Friday February 15, 2013
Knowing when to go
BY WONG SAI WAN
Leaving before one is told to leave is the hallmark of a great leader who puts cause before self.
THE announcement that Pope Benedict XVI was going to resign his papacy at the end of this month threw up all sorts of questions because he was the first to do so in about 600 years.
His reason for resigning is simple – he is just too old to handle the rigours and demands of being the leader of the one billion-strong Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict took over as the pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II and even then he was already 78, making him one of the oldest ever to occupy the seat of St Peter.
Now at 85, he feels that he is no longer up to the task and, on Monday morning, he informed a meeting of the Vatican cardinals of his decision.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he told the cardinals.
“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary – strengths which, in the last few months, have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”
Pope Benedict looks very frail and depends on a motorised platform during mass.
For all intent and purposes, the Vatican is a country and the Pope is its Head of State. This is besides being the spiritual leader to all Catholics in the world.
Yes, he is a year younger than Queen Elizabeth II of Britain who still looks hale and healthy but the British Ruler hardly goes through the political rigours and administrative demands that a Pope would have to deal with.
At 85, Pope Benedict is the seventh oldest head of state/government in the world. Besides the Queen, the other Heads of State older than the pontiff are Israeli president Shimon Peres at 89 years old and he is followed by three 88-year-olds – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Ethiopian President Grima Wolde-Giogis. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in the fifth oldest at 87.
Without a doubt, these leaders should follow the lead of Pope Benedict and make plans to let younger leaders succeed them. Abdication by Rulers is a serious matter but these days making way for a younger person is, at most times, the right thing to do.
These political leaders should also take a leaf from Africa’s favourite son Nelson Mandela who spent so many years fighting against oppression and apartheid in South Africa that when he decided not to defend his country presidency, many were shocked.
Mandela was 75 years old when he was elected as the President of South Africa in 1994. He was the oldest ever.
A Star reader S. Sundareson, when writing about Mandela in a letter to this newspaper, noted that Mandela’s statesmanship qualities and personal attributes have inspired millions. Aspiring politicians should emulate him.
“When he was riding on the wave of political glory and international fame, he refused to run for a second term and in 1999 he was succeeded by his deputy Thabo Mbeki,” wrote Sundareson in reply to another letter about the difficulty in finding an ethical politician because our world is not ideal.
Mandela could have easily stayed another term as is allowed by the South African constitution which allows a person to serve for two consecutive terms as the President. He stepped down to allow the younger Thabo Mbeki to take over.
Mandela had said he was not contesting for another term because he had laid the foundation for a better South Africa for all South Africans.
Politicians (and in some cases business leaders) must know when is the right time for them to go and if possible have a succession planning.
While it is terrible to overstay one’s welcome, it would be equally disastrous to leave suddenly without making sure that there are those capable of taking over.
Many think that overstaying one’s welcome is a developing country’s and Asian problem, but it is actually a problem everywhere. The oldest US Senator is Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who is now 89 years old but he was elected into office only 11 years ago.
There are many US senators who have served more than 30 years including the current vice-president, 70-year-old Joe Biden, who quit the senate to be Barack Obama’s number two after serving more than 36 years.
In the coming general election, many politicians, on both sides of the divide, will need to have a real hard look at themselves and evaluate if they have overstayed their welcome. Hopefully, there will be those who will do the right thing and step aside for the younger ones.
> Executive editor Wong Sai Wan (firstname.lastname@example.org) realises that stepping aside and letting go is never an easy decision but is one that must be made.