PrintDato’ Seri Matthew Yeoh discusses the impact of political ideology of a country in relation to its real estate market

Dictators and authoritarianism are by definition the exercise of powers of state without or devoid of democratic processes. It is the antithesis of democracy or rule by the masses. It is not to be confused with the rule of law. Dictatorships can be subject to the rule of law too, and a justice system. The difference is who makes the laws; in dictatorships, the making of laws and the administration of justice are usually at the hands of one person or a small group of individuals.

In ancient times before the advent of democracy by Greek philosophers, practically all states and nations are dictatorships, ruled by kings, sultans, caliphs, pharaohs, etc, and in a feudal mindset they set themselves up as demigods whose decisions were not to be questioned. Through it all, the interplay of land ownership and property rights between individuals and states existed, and this article proposes to discuss this.

As we have seen above, in ancient times the ruler had absolute power over everything on earth. He was the divine representative on earth, the son of god or heaven ruling by ‘divine mandate’. The ordinary person were serfs (that is how we get the present day word for servants), there to do the bidding of this one man, and they owed their very existence to him and their lives could be taken by him at his own pleasure. In return for the king’s ‘graciousness’, the masses had to give up a portion of their produce, pay taxes and support him when he calls on them during times of war and national crises. That was feudalism at its very basic concept.

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In England, all lands belonged to the king. He had the power to grant leases and tenancies to his nobilities who could then grant sub-tenancies to the peasants. He was the fountain of justice. This concept of absolute ownership by the Crown exists up to this day. There is no ownership in perpetuity in England, and any freehold is automatically converted to 999-year leases, and throughout the Commonwealth and indeed most of the Western-influenced world today, we still need to pay quit rent, property taxes, etc to the government, the concept being that after all, the very absolute ownership of land belongs to the state. Needless to say, countries with a one-party rule system are even more restrictive in granting land rights to individuals, rarely granting licenses for more than 100 years.

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v1Matthew Yeoh is a partner of Yeoh Mazlina & Partners, a member of ASEAN Legal Alliance, a group of legal firms across ASEAN

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