Malaysia: Is the UMNO/BN Dream Coming True?

Partyforumseasia Strategy-wise: Is the UMNO/BN dream (= seeing the PR opposition coalition committing suicide) coming true… or is it that their strategies are working? Knowing the systemic vulnerability of the UMNO/BN system by changing vote patterns and facing the extraordinary challenge by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, held together by the charisma of Anwar Ibrahim, one might guess at least some of the defense strategies of the Barisan Nasional. The most important one in 2013 was winning the election at all cost – or, in financial terms, at a price tag of an estimated more than two billion RM. Gerrymandering as the most innocent looking tool worked as planned and the popular vote, won by the opposition, was more than neutralized. Having won the 2013 election, time would help to consolidate the shaken dominance again. And so it does, the second Malaysia Airlines (MH 17) tragedy in July even giving the Prime Minister and his government a chance to make good on perceived weaknesses after the first tragedy (MH 370). And both tragedies divert the public from domestic political issues.  Khalid Ibrahim
However, the Selangor shadow play about the replacement of chief minister (menteri besar) Abdul Khalid Ibrahim (picture with Anwar) at the hands of his own party can only be observed with glee and schadenfreude by the ruling camp. Since Khalid Ibrahim wants to stay on, a leadership drama is unfolding and develops into an operation on the open heart of the Pakatan coalition, which is anyway difficult enough to hold together . If Anwar still manages to convince most of his PKR leaders so far, the cacophony of statements by coalition partners in DAP and PAS will definitely harm the public image of the Pakatan Rakyat and spread doubts about their ability to take over the government in future. Internal squabble in any party world wide damages its public image. Even authoritarian party leadership is more acceptable for the broader public. But with the airline disasters already rallying the nation, the Selangor squabble might be close to suicidal for the opposition.

Breakthrough Compromise in Cambodia!

Partyforumseasia: Looking quite impossible for a whole year after the controversial election on 28 July 2013, a surprise compromise between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy ends the deadlock in the Cambodian parliament. Cambodia CompromiseThe 55 elected opposition MP’s (out of 123) will officially take up their seats, probably on Monday 28 July, thus ending their protest boycott. Ruling CambodianPeople’s Party (CPP) and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will work together after they have reached a  compromise to overhaul the National Election Commission. It will be made a “constitutionally mandated institution” with representatives of both parties as members. With the opposition taking up its seats in Parliament and co-operating with the ruling party in the Election Commission, Cambodia makes a big step towards a more balanced and fairer political culture.  Respect is due to PM Hun Sen, who was not really known for being a compromising political leader (!) and the perseverance of opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Their compromise is a big contribution to Cambodia’s democratic development and stability.
See more details in today’s (link:) Phnom Penh Post, 23 July 2014

In a regional perspective, the Cambodian compromise must be called exceptional. A few more Southeast Asian countries are still stuck in deadlock situations with an entrenched ruling party or coalition, defending its dominance with teeth and nails and preventing a level playing field for the opposition. Internationally, the easiest way of making it difficult or impossible for the opposition to win an election is massive gerrymandering. The CNRP’s success in 2013, winning 55 mandates despite the CPP’s gerrymandering, signaled the limits of election manipulation against bigger changes in voter preferences. There are certainly a few lessons to be learned.

American Dirty Campaign Experts Helping Prabowo?

Partyforumseasia – Strategy-Wise: Indonesia’s presidential election 2014 has generated a couple of surprises. From the meteoric rise of Jokowi and the unexpectedly successful catch-up counterattack of Prabowo, all developments can be explained within the system of the country’s new democratic paradigm. The personal charisma of Jokowi and the yearning of the voters for less corruption as well as cleaner and more transparent politics explains his probable though narrow victory. Ex-general Prabowo’s coming back from hopelessly lagging behind in the polls only some months ago is seen as the result of unlimited funding and a clockwork-like campaign machinery. Unfortunately, the Prabowo success was also based on the dirtiest campaign ever in a country which is known for a highly developed culture of social harmony, at least in Java where the majority of voters live.

devil1The campaign devil not in the PDI-P…

Partyforumseasia had taken up the topic of dirty campaign tricks on 8th and 11th May with the wicked fake obituary for Widodo and the incredible arsenal of poisonous campaign tools in the United States of America. But at that time we did not connect the US and Indonesian dirty campaign experts. Now we learn from Indonesia observer Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University that the Prabowo campaign was supported by American experts in smear campaigns:
Advised by American consultants who previously had taught Republican candidates on how to drown out opponents in smear campaigns, Prabowo’s electoral machine spread false rumours that Jokowi was a Singaporean Chinese and a Christian. Jokowi, pushed into the defensive by the effectiveness of these attacks among Indonesia’s devout Muslim community, could never really develop his own narrative and platform. As a result, his once seemingly unassailable lead over Prabowo in the polls (in December 2013, he was ahead by 39 percentage points) melted away rapidly.
Link: EASTASIAFORUM, 13 July 2014:
Indonesia’s presidential elections: Jokowi in, Prabowo out
This type of development co-operation can only be called highly undesirable in a country still uncertain on her path to a stable democracy, but it should also backfire on the American party development support industry. Traditional black magic looks rather harmless in contrast to this specific export item!

