Scions of fallen heads of state also rise… and fall

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The ouster of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as executive president of Sri Lanka by people power drew from observers of Philippine politics the joke that some 30 years from now a scion of Rajapaksa would be elected president of Sri Lanka by an overwhelming majority. The remark is a satirical reference to the recent landslide victory of Bongbong Marcos whose father, President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., was overthrown by people power 36 years ago.

The remark that a scion of a deposed head of state eventually also rises to power may not entirely be one of flippancy. The case of Bongbong Marcos has many precedents. There have been heads of state whose rule was cut short by people power or by extermination but whose scion also became head of the same state.

There are the Parks, father and daughter, of South Korea. Park Chung Hee was general and president of South Korea from 1963 to 1979. His rule brought about rapid economic growth, but at the cost of human rights and political freedom.

He imposed restrictions on personal freedoms, suppressed the press and political dissent. He controlled the judiciary and academe. He organized the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) for the purpose of monitoring closely the activities of the political opposition. He claimed that all his measures were necessary to fight communism. On Oct. 17, 1972, Park declared martial law. A month later he put in place a new constitution, which gave him sweeping powers.

He became more virulent towards his political enemies. When, in 1979, he dismissed the leader of the opposition party from the National Assembly, the Koreans erupted in violent protests. Park was assassinated by the head of the intelligence agency he himself formed, the KCIA.

Thirty-four years later, Park Chung Hee’s daughter, Geun-hye, was elected president of South Korea. Before her presidency, Geun-hye was leader of the conservative Grand National Party from 2004 to 2006 and leader of the Liberty Korean Party from 2011 to 2012. She was also a member of the National Assembly serving four consecutive parliamentary terms between 1998 and 2012.

In July 2012, she formally announced her presidential bid. In this event, she emphasized the right to pursue happiness, a democratic economy, and customized welfare services for the Korean people. She was elected president in 2013.

Then there are the Bhuttos, father and daughter, of Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became president, army commander-in-chief as well as the first civilian chief martial law administrator on Dec. 20, 1970. He served as prime minister from 1973 to 1977.

On Jan. 2, 1972, Bhutto announced the nationalization of all major industries. He adopted a labor policy that increased workers’ rights and the power of trade unions. He instituted land reforms, limiting land ownership. The government took over a million acres of land for distribution to landless peasants.

He dismissed more than 2,000 civil servants on charges of corruption. Subsequently he dismissed the military chiefs for refusing orders to suppress a major police strike. He convened the National Assembly, lifted martial law, and charged the legislators with writing a new constitution.

Bhutto began to draw criticism as his term progressed. An estimated 100,000 troops were deployed to suppress protests. The troops were accused of human rights abuses and of killing large numbers of civilians. Bhutto himself was accused of masterminding the murder of political opponents.

On July 5, 1977, Bhutto and members of his cabinet were arrested by troops under the order of General Zia. On March 18, 1978, the Supreme Court found Bhutto guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. On April 4, 1979, Bhutto was hanged.

Just 11 years later, his daughter Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female prime minister and the head of its first civilian government since the dissolution of Zulfikar Bhutto’s government.

Benazir was educated at Harvard University where she obtained a B.A. degree in 1973. She subsequently studied philosophy, political science, and economics at the University of Oxford, earning a B.A degree in 1976 and a master’s degree in international law in 1977.

She returned to Pakistan after completing her studies abroad. Shortly after her return, her father was deposed, which led to her becoming the titular head of her father’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). She was placed under house arrest frequently from 1979 to 1984. She went into exile in 1984 but returned in 1986 when martial law was lifted. Benazir soon became the foremost political opponent of President Zia.

Zia died in a mysterious plane crash in August of 1988, resulting in a power vacuum in all of Pakistan. In the elections that year, Bhutto’s party won the biggest number of seats in the National Assembly. On Dec. 1, 1988, Bhutto was elected prime minister. She served two terms as prime minister, in 1988-1990 and 1993-1996.

There are also the mother and son pair, the Ghandis of India, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Ghandi. Indira Ghandi was the first female prime minister of India, serving for three consecutive terms (1966-1977) and a fourth term from 1980 to 1984.

Shortly after her election as prime minister in 1966, Indira was charged with violating election laws in that contest. In June 1975, the High Court of Allahabad ruled her guilty. Her response was the declaration of a state of emergency throughout India. She jailed her political opponents and enacted new laws that limited personal freedoms. She also ordered large-scale sterilization to arrest the population explosion.

Disapproval of Gandhi’s two years of emergency power was widespread. She stepped down when she and her party were defeated in the parliamentary elections of 1977. But when new elections for the Lok Sabha (lower chamber of national parliament) were held in January 1980, Gandhi and her party scored decisive victories. During the early 1980s, Sikh separatists vehemently demanded autonomy. Tensions between the government and the Sikhs grew and in June 1984 Gandhi ordered the Indian army to attack and oust the separatists who occupied and fortified the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex at Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. At least 450 Sikhs were killed in the incident. Five months later, she was killed by her own Sikh bodyguards.

Rajiv Gandhi rose to become the leader of the Congress (I) Party and served as prime minister of India (1984-1989) after the assassination of his mother. Rajiv attended Imperial College, London, and completed an engineering course at the University of Cambridge (1965). He was drafted into a political career by his mother. In June 1981 he was elected to the Lok Sabha and in the same month became a member of the national executive of the Indian Youth Congress (the youth wing of the Congress Party).

Rajiv was regarded as a reasonable person who consulted other party members. After his mother was killed on Oct. 31, 1984, Rajiv was sworn in as prime minister that same day and was elected leader of the Congress (I) Party a few days later. He led the Congress (I) Party to a landslide victory in elections to the Lok Sabha in December 1984. He reformed the government bureaucracy and liberalized the country’s economy. Rajiv tried to discourage separatist movements. That worked against him. When his government got involved in a number of financial scandals, he became ineffective.

There is something strikingly similar about the life stories of the scions of the fallen heads of state. Like Bongbong Marcos, who studied in Oxford and the Wharton School of Business, the others also went to the best schools in the world. Park Geun-Hye studied at Joseph Fourier University in France, Benazir Bhutto at Harvard and Oxford, and Rajiv Ghandi at Imperial College, London, and Cambridge.

They also met the same fate as their famous parents. They fell from grace. In December 2016, Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly on charges related to influence peddling. The Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment by a unanimous 8-0 ruling in March 2017, thereby removing her from office and putting her in jail.

In October 2007, Benazir Bhutto returned to Karachi after eight years of self-imposed exile. She was assassinated in December while campaigning for upcoming parliamentary elections.

Rajiv Ghandi resigned his post as prime minister in November 1989 after his party was defeated in parliamentary elections. In May 1991 Rajiv was campaigning for the next round of parliamentary elections when he was assassinated like his mother.

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.