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Photo montage by Adam Connors
Revered In Retirement

As one creation story tells it, man was unhappy that he got only 25 years of life from God, so he convinced three other creatures to give him another 25 years each: a horse, a dog and a monkey. And that's why he lives like a man in his first quarter-century, works like a horse in the next, yaps like a dog from 51 to 75, and gets laughed at like a monkey the remainder of his days. None of the simian's life, however, for Asia's retired eminences. These once-dominant figures in politics and business still wield influence, if not real power, years after they left office. While some may let out a yap or two every now and then, hardly any would have to suffer guffaws in the face.

At 85, Chung Ju Yung is still hard at work. The founder of South Korea's giant Hyundai Group has moved into a new house to be near the chaebol's headquarters in Seoul. His CEO sons, insiders say, still regularly consult with him. Mong Hun, 52, chairs the group's executive committee, while Mong Koo, 64, runs Hyundai Motors, the country's largest carmaker. The old man displayed his clout in late March, resolving a tiff between the brothers at a 7.35 a.m. meeting shown on TV. The patriarch and former presidential candidate also plays big in politics, working tirelessly to boost ties with Pyongyang. His latest project is to bring Japanese capital to the North.

Two of Asia's oldest ex-leaders, Myanmar's Ne Win, 89, and Do Muoi, 83, of Vietnam are still going strong. Both are behind their governments' hard line. Do Muoi has always been a true believer in strict socialism; it is unlikely that Vietnam will ever truly reform and open up economically and politically while he's alive. Ne Win also remains the power behind the Yangon junta since he stepped down in 1988. No decision of any import was taken without running it by "Number 1." He encouraged, if not approved, the political and economic relaxation of the late '80s and early '90s, as well as the nullification of the 1990 landslide election victory of democrat Aung San Suu Kyi's party, and her house arrest. Lately, however, Ne Win's clout has waned markedly, with the ruling junta's growing confidence.

Also in his eighties, former Japanese prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro acts as senior adviser to younger colleagues in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He doesn't wield the kind of kingmaking clout that stalwarts like Takeshita Noboru still exercise. Rather than playing party politics, Nakasone, 82, pushes policy. He wants to see Japan develop a strong national identity for the new century. The former Navy lieutenant never thought it right for Japan to have a Constitution practically written by the Americans. He has successfully launched a special council at the Diet to discuss the document -- the first step toward amending it.

Former Thai diplomat, CEO and premier Anand Panyarachun also wants to fundamentally change his nation. Instead of amending the constitution, however, he has led a convention to write a new one, which was promulgated at the height of the Asian Crisis in 1997. Key in his reform efforts are electoral provisions, which have invalidated recent Senate races marred by cheating and vote-buying. In addition to his constitutional work, Anand's efforts as chairman of the Thai chapter of Transparency International, established in 1998, are breathing down the necks of dirty politicians and businessmen. "The people and the media are with us," says the 67-year-old crusader. "We could see real change."

Former Philippine presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos have also been speaking out against cronyism, corruption and abuse of power. The 67-year-old widow has largely withdrawn into quiet retirement, painting (she's improving) and attending to her grandchildren. She also helps oversee the family plantation, Hacienda Luisita, which is being converted into a commercial-industrial complex in partnership with Sanyo of Japan (where she is a director). But when her successor Ramos and the incumbent Joseph Estrada tried to amend the Constitution, Aquino led huge rallies, voicing public fears that the changes could restore the Marcos-era dictatorship she fought.

For his part, former general Ramos, 72, made no secret of his plan to stay very active after leaving Malacaņang Palace in 1998. He declared his intention to offer "solicited and unsolicited advice" to Estrada. Initially, the latter appreciated the offer, even listing several leftover bills from the Ramos administration as priority measures in his inaugural speech. Ramos would also brief the incumbent after the many trips he has taken since his term ended. But when he began publicly rebuking the president over cronyism and lack of direction, Estrada said Ramos was no longer an adviser and accused him of corruption during his term.

Chung Sze-yuen, 82, did not have such problems with the change in government. Wielding clout before and after Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, Sir S.Y. served in the Executive Council, the territory's cabinet, under British governors and the current chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. In the 1980s he even led a delegation of leading Hong Kong figures to tell Beijing of their concerns over 1997. Still, Chung has retained his influence and stature to this day, holding directorships at many important corporations and public bodies -- and continuing to have Beijing's ear.

That's more than one can say of Qiao Shi, pressured by President Jiang Zemin and then premier Li Peng to retire as chairman of China's National People's Congress in March 1998. He has since stayed out of the limelight, mostly traveling around the country. At his 75th birthday party last December in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, Qiao said: "I hope I can see China moving toward democracy and the rule of law." He also stressed that "older cadres should make way for younger cadres" -- a not-so-subtle call for Jiang to follow his example and hand over power when he reaches 70, the legally mandated retirement age for national leaders. From recent reports, it seems Qiao may yet get his way on that score.

Former deputy premier Musa Hitam of Malaysia and Thailand's Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanond, who was prime minister through most of the 1980s, are such gracious elder statesmen, you wouldn't think they fought some pretty bruising battles in their day. In 1987, Musa and Razaleigh Hamzah tried to unseat Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad -- and lost. Prem put down two coup attempts, and in 1992, helped end bloody protests in Bangkok over an unpopular general who tried to take the premiership. Today, however, Musa, 66, heads Malaysia's Human Rights Commission, while the 79-year-old Prem is the top royal adviser. Clearly, no dogs or monkeys in this august crowd.

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