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He is an honest man…

My latest indulgence on Netflix is “Servant of the People,” a Ukrainian political satire about how a simple school teacher gets propelled into the presidency after one of his students films him ranting about the corruption in politics. The show stars Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who would interestingly enough, become President of Ukraine.

Servant of the People by Netflix

One of the most interesting scenes comes at the start of the second episode, when the ancient Greek philosophers, “Plutarch” and “Herodotus” are discussing the main character’s plight in his dreams. One of them states that he’s become president and he should be happy because he and his children and children’s children will be rich. The other says “he’s an honest man” and the reply to that is “Ah, that could be a problem.”

This exchange sums up what makes the show so addictive – namely the fact that it touches on a very universal theme – the corrupting influence of power. The main character of the show is what you could call someone who is too nice for his own good. He’s pushed around by everyone, including his 18-year-old niece who won’t let him use the toilet in the morning. However, once he becomes president, everyone becomes exceedingly nice and miracles happen. He’s told by the bank manager that his loan was written off in a miraculous lottery. He’s not the only one to strike it lucky with his propulsion to the presidency. His parent’s home gets miraculously renovated and when they think they need to spend the father’s savings on new dresses, the shop keepers insist on giving them more than what they wanted.

The story of otherwise normal people being corrupted by overnight power and money isn’t new. The world is filled with lottery winners who went broke in a matter of months or the number of child stars who are now working ordinary jobs because they couldn’t handle overnight success.

Whilst I don’t believe that people are intrinsically dishonest, it takes a pretty strong character not to b affected by power and wealth and because the temptations of power are particularly strong and addictive, you’ll find that the discussions on power and preventing abuses of power tend to be focused on the individuals in that particular position. The hidden oligarchs in the show make the point that they should let the main character be president because even honest men start to enjoy the perks of being head of state. Being an honest man who genuinely wants to reform things is tough.

When you discuss things like abuse of power, you’ll find that the laws are focused on the individual in position of power. In presidential systems, the office holder can be impeached. In parliamentary systems there no confidence votes. There are also courts of law and courts of public opinion (formed by the free press), which are meant to keep office holders on their toes. In Singapore, where we take great pride in being “transparent,” we have a system of high rewards for office holders (so that there’s no temptation) with harsh penalties (God help you if your hands are caught in the cookie jar).

However, as is seen on the show, the affects of power aren’t limited to the individual but also to the people around them. The “conventional” wisdom being that it pays to be nice to the president is also applied to the people around the said president.

With probably the exception of perhaps the Trump siblings, people who are related to the people in power, tend to lie low. Would anyone know who Hunter Bidden was, had his name not been brought up by Donald Trump?

There is a reason for this, which is the fact that influence tends to be used behind the scenes are than overtly. Overt use tends to lead to embarrassment of the person in power, which in turn leads to the diminishing the brand name. Think of “Roger Clinton” who was given the code name “headache” by the Secret Service during his brother’s administration.

Somehow, relatives of the well to do or powerful, seem to do pretty well for themselves. One only has to think of the Suharto Children in Indonesia and managed to accumulate the best bits of the Indonesian economy for themselves when Daddy was president. Nobody needed to pay the president a bribe as long as they were business with one of his children or friends.

The Suharto’s are just an example of people around benefiting of someone else’s power in an obvious way. Here in Singapore, we are officially far more transparent than our larger neighbour and handing over envelopes with cash to public officials is a sure way to end up in jail. As a current senior minister once said “What you see is what you get.”

However, that does not necessarily mean that those related to office holders are not using it to their advantage. If anything, this is merely institutionalised in Singapore. As anyone who has been through national service can tell you – there is a white horse system, where sons of anyone prominent are marked out and identified for certain purposes (which there are officially two versions – one being from a former Ministry official claiming that it was to prevent special treatment). No bribes are paid but certain people seem to get certain jobs.

Quite often, it’s the people closes to us who have the power to screw us up. Let’s look at what happened when Lee Kuan Yew died. The siblings started slinging mud at each other. The late Mr. Lee held on to keep his children and the family from the things that rip families apart and given the influence the family has on the nation, his family troubles would have inevitably affected the nation.

Sure, its important to keep people in power honest. However, being an honest individual in a position of power is not enough. You have to ensure that the people around you remain honest too.

 

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.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

12 Responses to “He is an honest man…”

  • theforgottongeneration:

    Mediacorpse can easily copy this satire’s formula with our local production of “Master of the People”, featuring a Golden Prince in an autocratic family who is groomed to be a superman-leader of his small country because (officially) the talent pool is too small and so they concentrated all their hopes on one person. Given 20+ years of OJT, ex-heads of state personally coaching him, given a super-long runway to fly, siblings taking the rap for any screwups, etc, etc… Then a great local philosopher finally said: “He is a Useless man”, to which 100′s of pappies-doggies quickly screamed: “Ah, but he can Ownself Check Ownself”.

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  • PAP anti Nationalism of SG:

    He is existentially a truly War Time Hero.

    But my immediate point is,
    “Is His Salary Anywhere Near to Loong’s, OR How Comparable is it to Loong’s”?

    2ndly Zelenskyy is certainly OUTRAGEOUSLY GUTSY, FULL OF NO NONSENSE BRAVERY, ABSORBING all his responsibilities as the President of a country of 40 Million people (how many XXXX of Singapore’s?) attacked by a much much bigger RUSSIA.

    LASTLY, I don’t see ANY ANY ANY NO BLAME culture in Ukraine.

    Why is THERE A NO BLAME CULTURE in a PAP Administration of SG. It must BE SO UNIQUE in the WHOLE world.

