Malaysia After the Election: No Smooth Sailing for the Winner

UMNOPartyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak is still more popular than his victorious National Front (BN) coalition. But the opposition, harping on their popular vote advantage of 51% (which is not decisive in a first-past-the-vote system), seems to touch the nerve of hundreds of thousands of citizens who understand the unfairness of the electoral system. And they feel outraged by Najib’s and the Election Commission’s calls for  reconciliation and calm acceptance of the results. The protest rallies may go on, now that the official and final results are out, which is the start for formal complaints about election fraud and legal battles to come. The opposition is planning to challenge in court the election outcome for 41 seats won by BN at a narrow margin. Fraud is not easy to prove and rarely leads to reversed seat allocations. But the legal procedures may take many months and keep the hostile climate at the level of a war of accusations and counter accusations. This, in turn, will not help PM Najib to renew his party mandate as chairman later this year. Serious challengers are not yet visible but party politics sometimes has few choices except “support or topple”. Malaysia’s political climate remains volatile.

Indonesia: Democrat Party in continuing decline

Partyforumseasia: Personalized “presidential” parties tend to deteriorate with their leader-founder, see the “Three Kims” in Korea for example. With president Yudhoyono (SBY) having to go soon, his Democrat Party seems to disintegrate already with a string of scandals speeding it up.

See the following article in (link:) Asia Sentinel
PD Indonesia

Partyforumseasia: At the same time the losses of PD seem to translate into gains for the PDI-P. Sunday’s gubernatorial election in Central Java preliminary results see PDI-P candidate Ganjar Pranowo with a huge lead close to 50%, obviously with tailwind by support from popular Jakarta governor Jokowo and grand dame of the party, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Pranowo’s campaign slogan “no corruption, no lying” seems to have struck a chord with the voters.

Political Party Funding in Southeast Asia

Corruption 4

Partyforumseasia is preparing an overview on party funding in Southeast Asia, a region where public funding for political parties is widely unknown, though Indonesia and Thailand are experimenting with it. The party laws prescribe certain minimum infrastructures like the number of branches in so many provinces, etc. And election campaigns cost in the billions, not only in the US but also in Southeast Asia. So, where do the political parties get their funding from? Donations, sure, but why give businessmen and corporations money to the parties?
At the same time, the general perception of corruption, except Singapore, is comparatively high. See here an excerpt of Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI):
TI 2012

Partyforumseasia: What can be expected in the practice of political party funding in this environment?
Contributions, examples, comments will be most welcome for our study. Please send them to:
Corruption 1

Timor Leste: The Most Democratic Country in Southeast Asia?

Partyforumseasia: In the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2012 (an excerpt for Southeast Asia attached) Timor Leste tops the regional neighbors’ ranking as no.43 with Indonesia following as no.53 and Laos at the low end as no.156. As all these rankings are debatable, Partyforumseasia would lift Singapore to the flawed and downgrade Cambodia to the authoritarian category.
Anyway, the good ranking of Timor Leste deserves attention and applause.
Economist SEA DEmocracy Index

But the splintered party scene in Timor Leste may deserve more attention and research. Contributions from scholars outside and political analysts from inside Timor Leste would be most welcome on Partyforumseasia!
Timor Leste parties (Wikipedia)Source: Wikipedia

Election Results 2012:

Timor Leste Election Results 2012 (Wikimedia)

Source: Wikimedia

Political Science Papers Thailand: New Paper on Democrat and Phuea Thai Party by Michael H. Nelson

Nelson, Democrat and Phuea Thai

Partyforumseasia: Is Thaksin Shinawatra indirectly back in the driver’s seat, just using his sister Yingluck as facade? An in-depth study by Michael H.Nelson from Walailak University.

