SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR: As the world sees the rise of populism and demagogues, former United States President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama called on Monday (Dec 16) for the renewal of hope in democracy and wanted women and young people to take up political leadership.
Speaking before a packed auditorium at the Singapore Expo, Obama, who was taking a break from writing his memoir in Hawaii, said most problems in politics arose when old leaders clung to power and refused to step aside.
“Even if I could stay for a third term, I still would not do it. I believe in renewal of leadership and that old people should get away. If people with old ideas stay, new ideas are squashed and tragedies come from that impulse [to stay in power]. It is time for new ideas, new legs. That’s democracy, ” said Obama, who was quick to add jokingly that given the stress from his time in office former first lady Michelle Obama would not approve another year in power.
Obama also emphasised that the inclusion of more women in positions of power could also bring more good.
“I used to tell my staff women should run every country in the world for two years. You would see significant improvement across the board. Living standards will improve and there will be no war and after two years, let them run everything, ” said the 44th US president who left office in 2017.
Throughout his term in office, Obama made decisions to appoint women to key positions, including former first lady Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Susan Rice as UN ambassador and Samantha Powers as his chief national security adviser.
After leaving the US presidency, Obama has kept a low profile, only rarely giving interviews and choosing not to directly comment on global or US politics. Despite his low profile he has become the frequent target of criticism from his successor Donald Trump.
In recent months, Obama has grown increasingly outspoken on the issue of economic inequality, the growing danger of populism and the threat posed by social media.
On Monday (Dec 16), he renewed his criticism of social media, considering it to be one of “three things that continues to keep him up at night.”
“I would not have been elected had it not been for social media. But now, it is used more and more to propagate falsehood and hate around the world. It used to be that debate was about the means to achieve an objective. But now people debate on what is true or not, or if this is a table or a chair. It seems now that everyone now has their own facts, ” Obama said.
In 2008, Obama’s campaign team managed to harness the power of then ascendant Facebook to deliver his campaign messages, and the social media platform was considered to be the primary means through which he could win the presidency.
Obama said the excessive use of social media could deepen political polarisation, another source of worry for the former US president.
He said the current political polarization, which in some places could lead to the rise of populist leaders and demagogues, should raise alarm everywhere.
“This is a trend similar to what happened before World War II, ” Obama said.
Despite some of the emerging problems, Obama, who brands himself a cautious optimist, urged everyone to remain upbeat about the current situation if not the future.
“This is the best time to be alive, for all our flaws, there is goodness in us, we have the capacity to reason with a sense of humanity, ” he said at the event, organised by think tank Growth Faculty.
Obama was also in South-East Asia to inaugurate an event for young leaders from the region held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. - Asian News Network