“Silverbacks” or Orang Utans – The Leadership Enigma in Southeast Asia


Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.

Partyforumseasia: The latest Economist (September 27th, p. 67) compares leadership “qualities” in the corporate world with dominant behavior among gorillas: Gorilla“IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body.”
OK, so much for the corporate world. Is it very different on the political stage? We had taken up the issue some time ago with the good looks of Yingluck Shinawatra, which certainly helped her to get accepted as Prime Minister of Thailand but didn’t protect her against being toppled as perceived proxy of her brother Thaksin.
Political leadership is probably related to a certain degree to “silverback” features from the gorilla world, but there are many exceptions to the list. From Napoleon to Sarkozy and many others, short politicians have been successful. The touch of grey in thick, lustrous hair? Not necessarily, Putin is nearly bald. Handsome or beautiful faces? Perhaps an asset but not necessarily. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao or Nixon were far from impressing by their features but mesmerizing men and many women alike.
There are research results in political psychology looking into why some politicians seem to be more trustworthy than others at first glance. The test persons (mostly students) had just one or two seconds to watch the picture and rate it.
The spoken word is another powerful tool to impress voters and citizens, and, obviously much more based on the way it is expressed than dependent on the content. On that background the astounding catching-up-campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia and the final victory of least gorilla-style politician Joko Widodo are remarkable. Was it the aura of credibility against strongman posturing?

Partyforumseasia would very much appreciate comments and contributions to the leadership enigma in Southeast Asia. It is a region with gentle orang utans, not chest thumping gorillas.

Malaysia: End of the Selangor Menteri Besar Saga? Not Really.


Partyforumseasia: After nearly nine months of “gestation”, the drama around the replacement of Khalid Ibrahim, chief minister of Malaysia’s richest federal state of Selangor, comes to an end. In the unique set up of leaving the final appointment of his replacement to the local Sultan, the new chief minister will be Mr. Azmin Ali. Sultan 2He is the Selangor chief of Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and its vice president on the national level. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah thus thwarted the strategically desastrous attempt of PKR to establish Anwar Ibrahim’s wife Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as chief minister. The series of political moves brought the opposition coalition of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Muslim party PAS to the abyss of breaking apart and undermined the standing and authority of de facto coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It really looks like the UMNO and Barisan Nasional dream of neutralizing the opposition threat is coming true (see our 30 July post), their leaders must be watching their luck in disbelief. Their initial input was preventing Anwar Ibrahim from running for the Selangor state parliament and eventually taking over as chief minister himself by simply reviving the dubious sodomy case against him. If this triggered Anwar’s decision to let his wife run instead, the Pandora box was open. One strategic mistake followed the other and created internal problems of the coalition partners, especially in PAS.
Strategy-wise there were arguably several mistakes:
1. The evidence against chief minister Khalid Ibrahim was not sufficient to sack him immediately. For his obviously unexpected refusal to step down there was no plan B.

2. Obviously the necessary early co-ordination with the coalition partners was neglected. The move looked more like a strongman decision by Anwar Ibrahim.
3. The final say-power of the Sultan seems to have been underestimated with the coalition’s focus on a narrow majority in the state parliament for Dr. Wan Azizah.
4. The internal mood in PAS and its controversial discussion about a female chief minister has not been taken seriously enough. The tensions within the party between a more religious (Ulama) and a more liberal (Erdogan) faction would have necessitated a more sensitive approach by PKR.
5. By not considering long term supporter Azmin Ali as a natural choice for Khalid’s succession Anwar himself created tensions and factional divisions in PKR.

Outlook: After the PAS party convention last weekend, which also weakened PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition of anyway not too compatible partners is still standing. But it looks definitely more fragile  and a lot less dangerous for the UMNO government. Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership prestige is definitely dented. It will be more difficult than ever before in the last six years of its existence to hold the coalition together.

Voter Turnout in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, offers a broad choice of reference material. We have selected the countries in Southeast Asia for easier reading. But the world-wide comparison is helping us to avoid prima-vista conclusions. If a higher voter turnout would mean more democratic legitimation, Vietnam and Laos were twice as democratic as the United States of America. Doubts about the USA’s political system are allowed and widespread among Americans, but there is no comparison here with the remaining Communist regimes in Southeast Asia.

