Gerrymandering in Malaysia…and Elsewhere


Partyforumseasia: In its August 9th -15th 2014 issue, The Economist, a British weekly, is taking up the gerrymandering issue which a majority of Malaysian voters may have forgotten already after the last election in May 2013. That is the normal all over the world because manipulation of the electoral boundaries happens outside media attention and looks nearly legally correct. GerrymanderingThe ruling Barisan Nasional won 60% of the seats with only 47% of the vote, whereas the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition garnered 51% of the popular vote but was left with only 40% of the seats in Parliament. Malaysia, as a former British colony, adopted the British first-past-the-post electoral system which is designed to create strong majorities, irrespective of the distribution of the popular vote. To make the system even more “efficient”, the commissions in charge of delineating the constituency boundaries may carve them in a partisan way if they are close to one of the competing parties or coalitions. This is called gerrymandering and started in 1812, when the governor Elbridge Garry of Masschusetts created an electoral district which looked like a salamander on the map and was clearly favorable for his Democratic Republican Party. Until today, according to the ACE Project or Electoral Knowledge Network (aceproject.org), the USA is still at the extreme end of the spectrum between independent and partisan election commissions: “At one end of the spectrum is the United States, where the redistricting process is very political and decentralised. The responsibility for drawing districts for the United States Congress rests individually with the fifty states. There are few limitations on the states, and the boundary authorities are almost always political entities, i.e., state legislatures.
At the other end of the spectrum are many of the Commonwealth countries, where politicians have opted out of the redistricting process and granted the authority to redistrict to neutral or independent commissions.GB ConstituenciesLink here

Britain has done and is doing a lot to adjust the electoral boundaries to the demographic changes and create fair chances for the competing parties. The average number of voters per district is around 75,000 with few exceptions like East Ham (London) at 91,531 and Orkney and Shetland at 33,755 (2010).

The crux in Malaysia is that a defined maximum variation (normally 10-15%) has been taken out of the constitution and that it can reach several hundred percent. Sure, the rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawk are difficult to administer, but Indonesia is geographically even more difficult and has managed the parliamentary and presidential elections this year much better.The Malaysian Election Commission is handpicked by the government anyway, but it does not look good that its former chairman has joined the Barisan National’s right-wing support group Perkasa.

Indonesia and Beyond: More Dirty Campaigning to Come?


Partyforumseasia: Joko Widodo’s victory in the recent presidential election in Indonesia has been praised for many reasons. Jokowi as ordinary citizen against Indo Jokowiestablishment and big money, boost of the country’s fledgling democratic culture against vested financial interests, and most important, a clean politician against the more dubious figure of contender Prabowo. As one prominent observer in the Jakarta Post wrote: A checkered shirt against a checkered past, meaning the doubts on ex-general Prabowo’s human rights record.
The Prabowo campaign nearly performed miracles in Prabowo 2catching up with the poll figures which showed Jokowi miles ahead in the beginning. The two campaigns were indeed very different. The Jokowi – PDIP campaign looked widely amateurish, whereas the deep pockets of the Prabowo camp made a professional performance possible.
After the “dirtiest campaign ever” (Marcus Mietzner), one “professional” feature to be watched more closely is negative campaigning, also known as smear campaign. We had taken up the tasteless “obituary” and the allegations that Jokowi was a Christian of Chinese descent in earlier posts. The final election results among Muslim parties suggest that this poisonous rumor played a role in pulling devout voters into the Prabowo camp.
It would be a bit easier if the dirty campaigning had been home-grown in Indonesia. But it is widely ascribed to American advisers hired into the Prabowo team, namely experts from the US Republicans. Looking into the development of opposition research (“oppo” in the short form) as a thriving new industry is not very reassuring. In an article “Digging dirt, digitally”, The Economist (July 12, 2014 p.30) provides a glimpse into the possible future of negative campaigning. Two big oppo-companies, “America Rising” and “American Bridge 21st Century” are employing so called “trackers” to collect anything which could be used against a candidate. The dilemma for the candidates is, according to The Economist, that “more or less every word a candidate says now lives online somewhere”.
Apart from the smear campaign against Jokowi, Indonesia seems to be relatively innocent so far. But after building a professional polling industry in a few years time, they certainly have the capacity to develop “oppo” mechanisms as fast. There is some hope, though, that President Jokowi will help to create more transparency and cleaner governance in the country.

