“There have been worrying signs for some
time that the personality cult surrounding the Prime Minister is beginning to
exceed the pulling power of several minor religions,’ Greg Craven writes in
today’s Financial Review.

Consider the
signals repeatedly relayed by the government over the past few weeks. No one
can lead the party but Howard. Treasurer Peter Costello is a mere sorcerer’s
apprentice. Howard can lead the party until death, or such later date of his
own choosing.

Consider the
contemptuous rejection of the very idea that the government might rely on its
reasonable electoral prospects – and the reality that Howard is nearing the age
of statutory senility in a judge – to reinvent itself under a younger, proven

As an ardent student of history, the Prime
Minister might want to look around the region for examples of what happens to
leaders who stay too long.

In our near neighbour Indonesia
President Suharto defied the urgings of his regional counterparts and declined
to give up the trappings of office to serve just one more term – before being forced
from office in disgrace.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir should
have and could have got out on top by overseeing an orderly transition of power
to his Deputy Anwar Ibrahim but instead embroiled himself in a tawdry political
game of abuse of power, smut and innuendo that put his rival in jail and
forever soiled the reputation of one of Asia’s longest serving prime ministers.

Only the wily Singaporean autocrat, Lee
Kwan Yew, timed his departure to get out on top. He handed over the reins to an
anointed successor in Goh Chok Tong while remaining a formidable force in
domestic and international politics – a position he still holds 16 years after
stepping down.

And what age did he go? Sixty-seven.

And Lee remains in cabinet. He’s gone from
Prime Minister to Senior Minister to Minister Mentor.

Minister Mentor Howard. Has
a nice ring to it, no?

Peter Fray

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