A “GE13-Autopsy” with Four Preliminary Conclusions

Popular vote

Source: 10 May 2013


  1. Majority of mandates and minority of the popular vote
    Barisan Nasional had to win this election at any cost and it did so, never mind the further eroding simple majority. It had to win it in order to keep its grip on the political power, its control of the administration, and the connected business networks which have oiled its machinery for decades. A victorious opposition with a probably cleaner and more transparent government style and consequently cutting the cronies off the pork barrels would have meant much too radical losses for the beneficiaries of the established system. And a losing Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition will certainly face problems to keep its ranks closed.Eventually, PM Najib’s strategy of an all-out campaign with a mix of threats and goodies, neglecting the short and long term costs for the taxpayer, was successful against the groundswell of opposition sentiment in the population. The much discussed popular vote majority for the opposition (50.9 against 47.4 % for BN) is rather irrelevant in terms of power politics as long as Malaysia does not change the British-heritage first-past-the-post system, though it affects the legitimacy and credibility of the continued BN-rule. So, for the next five years don’t expect changes to the electoral system. As Lee Kuan Yew from neighbouring Singapore once said, a ruling party cannot be expected to make it easier for the opposition.
  2. A stolen victory?
    If an incumbent ruling party or coalition has to win at any cost, at least some preparations for manipulation must be expected. And many Malaysians did expect it. What came up during election night and triggered the complaints of the opposition is probably haunting the BN as well and will continue to do so for a while. The congratulations from president Obama and the EU were urging PM Najib to carefully address the alleged fraud cases. That is a quite unusual diplomatic formulation which affects the international image of Malaysia. But in the face of a critical Bersih (Malay for clean) movement monitoring the elections with tens of thousands of local observers specially trained to detect attempts of fraud, the BN strategists and campaigners may have been prepared for very cautious procedures and for mudding the water after the end of the vote counting as well. More than a week after the election now, the EC chairman urges the opposition to accept being defeated. Opposition and Bersih, on the other hand, seem to be slow with presenting proof of fraud, saying they are still compiling evidence. But the EC by-laws give them ample time for that. Much material published online has disappeared from the internet, but as of 13 May the PKR Election Fraud Investigative Team is looking into 237 complaints, especially in cases with a winning margin under 5%. Future investigation by Election Commission (EC) and courts may bring up more evidence than we have so far. Nevertheless, the anger of hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters clad in black show the public sentiment and the lack of trust in government and EC.  That is a difficult and dangerous situation showing quite brutally the cleavages in Malaysia’s society.
  3. Reconciliation despite bitterness and mistrust?
    Fortunately, Malaysia has enjoyed many years of peaceful development without open conflicts. But unfortunately, political interference, like preferential treatment for Malays, housing and settlement policies, the crony-networks, and the religious undertones in the UMNO-PAS competition about who has the better Muslim credentials, have created and intensified resentment and critical opposition to the decades of BN-rule in growing sectors of the population, nota bene including urban Malays. This is why PM Najib’s first reaction in disappointment and anger, holding a “Chinese tsunami” responsible for his lacklustre victory was a serious mistake. All his calls for reconciliation and unity sound hollow after this, and may cost him the leadership of UMNO eventually.
    On the other hand, the world political history of the last few years is full of narrow and dubious election outcomes with opposition protests fizzling out sooner or later. In the Malaysian case, the final price for the May 5th narrow victory may turn out to be costly for UMNO. Much depends on Anwar’s and Bersih’s perseverance in questioning the results. But even if their protest dies down sooner or later, the BN administration will have to continue to pamper its supporters with material goodies or risk being let down even further. This type of indirect and thus not illegal vote buying will turn out to be more and more costly, after the outrageously costly campaign we have seen already.

4.    Toward a two-party system?
During the last few weeks many commentators were talking about an upcoming two-party system. We can safely assume that the heavy losses of BN’s component parties are gradually pushing UMNO into admitting that it is more or less alone in charge. MCA and Gerakan have been kept alive with the financial and logistic support of UMNO and both have relied too much on this relationship. This political miscalculation has been punished on May 5th and may lead to their dissolution sooner or later.
On the opposition side it is rather difficult to see any tendency toward a merger. As long as Anwar Ibrahim does not retire from politics and joins academia, as he had announced (or threatened?) for the case of losing the election, PKR will remain a strong player. Whether PKR or DAP is the more stable and stronger party is not clear despite the better results of DAP. Merger tendencies or even merger talks between the two have not been published so far, and a merger of any of them with PAS is even more improbable. Racial issues, the urban-rural divide and its gerrymandering advantages, as well as religious preferences will continue to create high barriers against the formation of a united opposition party. But in the longer perspective it may be possible with a new leader even more charismatic than Anwar and who can galvanise the resistance against the prolonged BN rule even more successfully. With the popular vote already on the side of the opposition, the BN strategists cannot lean back and rule as usual. They will try to divide the PR parties as much as possible, but this may backfire with the growing number of voters who suspect UMNO of working more for their own survival than for the progress of the country.