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  • What else was Ahgong up to?:

    The late Lee Kuan Yew oso ripped up the integrity of parliamentary discussion and debate political culture that is integral to authentic representative government universally. He opposed the PAP democratic socialist principles of the founding fathers, and substituted for it an overriding corporatized monolith aptly called the Pappy Sinchiapor Incorporated with handsomely remunerated allegiances and (presciently selected) military oligarchs to protect an emperor dowager who rule over the sovereign wealth funds of the country – Bo chap! … just willy nilly go on bleeding the weary cotton sheeples while preaching the water existentialism of Ahgong’s Pappy Cult.

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  • xoxo:

    He should remain in comedy shows.

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  • John Richards:

    So you’re blaming Trump for the fact that Hunter Biden was caught with his pants down?

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  • Dr Fire:
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  • Singaporeans R Free Riders:

    xoxo:
    He should remain in comedy shows.

    +1
    Well said…he is a stopid cannon fodder for Americunt/China.

    While he did not pursue a referendum with the Ukrainian people to vote for war or no war, now this coward Zenlensky balls shrink and said he needs a referendum to surrender or not to surrender…

    He had the ball to make the decision to stand up to the Russian and war with Russian. But he has no ball to make the decision whether to surrender or not so as to stop more Ukrainian from being killed.

    Coward..period.

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  • Singaporeans R Free Riders:

    PAP anti Nationalism of SG:
    He is existentially a truly War Time Hero.

    But my immediate point is,
    “Is His Salary Anywhere Near to Loong’s, OR How Comparable is it to Loong’s”?

    2ndly Zelenskyy is certainly OUTRAGEOUSLY GUTSY, FULL OF NO NONSENSE BRAVERY, ABSORBING all his responsibilities as the President of a country of 40 Million people (how many XXXX of Singapore’s?) attacked by a much much bigger RUSSIA.

    LASTLY, I don’t see ANY ANY ANY NO BLAME culture in Ukraine.

    Why is THERE A NO BLAME CULTURE in a PAP Administration of SG. It must BE SO UNIQUE in the WHOLE world.

    Hahahaha… you are a good cannon fodder… please sign up to go UKraine frontline to fight the war.

    Zelensky is full of no nonsense bravery? hahahahaha

    While he did not pursue a referendum with the Ukrainian people to vote for war or no war, now this coward Zenlensky balls shrink and said he needs a referendum to surrender or not to surrender…

    He had the ball to make the decision to stand up to the Russian and war with Russian. But he has no ball to make the decision whether to surrender or not so as to stop more Ukrainian from being killed.

    Zelensky is Coward..period.

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  • PAP anti Nationalism of SG:

    Singaporeans R Free Riders: Hahahaha… you are a good cannon fodder… please sign up to go UKraine frontline to fight the war.

    Zelensky is full of no nonsense bravery? hahahahaha

    While he did not pursue a referendum with the Ukrainian people to vote for war or no war, now this coward Zenlensky balls shrink and said he needs a referendum to surrender or not to surrender…

    He had the ball to make the decision to stand up to the Russian and war with Russian. But he has no ball to make the decision whether to surrender or not so as to stop more Ukrainian from being killed.

    Zelensky is Coward..period.

    THANK YOU AH MENG.

    This message ONLY can be thought out about, written, and posted by Ah Meng.

    SG certainly in deep serious and grave trouble bcz of 1000s of Ah Meng CLONES refusing to surrender when evolution has had already left it behind millions of years back.

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  • PAP anti Nationalism of SG:

    Singaporeans R Free Riders: Hahahaha… you are a good cannon fodder… please sign up to go UKraine frontline to fight the war.

    Zelensky is full of no nonsense bravery? hahahahaha

    While he did not pursue a referendum with the Ukrainian people to vote for war or no war, now this coward Zenlensky balls shrink and said he needs a referendum to surrender or not to surrender…

    He had the ball to make the decision to stand up to the Russian and war with Russian. But he has no ball to make the decision whether to surrender or not so as to stop more Ukrainian from being killed.

    Zelensky is Coward..period.

    The cannon fodder surely certainly and solely is the one who supports Russia’s violation of the borders with its neighbor, Ukraine, and claimed that Zelensky is not brave.

    Ah Meng told me he believe Russia was not the brave one, excuses that Nato is hampering them insecurely so they invade Ukraine.

    Ukraine was brave to not surrender to Russia violations of international law and order.

    Ah Meng went back to live in the trees after my explanation.

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  • theforgottongeneration:

    Pappies standards of leadership is when an invading force enters our city, you quickly pickup a dictionary and run towards them, offering your services (maybe even sell backside) to them. Then work with the occupying force to eliminate any local resistance cells that might spring up. Any other countries would call a COLLABORATOR or TRAITOR, but the pappies call it “Need to remain open”.

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  • Singaporeans R Free Riders:

    PAP anti Nationalism of SG:
    ..
    ..
    Ukraine was brave to not surrender to Russia violations of international law and order.
    ..

    You are an idiot.
    Let me re-phrase your sentence.

    Iraq was brave to not surrender to Americunt violations of international law and order defined by Americunt based on whose fist big talks louder.

    Now, just answer me one question: Where is the weapon of mass destruction as claim by your Ang Mo Tua Kee Americunt George Bush ?

    US President Coolidge said : After all, the chief business of the American people is business.(read profit)

    You bleed, my profit, my bonuses. Your death is highly profitable.

    In Dollar$ We Tru$t.
    Prai$e the Dollar$.
    Glory be with the Dollar$

    PAP supporters please print/distribute/share my post.
    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again

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