Nine New Faces: Singapore’s Nominated Members of Parliament


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is not short of political parties, no less than 28 are registered, but during 49 years of independent statehood the overwhelming dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) has not changed much. Though its share of the popular vote has shrunk to an unprecedented 60.14 percent in the last general election in 2011, and two cabinet ministers were voted out, the ruling party won 81 out of 87 seats due to the (British heritage) first-past-the-post majoritarian election system. But for the first time in 2011, the opposition Worker’s Party managed to win a group constituency with six seats. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was one of the tweaks to the election system introduced since 1984 and not really seen as making it easier for the opposition.  Parliament
In order to balance the overpowering hegemony of the PAP, however, the constitution allows for a number of unelected members to join Parliament. These are Non-Constituency MPs (NCMP) or “the best opposition losers”, if they can win at least 15 percent in a single member constituency, and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP). These are nominated by the President for two and a half years after recommendation by a parliamentary select committee under the speaker. This year’s committee included two ministers and five other MP’s including the chairman of the opposition Worker’s Party. According to the defense minister, who was part of the select committee, the NMP’s are expected to enrich the debates on issues like “ageing, economic restructuring and productivity, sporting excellence, a better living environment, retaining Singapore’s heritage and appreciation of its history, challenges of working mothers, youth aspirations, and entrepreneurism.” (Straits Times, 12 August 2011, p.1) On sensitive issues like amendments to the constitution or public finances the NMP’s can contribute to the debate but are not allowed to vote.
Among the newly appointed NMP’s are a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, an architect, a medical doctor, a unionist, a historian, an economist, and a banker. The somewhat naughty application of a social blogger who is being sued by the Prime Minister for alleging inconsistencies in how the government is handling the compulsory Central Provident Fund, has been rejected.

To put the NMP scheme into a proper perspective, it is fair to say that Singapore has only a part-time Parliament with MP’s following their professional careers as normal. Apart from the seasonal sittings of Parliament they are involved in intense grass roots work in their constituencies. So it makes a lot more sense to co-opt specialists than in classical full-time parliaments with professional politicians.

More information on Singapore’s political system can be found here:
Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization-Money-Influence, Partyforumseasia, Singapore 2014.
The new book is available at Amazon under the following link: Party Politics

 

Gender Inequality in Politics: More Funding = More Women MPs?


Partyforumseasia: Globally, female representation in Parliaments stands at 21.9 percent, and at 19.0 percent in Asia, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm). In a new white paper the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is looking into the common problem “that women wanting to run for office have less access to resources than men”. The excellent research can be downloaded for free at the IFES website with the following Link: Political Finance and Gender Equality

Corruption 2The paper is very specific on electoral systems and  financial regulations and their impact on campaign funding for women in a general perspective. The two concrete country studies, Tunisia and Yemen look less relevant for Southeast Asia at first glance, but provide a lot of insight nevertheless. Especially the Tunisian example shows that societies with a big gender gap in terms of political participation can improve rather fast if the political will is there. The white paper’s comparison of the MENA (Middle East North Africa) countries is interesting and cries for a similar study on Southeast Asia:
MENA women's participation

PS: Partyforumseasia’s book “Party Politics in Southeast Asia – Organization – Money – Influence” available at Amazon (link) is paying special attention to the gender attitudes in the parties.

First Book Covering Eight ASEAN Countries Is Out


Partyforumseasia: Before the start of this blog there was a research project in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore. It tried to add a more hands-on approach to the often theory laden political science literature on political parties in Southeast Asia, to study and describe their organizational structures, the internal hierarchies and funding mechanisms, and especially to cover as many countries as possible. We managed to bring together a team of authors from eight of the ten ASEAN countries. Since Brunei Darussalam has no parties, only Laos is missing because we could not find a local scholar willing or allowed to join. ISEAS accepted our manuscript for publication already in 2012, but due to unexpected delays did not finalize copy-editing and printing in time. This is why we decided to publish the book with the super-efficient Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. The book is now available at http://www.amazon.com, a very affordable e-book version should be out shortly.

Amazon Party Politics SEA