Philippines: Mid-term Elections on 13 May

Partyforumseasia:Obviously not as exciting as Malaysia’s GE13 last Sunday, but certainly an important political milestone for the political and economic consolidation of the Philippines: Aquino

May 2013 Elections: A glimpse of the next President of the Philippines
By Jules Maaten, FNF, Manila

The May 13th, 2013 mid-term elections in the Philippines will not only decide whether the current liberal administration strengthens its mandate for the next three years. What is more, it is a preview of the 2016 presidential contest, and of whether the good governance reforms of the administration will last beyond the current administration. The Liberal Party put all their eggs in one basket: that these elections are an endorsement of liberal President Aquino’s administration.

In 2010 the Philippines elected liberal President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III with a historically large landslide, on an anti-corruption, anti-poverty platform. His administration has been credited with real successes in the fight against corruption, such as the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and the court case against Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Arroyo. At the same time the economy has picked up in a spectacular way.

This is reflected in Aquino’s satisfaction ratings, which in March were a net +59 (up 4 points from December 2012), and his cabinet has a good net satisfaction rating of +26. But Aquino is seeking to strengthen his mandate with a stronger majority in the Senate (where half of the 24 seats are up for grabs), and maintaining his strong position of the House of Representatives (where all seats are at stake). The mid-term election also includes local elections in the 80 provinces, 143 cities and 1,491 municipalities in the country.

Confidence in this administration is high, but many in business wonder whether the anti-corruption and liberalisation drive continues after 2016, when a new President will be elected (Aquino is only allowed one six-year term). Current front runner is vice-president Jejomar Binay, former mayor of Makati City, who is not precisely famous for his good governance record. A candidate who is more in line with Aquino’s policies would be Liberal Party (LP) leader Manuel “Mar” Roxas. President Aquino has been very vocal in recommending Roxas, his 2010 running mate. Roxas has not yet declared his plans for 2016.

Corruption is slowly fading, on the national level at least, but has not yet received a knock-out blow. The economy has picked up, but the benefits take time to trickle down to the poorest Filipinos, and structural liberal reforms have so far been piecemeal. A competition law and a freedom of information law, seen as ‘signature legislation’ for LP as well as for Aquino himself, are yet to be adopted. Following the success of the adoption of the Reproductive Health bill, despite massive opposition of the Catholic Church hierarchy, the public is looking for more reforms, and Aquino needs all the help he can get.

Binay and Roxas already had a close fight for the vice-presidency in 2010, with Binay narrowly winning. Binay now entered the mid-term elections with his own slate of Senatorial candidates: the UNA coalition of parties, formed together with former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who was ousted on plunder charges in 2001, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who was already a minister under Marcos and who has donned more political colours in his career than a fireworks display. Nominally UNA is “not in opposition” against the President, but a victory of the UNA coalition would be seen as a defeat for Aquino.

The President’s men responded with their own coalition, “Team PNoy” (PNoy being another fond nickname for the President), thereby raising the stakes. The message is clear: if you want the “straight path” of the President to continue you have to vote for Team PNoy. And a defeat for UNA would take much gloss off Binay, who so far enjoyed high approval ratings, using his cushy job mainly for public relations purposes.

In this election the interests of the Liberal Party itself took a back seat. The Team PNoy slate of twelve candidates contains only three from LP, only one of whom (the President’s cousin Bam Aquino) stands a good chance of being elected. Some of the other Team PNoy candidates are even erstwhile opponents of LP, but they pledged to support the President’s policies. Amongst some of the rank and file of LP the make-up of the Team PNoy coalition understandably raised eyebrows, to say the least. Yet a victory of Team PNoy together with LP holding on to crucial seats in Congress and amongst governors and mayors, would give LP a head-start in the final half of Aquino’s term and for the 2016 Presidential elections. The victory might also get liberal Senator and campaign leader Franklin Drilon elected as Senate President, which would be a great boon to the administration, replacing the wily Juan Ponce Enrile.

