Partyforumseasia: UMNO is getting serious in renewing the less than perfect internal election procedures. After 26 years of pre-democratically choosing the party president and his deputy without voting and by acclamation, this method described and ridiculed in Asterix’s old Gaul, comes to an end. In the upcoming party elections, probably between mid July and mid August, UMNO will come back to a proper election of the two top leaders. It will remain to be seen whether the election will be competitive or not, and if yes, who will have the courage to openly challenge Prime Minister Najib.
Whether he will like it or not, the voting might show his support level in the party, at least by abstentions, spoiled or no votes.
The other part of the reform will expand the number of delegates with voting rights from 2,500 to 146,500, probably enough to make vote buying too expensive even for the richest UMNO members with ambitions for local leadership posts.
See also the short overview on the reform compiled by Singapore’s Straits Times of 29 June:
Partyforumseasia: Obviously many voters like to feel close to their leaders, and subscribing to their blogs seems to provide this feeling. This, in turn, obliges the leaders to set up their own websites. Singapore’s Straits Times, 24 June, provides an overview, here is a selection for Southeast Asia, that is the rulers. The opposition figures may be interesting as well and a comparison of the number of followers…
Partyforumseasia: This is “Vitalstatistix”, chief of Asterix’s and Obelix’s village in old Gaul. He is waiting on his shield to be uplifted and reconfirmed as chief…
The extended UMNO leadership seems to be divided over how party chairman Prime Minister Najib Razak should be confirmed this time: uncontested like all UMNO top leaders in the last 26 years…or elected. Competitive party elections can be divisive, sure, and each contender has his or her own enemies and supporters. But such is party politics and competition is normal.
For the next party election later this year, PM Najib seems to have already a potential challenger, UMNO senior statesman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, once called ” the best Prime Minister Malaysia never had”. Because (or despite his age, born in 1937) he might be the right leader to reconcile the UMNO factions and maybe even UMNO and PAS…
Another interesting result of the new competitiveness in Malaysia’s politics are the attempts of UMNO to reduce its internal money politics by enlarging the voter base for the party elections. Increasing the number of members with voting right from 2,500 to 140,000 may indeed make vote buying too expensive and unaffordable even for the richest leaders. But the patronage and pork barrel system will be difficult to eradicate.
Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his government risked a confidence vote last Monday, 10 May, for the first time in their regime’s history. Given the 90% majority of the Communist Party in Vietnam’s Parliament and the remaining 10% not really antagonistic opposition, the risk was not life threatening. But more than 30% “low confidence”votes may
be signaling Dung’s fading popularity for a lackluster performance widely blamed for the slow economy on one side. On the other hand they will give hope to the population that their unhappiness with party and government will not go unnoticed by them any more. The keen interest in specially televised parliamentary debates since a couple of years shows that citizens are not indefinitely prepared to suffer in silence. But will the party be capable of opening up? Will rivalries inside the ‘nomenclatura’ allow for genuine party reform? See more details in today’s (link:) New York Times article.
Partyforumseasia: The long way from prison and house arrest to the presidential palace seems to open up for democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, “The Lady”. At the same time, her leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) comes under criticism by former supporters. “Foreign Policy” in its May/June edition (pp 32-34) publishes an article by Min Zin with the telling title “You Can’t Go Home Again”. The author, a former student activist in Burma, is now a journalist based in California. His feelings are nostalgic and disappointed at the same time when he comes back to a changed country: “And the more I spoke with Burma’s intellectuals, with the dissidents who had struggled alongside me so many years ago, what I heard was not simply joy about a country finally opening up to the world (…) but also the striking disappointment, in particular with our beloved Aung San Suu Kyi. (…) Today (…) even among those who love and respect Aung San Suu Kyi, her sainthood appears tarnished by an increasing aloofness and distance from the rest of the political opposition. Her leadership style makes her unapproachable. In the party congress of her National League for Democracy, held in March – the first in more than 20 years – she alone handpicked her central executive committee. But even worse than this worrying authoritarian streak, she seems willing, even eager, to please the former generals at the expense of moral and political principles. One of the most striking examples is her silence on the racist discrimination and violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority…”.
Exile, that shows history everywhere, makes it hard to leave the difficult past behind and see the new reality with open eyes. Many exiles remain bitter and may (often secretly) expect a compensation for their sufferings, one that Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be getting now.
