Let the power return

When I was around 10-years old, one of my favourite characters was “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” This franchise started out as a collection of toys and later developed into a series of cartoons that I and many of my generation followed.

As “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was an integral part of my childhood, I had to follow the cartoon reboot on Netflix and I’ve just finished watching the entire series of “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” which sort of gives the story of the battle between He-Man and his arch nemesis, Skeletor an ending.

What made this series so compelling is the fact that Skeletor finally gets what he’s also wanted, namely the power of Castle Grayskull and for a period, the arch villain becomes “Master of the Universe,” until he’s usurped by his sometime love-interest, the witch known as, “Evil-Lyn”

This leads to one of the most poignant moments in the entire “Masters of the Universe” story when Skeletor tells Prince Adam (He-Man’s alter-ego) that the power was wasted on him because he was only interested in using the power to stop Skeletor. The point is made several times in the series that Prince Adam is hero precisely because he’s willing to use to give up the power to be “Most Powerful Man in the Universe” after he’s beaten the bad guys. By contrast, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn are looking for ways to become even more powerful once they have gained the ultimate power. The heroism of “He-Man” is not in his catch phrase “I HAVE THE POWER,” but the fact that he’s willing to become plain old Prince Adam and the phrase that really makes him a hero is “LET THE POWER RETURN.” [LINK]

He is a hero because he is NOT tempted by power - Copyright – Matel

The theme of not seeking to use power has been repeated in several franchises. In the early Spiderman series of the early 2000s, Peter Parker is reminded “With great power comes great responsibility,” and in the classic Superman movies with Christopher Reve, the Kyptonian villain, General Zod did not understand why the “Son of Jorel” would choose to “live among” the humans instead of ruling over them, despite being vastly superior to the humans in every sense of the word. However, none of these series stressed this theme the way that Masters of the Universe: Revelation does.

This “fictional” theme is very relevant to the “real” world, particularly when it comes to looking at the people who run it. If you were to study politicians and the “rulers,” you’ll notice that many of them came to power with a “vision” for the rest of society – think of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” or Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream.” The trade-off being the society gets the vision and the person selling it gets the power to make it happen.

However, there’s one catch, which is the fact that “power” has shown itself to be exceedingly addictive and after sometime, the people in power start to get comfortable and try to prolong their stay in power. The game becomes about staying in power rather than serving the people and eventually that becomes a little too obvious and the level of governing competence slips.

Certain political systems are designed to limit powers so as to ensure the people in power don’t get to a stage where they damage the country. Under the American system for example, there is a system of checks and balances and the executive, judiciary and legislature are separate bodies that can only act with the consent of each other. American presidents need the senate to approve their appointments and in the last two decades, the public has tried to keep the parties in check by ensuring different parties control different parts of the government – hence the majority party in the houses of congress are usually different from the inhabitant of the White House. The American system is not designed to be efficient but to curtail power.

The Westminster system by contrast is designed to be efficient. The executive controls the party in the legislature. Unlike an American President, Prime Ministers across the Commonwealth don’t worry about getting their appointments approved. However, there is a visible pattern. Take the UK as an example.

In 1979, the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher came to power on the promise of reviving the UK. To a large extent, they did and made life better for the majority of the British public. However, by 1997 (11-years of Thatcher and six of John Major), the Conservative party was driven by infighting (so much so that the Prime Minister of the day described his colleagues as “bastards” in the national media) and scandal after scandal popped up. Then they were swept away by Tony Blair and his New Labour, which came in promising a range of reforms. There was a sense of dynamism in the UK in the late 90s as things got done. However, by the time Gordon Brown took over in 2007, Labour became a tiered party and the only thing that the Economist could write about the 2010 election was for Labour to “Do No Harm.” Both Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Blair started as visionary leaders who had to be forced out by their respective parties because they simply stayed past their sell by date.

The UK is lucky in the sense that it has a dynamic press that keeps politicians on their toes and whilst the monarchy is more of a figurehead, its kept politically neutral and provided people with a sort of alternate centre from the squabbles of the political system.

However, one has to ask what happens when a political system is so keen on efficiency and effectiveness that it removes any forms of checks on power? Take our system in Singapore as an example.