Binay however is an excellent strategist, and in the initial election surveys after the forming of UNA their candidates occupied most of the twelve Senate seats that are up for election. But the picture changed, particularly when President Aquino personally joined the fray, and in the latest polls nine out of twelve are for Team PNoy with several liberal Team PNoy candidates on the verge of breaking into the ‘magic twelve’. The personal ratings for Binay and Ponce Enrile are down. And in the most eye-catching local race between UNA and Team PNoy, for mayor of old Manila, former President Estrada’s challenge to incumbent liberal mayor Alfred Lim may not be as easy a success as was earlier predicted.

Another issue is whether the elections will be plagued by corruption and violence, as they have often been in the past. So far the some violence has come from the communist insurgency NPA, more than amongst rival candidates. The pro-active stance of the Commission for Elections (COMELEC) appears to have some effect. FNF joined the campaign of one of the election commissioners, Grace Padaca, against vote buying, and one of the advocacies in the FNF Freedom Runs in Quezon Province, Leyte Province and on Mindanao was “My Vote Is Not For Sale”, which galvanized more than 3000 local activists. FNF were also active in training 5,600 poll watchers across the country in Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Capiz, Cubao and Zamboanga.

There is everything to play for on May 13th, and much is at stake.

Leadership, Charisma, and Narcissism

HitStalinPol Pot

  1. Charisma
    The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) applied the centuries-old religious connotations of charisma to politics with the following classic definition: “Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.” But he also added a second criterion: “the recognition on the part of those subject to authority” is decisive for the validity of charisma.”(See Wikipedia: Charisma)
    In the 21st century, “supernatural” and “superhuman” are outdated notions, but exceptional powers or qualities are easily attributed to political leaders and dignitaries. From the simple village mayor or MP in the constituency up to ministers, prime ministers, and presidents, leaders are always surrounded by beaming and smiling faces, happy slaves when they are blessed with attention or a handshake. The aura of power produces already a semblance of charisma – not necessarily in need of outstanding personal qualities. And in the era of omnipresence and ubiquity of TV coverage, telegenic qualities and good looks may easily supersede the natural authority of personality. Personal charisma and media charisma may be very different, but the latter can be influenced and has created a whole new industry of coaching and political consultancy.
  2. Dangers of Charisma?
    Elections are highly emotional for the candidates because they are a test for attractiveness and potential of charisma and often end up in rejection. The crux is that among a number of candidates with personal charisma there may be some with more ambition than charisma and less desirable narcissistic potential in their quest to be elected.Oxford don Kevin Dutton has published a provocative book on psychopaths and success in 2012: “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.” An article in the Huffington Post referring to this book, lists tell-tale signs of “ps-I-chopathy” in your boss. Honi soit qui mal y pense, but some features sound somewhat familiar in the political sphere…

    Signs of Psychopathy According to Kevin Dutton (excerpts) 

    a) Emotional powerplay
    Psychopaths are social chameleons and can change their psychological spots in the blink of an eye if they think they can benefit from doing so. Playing on sympathy is a favourite weapon of choice.

    b) Control freak
    Psychopaths are emotional chess players and a psychopathic boss sees his employees merely as pieces on an invisible psychological chessboard: disposable, dispensable, superfluous.c) Charming
    Psychopaths are past masters at making scintillating first impressions and possess an innate gift for making you feel as if you’re the only person in the room.

    d) Parasitical
    Irrespective of whether they play the charm, manipulation or sympathy cards, psychopaths are corporate vampires and are second to none in their ability to take you into their confidence and suck out valuable new ideas that may have been months in the planning.

    e) Deceitful
    Psychopaths simply do not live by the same moral code as the rest of us, and experience little guilt or anxiety over telling lies – either to big themselves up, or to dump on others, or both.

    f) Narcissistic
    Psychopaths are completely driven by their own hard-nosed self-interest. Though they may feign concern for others, appearing warm, considerate and even helpful, such interest is shallow and superficial and merely serves as the foreplay for future exploitation. For psychopath, read “ps-I-chopath.”

    g) Non-stick
    Psychopaths make expert defence attorneys and are supremely skilled at getting themselves off the hook should accusations of incompetence be levelled at them.

    h) Non risk-averse
    The neural power-cut in the fear zip code of psychopaths’ brains means that things that would scare the hell out of the rest of us just don’t have the same impact on these ice-cool emotional androids.

    i) Power-hungry
    Psychopaths are attracted to positions of influence in which they can satisfy their need to control and manipulate others.

    k) X-Factor
    Psychopaths often do give out a certain ‘aura’ and folk sometimes report experiencing unnerving physical sensations in their presence such as “he sends a chill up my spine” and “he makes my skin crawl.”

