heard of Machiavelli, the schemer. But even Machiavelli could learn so much about strategies for capturing power, retaining one’s hold on power tenaciously, and about conspiracies and the practice of every type of political skullduggery there is, from third world leaders. (Machiavellianism is defined as a duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and personal gain). This is not to suggest that all third world leaders are corrupt, but with the march of time, the levels of authoritarianism and corruption in these countries have escalated as if to keep pace with the progress and modernization in other spheres that is a concomitant of our entry into the 21st century. The rot usually starts at the very top, and gradually and inexorably percolates downward until it pervades every ministry and every department of the government administration. It is rather depressing to note that the majority of leaders who indulge in these practices are not dictators who snatched power through a military coup, but presidents and prime ministers who were actually elected to those positions of power and authority by the citizens.
ONE – Cultivating acolytes, henchmen and cronies – The leader who desires to stay in power for life has to build up a support base of acolytes and henchmen to prop him up. And there is never a shortage of persons to fill those positions. This includes journalists too, as it is necessary to write articles eulogizing the big man. There are public relations men and others to back up and support the leader in every endeavor, legitimate or otherwise. Many of them are appointed to various posts and put on the public payroll. It is not their responsibility to question or judge his activities but only to do his bidding.
Big businessmen are also cultivated and approvals granted for all their programs and projects, disregarding their impact on the environment and social and labor issues. In return the party is assured ample funds for its re-election campaign. Cronyism thrives as major contracts are awarded to companies run by favored persons, disregarding proper tender procedures. There is an unhealthy collusion between big businesses and politicians that has bad environmental, social and economic effects. Businessmen involved in scams are often protected and saved from punishment by the leader.
TWO – Building leadership cult – Many a leader with dictatorial tendencies likes to surround himself with people whose job is to praise him in public and create a heroic image of the leader in the citizens’ minds. These sycophants elevate him to a larger than life figure and attempt to build up his persona to convey the impression that there is something very special about him. They make liberal use of the mass media to achieve this by displaying and projecting his image everywhere. In many countries there are government run newspapers and TV channels, so this is accomplished easily enough. They put up larger than life cutouts of the leader in crowded squares and along busy roads. All of this is done because no one loves to bask in adulation as much as third world leaders.
THREE – Intolerance of dissent – Nothing displeases a president or prime minister more than a dissenting voice. This is why they tend to gather around them ‘yes men’. The latter are like the pig Squealer in Animal Farm. Any journalist who criticizes the big man or government policies and activities too strongly or persistently will be courting disaster. He can be simply roughed up and released or abducted and then made to disappear permanently. A number of them have been shot and killed outright. Arson attacks on TV stations and newspaper offices have been carried out by shadowy agents of the state security apparatus. There have been times when even the supply of newsprint was tightly controlled! Censorships, news blackouts and blocking of websites are all methods that are frequently used to drown out news and views that conflict with the government’s narratives.
FOUR – Nepotism – Nepotism is the hallmark of some leaders and there are a few extreme cases on record. For instance, there was a president who appointed more than a hundred of his relatives, including In-Laws, to government posts. Some of these were top-level positions, like chairmen of government corporations and ambassador posts. Many of the appointed persons did not even have a high school certificate and their only qualification was their relationship to the First Family. A high proportion of these appointees turned previously profitable institutions into loss making entities, with the losses often running into millions of dollars. The ambassadors, who were not career diplomats, just lived the high life at the taxpayers’ expense without achieving anything notable. One of them did achieve notoriety though, by engaging in irregularities connected with the purchase of military aircraft by his government.
FIVE – President for life syndrome – Many leaders want to hold on to their posts for their entire lifetime. Most of them have monumental egos. They want to rule for as long as possible in order to enjoy all those perquisites and wield all that power as they would feel so deprived otherwise; it would be like taking away an extremely fascinating toy from a child. A few of them actually want to die in office (not right away, but at some distant date) so they can have a grand state funeral! It is that same old ‘President for Life’ syndrome that was and is so common in the African continent, but it has also got Asian leaders into its grip. They don’t believe in relinquishing their hold on power and when it becomes physically impossible for them to continue due to old age or sickness, they would like to install a member of the first family in the seat they occupied. Many of them have dynastic aspirations so they usually groom an offspring for the same post in the hope he/ she will take over the reins of power someday.
SIX – Emasculating the judiciary – Many heads of state who want to enjoy untrammeled power are frequently thwarted from implementing their plans because of rulings made by the Supreme Court. This may happen while the leader attempts to pass some controversial legislation that is presented ostensibly for some good cause but in reality to promote his agenda. If someone objected to this legislation, such as an opposition MP or civic body, they could file a petition in this court, challenging the bill. As the danger of such a thing happening is too real, the strategy adopted by the leader to prevent such a contingency is to undermine the judiciary by picking out amenable persons when appointing new judges to the apex court of the land.