We are, in theory, following the Westminster system that the rest of the Commonwealth follows. However, the ruling party dominates the legislature (The ruling party’s worst performance is 60 percent of the vote, in most Commonwealth jurisdictions the governing party gets a little over 40 percent of the vote), hence whilst Members of Parliament may question members of the cabinet, they’re not going to act as a check, especially when the whip is applied. From day one, it was made clear that the media was subordinate to the government’s interest and judiciary is likewise unlikely to rule against the government on any major issue.

The system is undoubtedly effective. When the government wants something done, it gets done. A ten-hour debate is considered a marathon in Singapore. However, not everything that gets done is necessarily beneficial or even if they have a beneficial use, they come out in ways that are open for abuse, as in the case of the POFOMA and FICA bills. When the faults of these bills are brought up in public, the line of defense is “Trust us, we have your best interest at heart and we’re honest and nice.”

The assumption that the government makes is that it is “He-Man,” the natural hero of the people. Nobody factors in the fact that sometime down the line, the government may by run by “Skeletor” or “Evil-Lyn” who are only interested in themselves. You can give “He-Man” the power because he won’t abuse it but “Skeletor” and “Evil-Lyn” are quite happy to do so.

There are so many examples of what failing to check power can do. Take Zimbabwe as an example. The damage that Robert Mugabe did to the country is well documented. We all know about his wife “Gucci Grace” and how she shopped whilst the average Zimbabwean starved. What we forget is the fact that when Mugabe first came into power, he was a hero, a liberation figure as iconic as Nelson Mandela. However, whilst Mandela stepped down after a term (Let the Power Return), Mugabe did not. He was “He-Man,” who later on transformed into “Skeletor.”

We need to remember that “He-Man” is a fictional character who is happy to “let the power return.” Most people who get power might start out like “He-Man” but end up like “Skeletor.” So, if a society is to progress, it needs to institute a system where the power is returned. I think of Bhutan’s fourth king as an example. He was an absolute monarch (I have the power) who imposed democracy on the people and gave the parliament the right to sack him and his successors (let the power return). This willingness to design a system that allows the power to return is an essential part of good leadership and systems that make sure the power is retuned are the systems that last.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




6 Responses to “Let the power return”

  • left behind:

    I like He-man too. One episode show that Skeletor has the two half power sword and claim the throne of Castle Grayskull and the “secrets of the universe”. It show the importance of power and knowledge. If citizen let the government have absolute power, they will become fool. They will know nothing and they know no secrets and knowledge because government want to control citizens and make things work in their favor. With knowledge, government will become powerful and citizen become followers. This is no cartoon or fantasy, it is reality. Look at Singaporeans. Now we know Omicron, vaccine is not all cure and the strategy and policy of covid-19 has to change. All information or knowledge are control. Without information and knowledge, we are powerless, we have to listen and obey stupid policy and have many or thousand covid-19 cases.

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  • opposition dude:

    The PAP would dearly love to return to the old ways of doing whatever they like whenever they like without any questions asked since it was just so good for them. The difference between back then and right now is that the PAP have the old mentality still stuck in their head but have done far worse than the PAP of old.

    This is reflected by 2 GRCs lost, the old PAP under the first 2 PMs did not lose a GRC. This current PAP is expected to lose more seats in future elections which may or may not be GRCs. The question is, WHY are they losing seats in practically every election?

    Power is addictive and it’s no surprise that the PAP wants this to last as long as they can. But when the time comes when they lose power there is nothing they can do except express regret. When another party governs the country voters will expect changes that the previous party did not make and will judge if the changes have benefitted them once the current parliament term ends.

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  • OMG:

    Reality vs cartoon.
    Tom and Jerry can survive a thousand deaths. Power can return to nothingness.

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  • Power:

    Absolute power corrupts…
    Best protection, Return Power to the people.

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  • very good article:

    Very well written!!
    But by the look of it, the He-man is turning into a Skeleton!!

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    Trump had a vision yet to be FULFILLED…at MOST he can ONLY stay in POWER for 2 term ie 8years…BUT a bastard STAYED ON till he could not stand n pee STRAIGHT n leave in a Gun Carriage to SHOW his POWER skeleter is Jane Austin compared to the BASTARD

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