But Min Zin’s question remains valid: What type of party will the NLD be in the next few years and how will The Lady and her handpicked executive committee lead it? The transition from decades as suppressed opposition to ruling a difficult country will not be easy.
Partyforumseasia …would never say it isn’t. The debate is inside the party about the two top leadership posts. It is an old habit since the times of Asterix about 2000 years ago to lift “born” leaders on a shield without wasting time for elections. Acclamation is sometimes acceptable if clear majorities are evident. But the normal way of determining party leaders is a contested election because it shows the margin of support for the winning leader. Obviously some leaders in UMNO want to do it the Asterix way, without the shield of course. Some others seem to prefer a proper election. But both are sure that UMNO is a democratic party:
Pahang’s chief minister Adnan Yaakob told reporters that he is against the uncontested top job solution: “UMNO is a democratic party. It is better if we do not do this because it will show that we are autocratic”. Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO deputy leader Muhyiddin Yassin who would profit from an uncontested re-election did not want to comment.
Actually the last contested election for the UMNO leadership was in 1987, 26 years ago, when Dr. Mahathir Mohamad narrowly won against Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, which led to a party split.
Partyforumseasia: Will this man change the endemic political corruption in Indonesia? Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, seems to meet the expectations of a growing number of Indonesians fed up ad nauseam with big style money politics in their country. President SBY turning out more and more as a lame duck at the end of his term, popular darling “Jokowi”, as the former mayor of Solo is affectionately known, may be the early front runner in the presidential race for next year.
In a recent poll by think tank CSIS Widodo leads with 28.6% in front of former general Prabowo from the Gerindra Party with 15.6 %. Golkar chairman and business tycoon Abdurizal Bakrie, in strong headwind after scandals, comes third with 7%, and PDI-P long term leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is nearly written off at 5.4%.
The humble style of Widodo, e.g. using the office driver but in his private car, obviously meets the dreams of many voters of an approachable politician who is not showing the usual priority of lining his own and his party’s pockets. One of the leading experts on Indonesian money politics, Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University, estimates the campaign cost for the governorship of an average Indonesian province at a staggering 10 million US$. The popular dream of cleaner politics may pick up with Jokowi. So more parties than his own PDI-P are eying him as their own presidential candidate…
Partyforumseasia: Taking up PM Najib’s unfortunate formula of a Chinese tsunami with the infamous headline “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (What else do the Chinese want?), the UMNO owned Utusan Malaysia newspaper has exposed its own partisanship to a degree that undermines its credibility even more. The domination, if not control, of the media by government and ruling coalition, blamed among other shortcomings for the uneven political playing field, starts to create a backlash in the era of internet reporting and social media. With the credibility of the partisan media, their economic success is also threatened. An article in the (link:) 2 June Straits Times (Singapore) gives a number of interesting details. And nota bene at the same time the saying goes that the best coverage of domestic developments in Malaysia is supposed to be published in Singapore (and vice versa).
By the way, the first political riddle in the childhood of the author of these lines was: “What lies at your doorstep in the morning and lies? Answer: The newspaper…
See also the following link: Malaysia’s Dilemma
Partyforumseasia:The narrow election victory of the Barisan Nasional coalition under PM Najib comes at a price which the PM has increased himself with the incautious (to say it mildly) remark about the “Chinese tsunami“. The campaign has cruelly exposed the political cleavages in Malaysia’s complex mix of ethnicity, religion, geography, and social stratification, some of them the result of long term government policies.
In this situation, the PM calls for unity and reconciliation which may sound a bit desperate for many critics of the ruling party. But inviting the opposition to participate in a reform of the controversial Election Commission is certainly a good move. It may only come a bit too early since the backlog of fraud complaints for the 5th May election has not even started to be cleared. Including the expected law suits it may take a year. And critics are not optimistic about the results of a mixed committee, the most prominent of them the leader of the election watchdog Bersih, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.
Partyforumseasia: The International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm has published a very detailed database on legal regulations encompassing practically all aspects of party and campaign funding, see
To reduce the complexity of the provided data, here’s a selection of the most basic information for Southeast Asia:
The table shows “only” the legal situation and certainly not the whole reality of party and campaign related financial activities in Southeast Asia. Looking at the ‘ban on vote buying’ column alone reminds more of the “perfect” theoretical human rights protection in the constitution of the late USSR – both a far cry from what happened on the ground…