The good news: This type of psychopaths is very rare among contemporary politicians and only applies to monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the like. See photographs…
The bad news: According to a 2008 survey on psychopathic personalities among American college students, the incidence is growing steadily (Journal of Personality, 76:4, August 2008). Nota bene: students, not politicians!

Are Voters Stupid and Greedy or Smart and Wise?

Voters...Partyforumseasia: Tonight, 5 May, we will know more about the mindsets and the intentions of Malaysia’s 13.3 million voters. Are goodie bags and promises enough to convince them and produce a clear majority? Are the leading politicians and strategists reading the ground correctly? Are the pollsters more and more wrong like in most European countries? Will the first-past-the-post election system generate an outcome which does not reflect the majority of intentions and voter sentiments?

How the voters are being seen by candidates and partisans will depend on the outcome. Opposition voters are stupid if you are on the ruling party’s side and vice versa.

Churchill‘s famous quote that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute discussion with an average voter sounds more than arrogant today. Having a choice after more than five decades without a real choice is already a victory for the Malaysian voter.

Malaysiakini is suggesting the following websites which will carry the live results tonight:

Malaysia’s UMNO: Leadership, Warlords, Members, and what keeps them together

Malaysia votesPartyforumseasia: Intense reporting about the election on 5 May brings up a rare glimpse into the structure and internal workings of the ruling party. Here is some information about a membership of more than three million, 20.000 branches etc., but also about the power of grassroot leaders, often called warlords in UMNO. See the revealing article of assistant foreign editor Reme Ahmad in the Straits Times of 3 May 2013.
Here are some key assessments:

“These warlords are a kind of pseudo-godfather…(…) The chiefs get financial allocations from the party and government. (…) In return, they deliver votes for Umno and its Barisan Nasional coalition…These warlords have to be kept happy (…) as they can otherwise sabotage candidates who are parachuted in.
In this election, the wrath of the warlords was on full display when Prime Minister Najib Razak shoehorned his own “winnable” candidates into many constituencies…(…)
In Umno, each of the 191 divisions has hundreds of branches, with total party membership at 3.2 million people. Keeping the branches loyal includes dishing out small projects, and this is where allegations of corruption and the overpricing of projects arise. (…) During the general election and by-elections, disaffected warlords have at times sabotaged their own party (…). Other warlords are known to have told supporters to vote for the other side. To reduce internal mischief, troublesome local leaders are often “given goodies”…
But UMNO is also reforming itself. Obviously in order to reduce money politics and vote buying in the internal elections, 100,000 members instead of the former 2,500 division delegates will elect the party chief later this year. Reme Ahmad comments: “The thinking is that it would be impossible to buy the loyalty of so many people.”

Party loyalty, of course, hardly comes without any material incentives, be it just power or all sorts of other perks. But the Southeast Asian practice of pork barrel politics has reached quite spectacular levels.
Umno structure 2013

Malaysia’s GE13: Any Economic Risk if the Opposition Wins?

Partyforumseasia: A recommended background article from an economic and investor’s viewpoint. Not surprisingly, the BN campaign predicts economic decline and chaos if the opposition should win. That is a routine threat of incumbent governments world-wide if they feel that defeat is possible. The four opposition state governments since 2008 have not messed up the economy so far and the BN strategists know that the voters know that. But campaign strategists and party leaders always hope that threats can be as powerful as promises… And few Malaysians remember that nearly half of the federal budget comes from oil revenues and not from taxation.

Source / Link: Institutional Investor Magazine

Malaysia’s GE13: Cleaner Election With Indelible Ink?

Partyforumseasia: After decades of extremely predictable election results with more than two-thirds majorities for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, 2008 has changed the game. In the 5 May election BN is fighting for survival and continuing access to the huge spoils of power, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition feels that victory is possible. Election campaigns in Malaysia have always been intense and costly with visible party propaganda like flags and posters all over the country. But this time the population is more divided and politicized than ever before. To calm down widespread suspicions after a long history of election anomalies, the Election Commission (EC) is introducing indelible ink for the first time. And the very first test run when 230.000 Army and Navy personnel came for advance voting on 30 April, immediately produced doubts about the durability of the ink – seven days according to the EC.

Source / Link: Straits Times 1 May 2013