The messianic Mahathir Mohamad, the silent Aung San Suu Kyi, the extravagant Duterte, the divine Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, and the eternal Lee Kuan Yew are singular characters of exceptional caliber and world-political significance. New messiahs and fallen heroes are analytically insightful cases of personality politics beyond parties. Their political maneuverings and enormous popularity raise comparative theoretical questions about the dynamics of contemporary charismatic politics in Southeast Asia.
In the Philippines, an eclectic combination of a father figure, an everyman, a strongman, and a jester, Duterte’s charismatic image rests on drawing clear enemy lines and dismantling political dynasties. This image is now being tested by his ambivalent alliances and his endorsement of a feudal democracy.(Llanera)
Lee Kuan Yew is gone but he shaped Singapore’s political system so tightly around himself that his political successors are trapped. Their popular legitimacy relies upon Lee's achievements; yet they cannot reform or meet new challenges without breaking away from Lee's legacy.(Thum)
The Brunei monarchy relies on a sophisticated machinery of national knowledge-production and its underlying political economy, and a powerful personality cult surrounding the highly popular and omnipotent Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. The normative aesthetics of venerating Brunei's "Caring Caliph“ play a crucial, scholarly unexplored role for maintaining his uncontested rule.(Müller)
Aung San Suu Kyi's response to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State has all but dissolved her image as an icon of freedom in the West yet strengthened her support within Myanmar. The dynamics highlights the different ways in which her image was created. (Roewer)
The once authoritarian Mahathir became the father of democratization after a messianic return and victory. His legacy may be challenged by another true reformist Anwar Ibrahim. In one country politically dominated by two “messiahs”, personality politics have rhythmed the campaign, and now represent a challenge to Malaysia’s political path and succession.(Lemière)
This innovative and interactive roundtable brings together country specialists from different disciplinary backgrounds. Their ethnographic or long-term field studies address overlapping analytic themes including: charisma, leadership, modern leadership cults. Beyond the discussion of primary data and recent political developments, these cases will enable novel interventions on existing theoretical debates.