Judges who are already serving receive subtle hints that after retirement from the current position they may be rewarded with a plum appointment such as an ambassadorial post. On one occasion a judge’s spouse was appointed as the chairman of a government board. On another occasion when a female judge’s daughter got married the president gave a car (paid for by the state) as a wedding present. After receiving favours like that who will have the heart to give a ruling against the benevolent leader? The balance between the three pillars of democracy, viz. the executive, the legislative and the judiciary is not maintained. Instead, the power of the executive is raised almost to the level of a monarch and the power of the Supreme Court is eroded until it is reduced to the level of a rubber stamp. The legislature is rendered compliant by offering ministerial positions to the ones who cooperate and by bribing opposition MPs to cross over to the ruling party.
SEVEN – Penchant for mega projects – Though in theory there are procedural safeguards to control the expenditure of government funds, these are usually circumvented by corrupt leaders. In practice, they appear to have free access to the public exchequer and are able to disburse as much cash as they want to on any project they fancy. So what they do is launch Mega Projects with abandon. One of the things they are likely to abandon are feasibility studies and that has resulted in the birth of many white elephants. Of course they have two powerful motives for doing this sort of thing. When the contract is awarded to a foreign company a thumping commission is secretly negotiated and further, as icing on the cake, the leader gets to give his name to whatever is built, which could for example be a massive sports stadium. There is one such stadium that is used only about once a year!
EIGHT – Globetrotting at state expense – Everyone enjoys foreign travel but not everyone can manage to do it at state expense. Kings, presidents, cabinet ministers, and other state officials are required to travel abroad when the occasion demands it. But there are leaders who have subverted this practice into an outrageous exercise in profligacy. They are known to take along with them a retinue including friends, relatives and other hangers-on numbering several dozens, with the record being more than 100 persons! All of them travel first class and stay in the most expensive hotels, entirely at the poor tax payers’ expense. 90% of the fellow travellers in the junket do not play any productive or constructive role. Sometimes an aircraft of the national carrier is taken off its scheduled flights and diverted to carry the president or prime minister and his entourage to distant foreign lands to attend some function or event. For a few key figures it will be a state business plus holiday trip and for the rest it is purely a holiday jaunt. Some leaders average more than one trip a month, not always with a big crowd, but nevertheless most of these trips serve little purpose.
NINE – Exploiting racial and religious differences among communities – Dictators have always used religion to exercise ideological control over the masses. The current crop of third world politicians have built up on this idea. They know this is a surefire way to get the votes they want, and this method is mainly employed by those representing the majority community. The strategy is to build up fear against other communities that speak a different language, practice a different culture or profess a different faith. They are depicted as the other, who is always scheming to achieve eventual domination over the majority community by gradually displacing them. Countless numbers of third world leaders have captured power and cling on to it by playing the race/ religion/ language card. They discriminate against the minorities and even those NGOs that provide aid and relief to any affected groups are labelled as the agents of Western Imperialism and vilified.
This method of winning voters is very effective with the rural populations as they can only view the world through a rather narrow aperture. These people are literate in only one vernacular language, if at all. Consequently, they have a rather restricted outlook and are readily manipulated. They fall easy prey to rabble-rousers, who instill fear and paranoia about the other ethnic groups in the country. To put it bluntly, these simple folk are like frogs in the well so it is very easy to brainwash them through well-orchestrated propaganda. A popular strategy is to create an enemy by portraying some ethnic group as such, so it will be perceived as a threat to the language, religion and culture of the majority race. And it is only the leader who will be able to save them from this danger!
TEN – Adopting different methodologies for implementing proposals – Not infrequently, proposals may come from some quarter for addressing a serious national problem or initiating a major project. If the leader strongly disapproves of this proposal he will insist on consulting all and sundry and obtaining their viewpoints on that matter. Almost certainly, one or more of the parties will raise objections to it on various grounds. After much discussion of the issues the leader will regretfully announce that it would be undemocratic to move forward on this matter because of the strong opposition to it by some of the concerned parties. He will insist that a consensus is necessary, effectively scuttling the proposal.
In stark contrast to this, if an idea or proposal for a major scheme originates in the leader’s mind, and he has his heart set on it, then he follows an entirely different methodology. He will not consult anyone who is not likely to approve the idea; instead, he will simply use his party majority in parliament to push it through. It could be a new law, a revision to an existing law or possibly a mega project. Thus, consultation with all stakeholders is a policy that is applied in a highly selective manner. It is invoked only when the leader senses a tactical need for it; that is, when he wants to obstruct something without taking the blame!