Photo montage by Adam Connors|
| Revered In Retirement
By RICARDO SALUDO
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
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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