As IFES points out at the end of a recent article on“Global Measures of Electoral Credibility: Voter Participation and Political Finance”By Ayesha Chugh and Hani Zainulbhai,September 17, 2014 – IFES ( Link ), “While variables like voter turnout and political finance are useful, electoral credibility is ultimately a nuanced concept that requires consideration of the full context of an election.”

Indeed, but it is certainly useful to compare the different systems in the region in light of the voter turnout in the last years. The following charts are due to IFES on www.ifes.int/vt/

The regional overview (Last parliamentary elections) Compiled by Partyforumseasia
vt WS

and world-wide:
Voter turnout

Detailed voter turnout statistics for the ten countries of Southeast Asia (Brunei has no parties) see the following page in the Partyforumseasia database:
Voter Turnout in Southeast Asia

 

Will Malaysia Follow the Path of Taiwan and Mexico?


Partyforumseasia: The question may sound surprising in the regional discussion in Southeast Asia, not to mention Malaysia itself. It is the headline of an analysis by Joan M. Nelson, a Malaysia expert at the American University’s School of International Service, and published in the latest Journal of Democracy, July 2014, Volume 25, Number 3, pp 105 – 119.
Roller 2Too small to create a level playing field???

By comparing Malaysia’s UMNO with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), Nelson’s list of the main similarities is as follows: “The hegemonic party controls the legislature by a majority sufficient to change the constitution at will; penetrates the bureaucracy; constrains the judiciary and the media; and controls the institutions that organize, monitor, and adjudicate elections. The party is largely sustained by the distribution of government spoils and patronage.” (p.105)

The central points of the comparison are the gradual weakening of PRI and KMT and their loss of domination, opening Mexico and Taiwan to a more open and more democratic development and a more level political playing field with chances for the opposition to take over.

Sure, the Barisan Nasional coalition has lost the important two-thirds majority in parliament and in 2013 even the popular vote. But in contrast to Mexico and Taiwan, where party elites started leveling the playing field, UMNO elites remain dedicated to maintain the status quo. The central analysis in this article is bluntly describing the attitudes of the leadership: “Politicians and cadres long accustomed to electoral advantage and pervasive reliance on patronage (to advance within the party as well as to win inter party elections) predictably resist changing the system.”

This is underlining Partyforumseasia’s pessimistic outlook for a possible sea change in Malaysia, at least in the short and medium perspective. The ruthless judicial persecution of Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition figures show that the Barisan coalition has been digging in more than their heels to stem the tide and defend their domination. Too many of them see politics as business and not as a vocation, they simply cannot afford to lose. And the “Bersih fatigue“, observed by some, as well as the somewhat suicidal handling of the chief minister saga in Selangor by the Pakatan Rakyat contribute to a pessimistic outlook.

Fifty Shades of Gray or Indonesia and the “Jokowi Effect”


Partyforumseasia: After this year’s successful parliamentary and presidential elections Indonesia certainly deserves unrestricted praise for the consolidation of its young democracy. Organizing this campaigning and election marathon in densely populated Java and the 13.400 islands with 193.000.000 registered voters is a Herculean task.Indomap
In this administrative dimension glitches are unavoidable, but they were far from the systemic irregularities alleged by losing presidential candidate Prabowo.
So far the brighter side of Indonesia’s political development.
But there are also some all too visible shadows in the overall picture! One major dark area is being highlighted by prominent observer and commentator Julia Suryakusuma in her regular Wednesday column in the Jakarta Post http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/09/03/depok-potholes-and-a-new-breed-leaders.html
With the sobering example of inefficient local government in Depok, a suburb of Jakarta with the reputation of being the second most corrupt city in the country (“Fifty shades of Gray”), Suryakusuma describes why the outspoken public intellectual Rizal, a citizen in this area, decides to run for mayor. The “Jokowi effect” could mean that Indonesians take up their responsibility as citizens and shed the long years as subjects under a political class with obvious vested interests. Like all over Southeast Asia, the country has too many politicians who see politics as business and not according to Max Weber’s famous definition of “politics as a vocation”.
Rizal could set an example and a new generation of politicians with vocation following the election of Joko Widodo would certainly be good for Indonesia.