Putting our destiny eggs in the national leader’s basket

So, Ma Ying-jeou has beaten Tsai Ing-wen to stay in presidency for another four years. His supporters were jubilant. Yet, the scenario of his first term of presidency will repeat itself soon: grand promises from the President and high hopes from his supporters at the beginning; frequent excuses from the President and increasing discontent from his followers towards the end.

I don’t have personal grudges against Ma. In fact, if I were a Taiwanese and had had to cast my vote, I would still have voted for Ma. Not because I believed he could bring about significant and meaningful improvement to the people’s lives, but because he was likely to do less harm.

Yes, I’m pessimistic, and apathetic. I find it bewildering whenever I see those TV footages showing thousands of people hysterically cheering and chanting their support for the presidential candidate at election rallies as if they were finally seeing their saviour. And I am not just talking about Taiwan; I’m also referring to the USA, the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Japan, Thailand ….

What puzzles me is that we are living in the 21st Century, and there are still so many people who believe that one good leader can turn the country around.

Look at all the countries I have mentioned. Isn’t the scenario familiar? During the election campaign, candidates make promise after promise. Then someone makes it to presidency. Then initial high hopes from the people. Then promise after promise is broken. Then discontent after discontent from the people.

This is exactly Ma’s story; it is the story of Angela Merkel of Germany; it is the story of Michel Rocard of France; it is the story of Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand. As for Japan, we can’t even remember the name of their prime minister, who keeps changing every twelve months.

Isn’t the reason obvious? It’s not that these people are not capable. It’s because a big, modernised, country of the 21st century is laden with intricate webs of personal and organisational interests, so that no matter how well-intentioned a national leader may be, there is not much that he or she can accomplish, because any move to ‘improve’ society will encroach upon the interests of certain sectors, and is bound to meet with opposition. And let us not forget that at the same time, in any democracy, there will be politicians who oppose for the sake of opposing, as strategies of political bargaining. Think about Obama. Didn’t he sincerely embrace laudable social ideals? But it does not matter whether he is capable or idealistic or not. No American presidents of the 21st Century will accomplish much during their presidency.

In a small, simple, primitive, village, a good leader will make a difference.

In a 21st-century, large, modernised, country or city, the future lies in every one of us, not some great leader.

Mother Teresa said: We cannot do great things. We can only do small things, with great love.

Don’t expect national leaders to do great things, because they can’t. But WE, through our daily, humble, small, good deeds, will build a better future for humankind.

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Postscript:

Having said that, I don’t mean we don’t need democracy. Yes, we do. In fact, if one day, we have direct election for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, I will definitely cast my vote. But I will vote for the person who is likely to do less harm, not the one who makes the grandest promises.

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