21/2017 – Power with control of the military
by Tan Thiam Hock
Foreword: Three Kingdoms was considered as the greatest of the “Four Great Classics” of Chinese Literature and many Chinese read it as a guide to success in life and business. Foreigners read it to better understand the core attributes that make up Chinese society.
Towards the end of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, almost 1,900 years ago, the three kingdoms known as the Wei, Shu and Wu were controlled by warlords in the north, central and the south of ancient China. The three warlords had brilliant scholarly advisers who were learned in military warfare and civil administration with brave and loyal generals helping them to upheld the law and defend their territories.
Each warlord would raise an army of 500,000 to one million soldiers to wage war and battle for hegemony so as to unite the nation. Depending on their individual strengths at any particular period, the two weaker kingdoms would set up an alliance to defend against the dominant kingdom. Switching allegiance was the norm, the vanquished banding together against the victors of the many battles waged over 40 years during this tumultuous period.
Just like in present day politics, there are no permanent enemies nor permanent friends. The power play among the warlords in any political party constantly evolves, the supporters switching camps sometimes for profitable alliances but most times, the financial rewards far outweigh loyalty and integrity. Even within the warlords’ inner circle, the advisers and the generals compete against one another for the attention and affection of the warlord they serve. Treachery, bravery and foolhardy antics are the norms of politicians nowadays.
Cao Cao, the warlord of Wei Kingdom was so powerful that he reduced the power of the Han Monarchy to a puppet emperor. His son, Cao Pi then ended the Han Dynasty by forcing the Han Emperor to abdicate the throne. After Cao Pi declared himself the emperor, the other two warlords also declare themselves as emperor of their own kingdoms.
If you look back the last 100 years in world history, the role of the monarchy in many countries has been reduced to a constitutional role, as head of state. Only the Saud family of Saudi Arabia still wields tremendous power and that is because the extended Saud family controls all the key ministries including the military. Whereas in Iran, the Shah of Iran was forced to flee as the religious clerics took over the country with the support of the military. Flashback to Ayatollah Khomeini.
In countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, the military runs the countries with their top generals going into politics and becoming the prime minister. In Malaysia which is styled as a constitutional monarchy, the prime minister wields the most power as long as the military and the police are subservient to him and the parliament.
In Africa and South America, the balance of power lies in the hands that controls the military and to a lesser extent the police force. In times of chaos, military discipline is required to restore order and peace to the nation. The military usually step in when the civilian government is corrupted and dysfunctional which is the excuse needed for military intervention. It is this moral high ground (Heaven’s Will) of righteousness that will balance the forces between heaven and earth.
Since the beginning of civilisation, power crazy men will use either religion or military means to control the mass, making up justification of righteousness as they go along. It is just cycles of history repeating itself as long as mankind coverts power and greed.
In business, a similar analogy applies. Whereas the entrepreneur is both the emperor and prime minister, the corporation has split the two functions. The emperor (chairman of the board) has to work with the CEO (prime minister) in managing the affairs of the state together with court officials, the advisers and the generals. Internal politics are aplenty with each general setting up their individual silos and fighting battles internally and externally.
The CEO instructs his general and his troops to march forth daily to conquer new territories (market share). The victorious general is richly rewarded while the failed general is beheaded (sacked). While in the palace (office), do watch out for the deceitful whispers of the eunuchs (ball carriers – pardon my pun) as they sow discontent through their boot licking tongues. In the meantime, the CEO has to strategise on stockpiling his grains (cash reserves) for the many battles in the long winter ahead.
While the military is all powerful during war time, the civil service remains arrogant as they are empowered by the emperor. Just like the magistrates that rule over districts back in the old days, our current administrators act like little Napoleons, lording over their so called little kingdoms, collecting personal taxes and administering their own laws upon the hapless people of the land.
Our current state of affairs can be described as a cauldron of boiling oil sitting on three legs. The three legs are represented by the monarchy, prime minister and the clerics. Like the Three Kingdoms, if the three legs stay united, there will be no spilt oil. If any of the three legs decide to set out on its own, the cauldron will come crashing down and the nation will be in peril.
“He who wins people, prospers: he who loses them, fails”.
This quote from Three Kingdom should serve as a reminder to all the leaders to act responsibly for the good of the nation.
Similar to the constant leadership power struggles of the three kingdoms, Malaysia’s former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 22 years ousted and outlasted a few deputy prime ministers. Our current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has already ousted one Deputy PM.
A Chinese idiom says, “One mountain cannot contain two tigers”.
There is still hope that this alliance might just survive. If one is the paper tiger.