YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

How to Put Autocrats Out to Pasture

February 09, 1986|CHARLES WOLF JR. | Charles Wolf Jr. is director of the Rand Corp. research program in international economics and dean of Rand's graduate school.

Winston Churchill's aphorism about democracy ("the worst form of government except for all the others") also applies to the Third World. The problem in the Third World is not whether democracy would be better or worse, but how to get it launched in a manner that provides a fair test of Churchill's proposition.

Much has been written about the formidable obstacles confronting nascent, or pre-nascent, Third World democracies, and the recent histories of the Philippines, Pakistan, South Korea and Indonesia--to cite a few examples--provide ample evidence of these difficulties. Yet there is one major obstacle facing such countries that has been largely overlooked: What can former heads of state in Third World countries look forward to after they leave the presidential palace? Because there are few feasible and attractive alternatives, it is not surprising that Third World leaders as diverse as Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines, Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, Suharto in Indonesia and Chun Doo Hwan in Korea may decide, or be convinced by others, that it is in their countries' best interests to extend their tenure--whether by imposing martial law, amending or suspending the constitution, or rigging an impending election. Frequently, the result is that democracy is aborted or continues to function as a discredited sham.

Compare the extraordinary range of opportunities open to former government leaders in the United States and other democracies in the developed world. They can write best-selling books and serve as media newspaper and TV commentators (Richard M. Nixon); they can join corporate boards and be featured speakers at national and international meetings (Gerald R. Ford and Helmut Schmidt); they can establish university-based research centers (Jimmy Carter). And their successors, as well as the media, seek their counsel.

Besides the substantial income from such activities, ex-presidents may receive annual lifetime stipends ($69,000, plus $96,000 for office help, in the United States) as a result of their government service. And they still have ample time for golf, skiing, tennis and softball.

Of course, this package still adds up to less than the challenge and excitement of the presidency. But the point is that there definitely is life after the White House, or 10 Downing Street, or the Elysee Palace. Indeed, the income and range of activities available to ex-presidents adds up to an appealing combination of financial security, personal stimulus and public stature.

Now consider the contrasting prospects facing Marcos, Zia, Chun and Suharto, and their genre, if they should leave their present posts. The options are limited and unattractive. Corporate boards won't vie for their participation. Publishers won't make lucrative offers for their memoirs. And the media won't clamor for them as commentators. Moreover, their prior associates in government or the military typically avoid, rather than seek, their company, in fear that such contact will be viewed by the new incumbent as disloyal or, worse still, as a sign of a potential coup.

Thus, if a former head of state in the Third World continues to reside in his own country, he is likely to be ignored. If not ignored, he may be viewed as a thorn in the side of a successor whose tolerance for having him around may be limited. (Even lesser presidential challengers, such as Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and Kim Dae Jung in South Korea, became persona non grata to the reigning leadership.)

Exile, whether voluntary or forced, may seem preferable to the circumscribed, if not risky, prospects at home.

Because the problem is rooted in the limited economic, technological and social development of Third World countries, it will not be easy to solve. Yet this doesn't mean that successful democracy is fated to be a rare occurrence until such countries attain a level of development more like that of the West. A few concrete steps can at least ease the problem.

Large corporations and foundations--the Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur and Johnson foundations, for example--could consider Third World heads of state as possible directors or board members when their records in office and other credentials warrant. Certain institutional developments within the Third World also might improve the situation. In South Korea, for instance, plans are under way to establish a privately endowed think tank for research and international conferences on foreign policy and defense issues. Such an institution could provide one or more prestigious positions that would be attractive to an outgoing Korean head of state. It also would help if these Third World countries made some financial provisions for former heads of state who exit their offices in accordance with constitutional procedures.

To advance the prospects for successful democracies in the Third World, the incentives for former heads of state must be improved. Recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution.

Los Angeles Times Articles