Thailand’s Dilemma – Coherently Explained

Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s dilemma is certainly caused by severe elite failure. But it is difficult to decide whether Thaksin and his allies or the Bangkok elite and the Democrat Party are more to blame for the frightening cleavage dividing north and south and the society at large. Under the headline The Story of Thaksin Shinawatra  British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry draws the longer lines of the political impasse which help to understand the developments during the last months.
See his conclusion here:
“Many people bear responsibility for Thailand‘s divisions, prominent among them Thaksin, who must dearly wish that he had rubbed his enemies‘ noses in it a bit less gleefully during his years in office. ThaksinBut the suave villainy of the Democrat Party, and of men like Abhisit and Korn, is insufficiently recognised. They understand how democratic opposition works, and how defeat, over time, strengthens losing parties, by purging them of what is unrealistic and superfluous, and forcing them into congruence with the aspirations of voters. Twice they have had the opportunity to reject military force and to insist on the primacy of elections; twice they have held the generals‘ coats for them, and watched civil rights being trampled on, in the hope of gaining some respite from their own chronic unelectability. The Democrat Party‘s leaders – young, attractive and cosmopolitan could have positioned themselves as mediators between a corrupt, complacent old elite and a corrupt, arrogant new power. Instead, they chose their natural side in the class war, and achieved the feat of losing the moral high ground to a man such as Thaksin. Their responsibility, and their disgrace, are very great.”                 London Review of Books, 6 June 2014   Link here:

Partyforumseasia is notoriously optimistic about regional politics, but Lloyd Parry’s comment on the possibility of a North-South civil war reminds us of an earlier post on this blog which tried to wrap a warning into (hopefully!!) gross exaggeration.

15 February 2064:
The Southeast Asian Miracle: Thailand’s Re-Unification sealed!!
After the recent breakthrough in prolonged negotiations between the two sides and efficient diplomatic support from ASEAN, the heads of state of the Kingdom of Tightland (formerly known as South Thailand) and the Kingdom of Thaksimania (formerly known as North Thailand) have signed a comprehensive re-unification treaty. The signing ceremony took place in the UN Headquarters in Beijing in the presence of unification advisers from Germany and Korea.
After the former Thailand split in 2015, the founding father of Thaksimania, business-politician Thaksim Shinawatra was soon elected King of Thaksimania. The people loved him because he could fund the government out of his own pocket and reduce the tax burden to a symbolic 5%. This led to a massive migration of the business community from Bangkok and the South to Thaksimania, where they were warmly welcomed by his Majesty on the condition of participating in the funding of his government.
The impact on former South Thailand was more than difficult. The Royal Finance Ministry witnessed a rapidly dwindling inflow of taxes which could not be balanced by the most investment friendly policies worldwide. So the impoverished country succumbed to pressure from Thaksimania to drop the aggressive use of the outdated name of Thailand. To secure a sufficient flow of development aid from the rival in the North, the King agreed to change the official name of the state into Tightland. Starting around 2035 already, many countries in Asia were able to reduce or abolish taxes and military spending because the regional security was no longer threatened by the US but guaranteed by China. This ended the decades of saber rattling and aggressive symbolic politics between Tightland and Thaksimania which made the re-unification possible at the end. It remains to be seen how the population of the two nations will adapt to the changes and the big difference in affluence. 😉

Strategy-wise: First-Time Voters for Change?

Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: All over the democratic world consistent vote patterns are more and more disappearing. While the “polling industry” has become more professional, the long term prediction of election outcomes is increasingly difficult. Competing poll results and their interpretation by politicians are useful in campaigns, but the only reliable figures come from exit polls, that is when the race has been decided already. 43690-20140522
For the parties and their campaign design it is therefore most important to focus on target groups which can be reached and influenced to vote for them. Data collection of vote patterns in residential areas are so easily available nowadays that campaigning in a wrong suburb comes close to wasted time and effort.
In Southeast Asia, where political fossils like Mahathir of UMNO or Lim Kit Siang of the DAP are still influential, “safe vote banks” like Thailand’s North East or Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak still work but come under more pressure as well. So the campaign efforts are focusing more on one big group which is open to be influenced: the first- time voters and the young. In Malaysia first-timers and under 30 year-old voters represent 20 percent of the 13 million electorate and their preferences are more volatile than in any generation before. Especially in the urban areas they tend to prefer the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, but they are also open to switch to the ruling Barisan Nasional if any special issue comes up. The eternal Islamic Law (hudud) discussion is one of these issues which deters non-Muslim voters from PAS as the biggest component in the opposition coalition.
It is interesting how the Malaysian parties try to woo the young voters. They have started to get them engaged and work for the party instead of just harvesting their votes in one election. As one of the key tasks of a political party in democratic systems is the recruitment of political personnel and prepare “new blood” for leadership posts, the implementation of internships and volunteer movements is an important new instrument. PKR and DAP were the first to offer internships with their MP’s and that creates in many cases new activists. The two parties carefully select interested young voters for a ten-week internship, but the ruling BN coalition followed suit since 2013 with a fellowship program for 70 internships in government offices, quite attractive for further career ambitions.
The DAP, in a long term bid to break the BN strongholds in East Malaysia, sends young volunteers for development internships to Sabah and Sarawak. It is understood that all these programs are yielding dedicated party activists and future leadership material.

One difference compared to older democracies is that the political youth organizations in Europe often cultivate their critical distance to the mother parties. They feel like the vanguards of their party and are sometimes much more progressive than their elders would like them to be…