New Overview Paper: Party Financing in Southeast Asia

GlasbergenPartyforumseasia’s editor, Wolfgang Sachsenröder, has presented a comparative paper on party finances at the ICIRD Conference (22-23 August 2013) at Chulalongkorn University Bangkok.

Below you find an abstract.
If you are interested in the topic see the whole paper here:
Political Party Finances in Southeast Asia 1

Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia(Abstract)
by Wolfgang Sachsenröder, visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and editor of www.partyforumseasia.org

Southeast Asia, riding on a wave of economic and asset growth in the last few decades, has developed an exaggerated level of money politics and enrichment opportunities for all sorts of political entrepreneurs. The part of political parties in this game and the different methods of securing enough funding for the management of the party machineries and the increasingly costly election campaigns vary from country to country. But the basic pattern can be described as a skilful move to blur the distinction between big business, state funds, and political parties in order to control and manipulate cash flows as the main instrument for coming to power and secure it.

Based on traditional patron-client relationships and the remaining big income gap between mostly rural poor and limited mostly urban middle classes, “pluto-populism” and “pork-barrelling” have become prominent features of party politics everywhere. The overrepresentation of businessmen and bankers in parliaments and governments reflects the interdependence of party politics and business sectors, once dubbed as “incestuous relationship” by veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang in Malaysia. And the rising cost of being selected as a candidate or branch leader as well as the goodies to be showered on potential voter groups and party supporters are only a logical consequence of these developments which have hardly been affected by progress in democratic and institutional development. Frustration with the level of corruption is high in Southeast Asia, but the vicious cycle of political cash flows and party politics remains below the necessary domestic debate threshold to lead to radical reforms.
As the Malaysian election campaign for the 5 May 2013 “GE13” has shown, anti-corruption rhetoric strikes a strong chord with large sectors of the electorate, but the well-oiled machinery of the incumbent government coalition could not be defeated. In Indonesia, and certainly similarly in other parts of the region, the anti-corruption sentiments seem to be superseded by resignation. Since all parties are more or less involved, and people are so used to the daily petty corruption, the argument is losing appeal in campaigns, also because even the most corrupt parties use it strategically.

State funding for political parties, not to speak of the generous levels in many European countries (e.g. 154 million Euros in Germany in 2013) is widely unknown in Southeast Asia. An exception is Thailand, which has introduced – after long debates since the mid-1990s – a quite generous party funding system.
Membership fees are more or less symbolic in the region (e.g.Democrat Party, Thailand 20,- THB, PAP, Singapore S$ 18 / year) if collected at all. These contributions to the party funding are practically negligible and certainly no serious part of the parties’ income.

The elections in Malaysia (May 2013) and Cambodia (July 2013) suggest that the electorates are increasingly aware and sick of political corruption and vote for the opposition which they expect to be cleaner.

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