Partyforumseasia: With nearly one million members Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is the biggest party in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance, but many of its members seem to feel that Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) are treating PAS as a junior partner. This has lead to the formation of factions within the party, often dubbed as Ulama (clerical) and Erdogan (“liberal”). The tensions were visible for some time already and even more so during the party convention over last weekend, 22-24 November. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang was reelected unchallenged and deputy president Mohamad Sabu‘s victory over his conservative rival from the ulama faction with 588 to 490 votes was considered a victory for the liberals, also called “Anwarinas” for supporting Anwar Ibrahim as leader of the PR coalition. Among the three vice-presidents only one from the ulama faction was elected. But some results came out only after recounting, a sign that the polling was controversial. The following calls for unity show that the strategic orientation of the party remains under debate. The “progressives” want to broaden the voter base and open it to non-Malays and non-Muslims because they are fishing in the same pond as arch rival UMNO. As seen among the religious (Christian) parties in old Europe, the rural and probably more religious constituencies lose much of their importance with the fast urbanization, even if the Malaysian first-past-the-post election system still gives them an advantage.
Partyforumseasia: “Vae victis” meant in old Rome “woe to the vanquished or the conquered (ones)“. Being caught red-handed in corruption cases in Southeast Asia these days is getting more and more unpleasant as well. And the decades when politicians could easily get away with it may come to an end after new big scandals in the Philippines and Indonesia generate a bigger public outcry then ever before.
The picture shows former police general Djoko Susilo listening to his verdict in court. With 20 houses and other assets in the names of his second and third wives he was one of the “unusually rich” persons in power. Many politicians could follow him if the anti-corruption drive gets really serious.
But in the ever creative ranks of political entrepreneurs in Indonesia, and the chief justice of the Constitutional Court being indicted in a cash for settling an electoral fraud case, the methods of greasing helpful hands get more sophisticated as well. Instead of gangster-like cash hand-overs, credit cards backed with substantial prepaid accounts or insurance policies with substantial sums for the old age seem to be more difficult to detect.
Partyforumseasia had taken up the pork barreling saga in the Philippines recently. Yesterday, November 19th 2013, the Supreme Court has declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel fund “unconstitutional”. Many concerned citizens welcome this decision with a sigh of relief, first letters to the editor thank the Lord for this decision.
See (link here) The Manila Times of November 20th.
For the political parties and politicians it will be a severe blow, cutting them off from the most important funding source for their activities and election campaigns. But their shamelessness in the practical handling of kick-backs from development funds in the billions of Pesos and millions of $ has triggered the loudest ever public outcry and the radical decision of the Supreme Court.
The question is now how the political system can find a legal and socially acceptable way of funding parties, politicians and election campaigns. As e.g. the German example shows, even generous public funding is not sufficient. In 2013 the “Campaign Cost Reimbursement” for political parties will amount to 154 million €, but the combined budgets of all eligible parties are being estimated at 450 to 500 m €. Donations are indispensable in every political system but not easy to control and protect against influence peddling and lobbyism.
Partyforumseasia: Scandals can speed up necessary reforms. At a time when the strongest ever tropical storm hit the Philippines, one of the ugliest political corruption scandals has started to change the political landscape in Manila. Triggered by a whistle-blower, businesswoman and alleged “Pork Queen” Janet Lim Napoles has been exposed as central facilitator for abusing development funds for kickbacks to congressmen and senators. This method of funding politicians and political parties, partially via fake NGOs, was widely known, but never exposed like now. And the alleged dimensions are certainly outrageous in a country with the remaining poverty level of the Philippines. One of the prominent accused is veteran politician Juan Ponce Enrile (89), who only some months ago had to resign as president of the senate because of abusing senate funds. The alleged kickbacks for the multimillionaire are supposed to be 363 million Pesos (more than 8 million US$!!), half of his pork allocation. Other colleagues are liable for similar sums, that means that development funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in the respective constituencies have been used for campaign and party funding, maybe for private purposes as well.
In the face of massive demonstrations during the last few months, also against President Aquino, who won his election with an anti-corruption campaign, politicians have started to back-paddle. As of November 12th, nine senators had already declared that they are waiving their PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) – allocations for 2014.
The political establishment may find other ways of refinancing, though, similar to creative new money politics in Indonesia. Cash transfers being too dangerous now, credit card payments, insurance policies, fixed assets and landed property seem to be a way out…
Appendix: 1 billion Pesos are nearly 23 million US$
Partyforumseasia: Political families are not uncommon in party politics, take for example the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush and his son, the 43d President, George W. In Europe it happens less on the top level, but often enough in regional and local politics. The corruption and enrichment scandal in Indonesia’s Banten province and the remarkable career of Mukhriz Mahathir in Malaysia have brought the issue back into the media. In the Mukhriz case two narrowly lost elections, his candidacy for one of UMNO’s vice-presidential posts and the recent by-election in the federal state of Kedah, where he supported the local party candidate, are interpreted as defeat and the campaign support by his father Mahathir Mohamad, 88, a liability, signalling the end of father Mahathir’s overpowering influence in Malaysia’s and UMNO’s politics. The Banten case (already posted by Partyforumseasia) has much broader ramifications with family members of the governor Ms Ratu Atut holding seats in the national parliament, mayors, deputy regents and numerous business positions close to politics and administration. Continuing practices of money politics remind many Indonesians too much of Suharto’s family clan and the enrichment of his sons.
If the Banten-related corruption case involving the chief justice of the Constitutional Court should turn out as the tip of the iceberg, as it looks like, it will be more than difficult to fight family dynasties and money politics throughout the huge Indonesian archipelago.
By the way: Partyforumseasia has other (possible) family dynasties on its radar:
Thailand: Not only sister Yingluck, but also son Panthongtae Shinawatra
Malaysia: Mukhriz Mahathir from UMNO and Nik Abduh from PAS
Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a successful succession with a long break after his father resigned.
Partyforumseasia: Jon S.T.Quah has chosen a very telling title for his new book, published by ISEAS, Singapore, this year: “Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries. An Impossible Dream?” The latest political corruption scandal in Indonesia seems to underline the impossibility of the dream. Too much money is at stake, too costly are the election campaigns, too greedy the political players, and too toothless the anti-corruption programs of the government.
The Golkar Party seems to be especially vulnerable after rolling in money for decades as the main political instrument of president Suharto who was more than well known for the corrupt practices of his extended family. Indonesia expert Marcus Mietzner* from Sidney University reports that Suharto withheld 100 million US$ from Golkar party funds after his fall in 1998. This gives an idea of the financial dimensions the party was used to.
But Suharto also urged his cronies not to show their wealth with too flashy villas. This advice has obviously been forgotten by Banten governor Ms Ratu Atut and her billionaire family empire. If being known for their collection of Maseratis and Lamborghinis alone was incautious, a direct involvement of the clan in the bribery scandal around the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is a graver political mistake. Madam governor’s youngest brother is accused of offering 1 b Rupiah (about 92,000 US$) to the judge for a favorable decision in an election dispute. A number of Ms Ratu Atut’s close relatives are mayors or district chiefs in Banten province close to Jakarta…And Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, himself one of the richest businessmen in Indonesia, is being quoted as saying that the problem is not the political dynasty!
*Mietzner, Marcus (2007), Party Financing in Post-Soeharto Indonesia: Between State Subsidies and Political Corruption, in: Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2:241