The Golden Rule of Money Politics

Partyforumseasia: Political scientists as well as poor political parties tend to criticize money politics and its growing impact on election outcomes. Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have been blamed for ever increasing campaign costs due to vote buying, candidate buying or expensive programs in favor of  special voter groups. Whether they are in good company is certainly debatable, but the international trend is not going towards cheaper campaigns and level playing fields.
Corruption 2As one political leader from the Philippines once defined the golden rule:   Who has the gold rules.
The United States of America are probably far ahead in this development. According to the Washington Post of 26 January 2015 (Link here), Republicans and Democrats are expected to spend one billion $ ( $) each in the 2016 election:

January 26 at 4:00 PM
A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.

The massive financial goal was revealed to donors during an annual winter meeting here hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and cements the network’s role as one of the country’s most potent political forces.”

Vietnamese Water Puppets or Really More Transparency?

Partyforumseasia: Invisibly for the audience, the famous Vietnamese water puppets are manipulated from behind the scene and under the water surface on which they perform. water puppetsIn good old Southeast Asian tradition, like the typical shadow play, invisible manipulation has long been typical for communist and other authoritarian regimes like the one in Vietnam. But more or less dark secrets like the infamous “arcana imperii” of the old Romans have been part of politics world wide. So, smiles on the stage and ferocious infighting behind the scene have been all too normal for the one party rule. The big question for analysts and observers is now whether the Communist Party of Vietnam is really opening up to more transparency in an era of rather uncontrollable social media and public demand. In view of the serious political shortcomings which have hampered the potential dynamism of Vietnam’s economy (see the recent post on this website) , the party may open up in order to win back some of the trust it has lost among the voters.
Under the headline “Vietnam: Open Secrets on the Road to Succession” (Link) cogitAsia has published an article by Vietnam expert Prof. Jonathan D. London from the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong. London is focusing on the coming leadership succession in 2016 and the preparations for it within the Central Committee:
“As in most one-party states, the politics of succession in Vietnam is meant to take place back stage. Evidence of what is actually occurring is systematically concealed. It is Vietnam’s present deviation from this pattern that has observers taking notice. Indeed, the manner in which events are playing out is lifting a curtain on Vietnam’s elite politics in a way that is without historical precedent. There have been several sets of surprises.
The first set has sprung from the process and alleged but non-verifiable outcomes of an unusual and nominally secretive round of confidence voting, in which 197 members of the Central Committee rated individual members of the Politburo according to their degree of confidence in members’ performance. That the Politburo would subject itself to a round of confidence voting by its formally supervisory Central Committee reminds us that, when it comes to politics, Vietnam’s party has cut its own cloth. China this is not.

The most interesting new development is the public scrutiny of top officials and party leaders which is going on for some time already by showing parliamentary sessions on TV.
“Though most Vietnamese do not follow party politics closely, Vietnam has in recent years developed an increasingly dynamic political culture, thanks to the rapid spread of the internet and the opportunities it has presented Vietnamese to read about and comment about virtually anything that strikes them, including politics.
This leads to a third intriguing development, the appearance of mysterious and heavily visited website, Profiles in Power, which has within the past several weeks published scandalous but seemingly well-documented accounts of several Politburo members’ alleged bad-behavior, including at least two members who were regarded as likely shoe-ins for 2016. The appearance of the website and discussion it has sparked has clearly had an impact, and prompted government calls to steer clear of it.

Though it may well be some sort of water puppet manipulation, Prof. London comes to the cautious conclusion that “recent events evidence greater transparency in Vietnam’s politics. Though not by design, this is nonetheless a significant development. It’s a pinhole view into Vietnam’s increasingly dynamic political scene.”

From MMM to MMP: Thailand Changing The Electoral System

Partyforumseasia: Changing the electoral boundaries (gerrymandering)  is the most common and most unnoticed manipulation of election systems, whereas the impact of tweaks and changes in the electoral system may be the most controversially discussed in political science. But even when the outcome for a certain party is difficult to predict, the committees changing the system have effects and outcomes on their minds.

The Bangkok Pundit, Jan 16, 2015 (Link) gives an interesting introduction of what is in the pipeline:
“The CDC (=Constitutional Drafting Committee) is proposing a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, modeled after the system in Germany. Like Thailand’s previous Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM) electoral system MMP gives voters two votes: one for a constituency MP in a single seat electoral constituency, and one for a party list. However, rather than simply adding the party list seats to a party’s constituency seat total, as is done under MMM, the party list vote is used to determine the total number of seats a party receives. The goal of MMP is to make the number of seats each party obtains as proportional as possible to the percentage of party list votes the party receives.”


“The total number of seats in the House of Representatives will be a minimum of 450 and a maximum of 480 seats, at least 20 fewer seats than the previous parliament. The number of constituency seats has been dramatically reduced, from 375 in the 2011 elections to a proposed 250, with about 250,000 people per MP. The number of seats set aside for the party list increases from 125 to 200. At 44 percent of total seats this represents the largest percentage of seats set-aside for the party list since Thailand adopted a two-tier system 2001. Finally, as in 2007 the party list seats are to be divided across 8 electoral regions.”

Testing the difference between MMM and MMP on the 2007 and 2011 elections, the analysis shows that the new system will be an advantage for the Democrat Party. The impeachment process against former PM Yingluck Shinawatra and her forseeible banning from the political scene show anyway the general intention of the changes: Keeping the Shinawatras and the Puea Thai party out.

Vietnam’s Central Party Committee Meeting: How to Read the Results

Partyforumseasia: According to today’s (13.01.2015) Viet Nam News (Link) “the committee nominated more officials to strategic positions, cast confidence votes for members of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat and elected more officials to the Central Committee’s Inspection Commission.(…) The Party Central Committee (CPC) wrapped up its 10th meeting in Ha Noi yesterday with a review of the leadership and direction of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat in 2014.”

Viet NamThe Viet Nam News – report is interesting reading  in so far as it is obviously not formulated as a flattering success story. Problems for which the ruling party is responsible are made more visible than hidden between the lines, as is usual among Communist and other authoritarian regimes. Partyforumseasia suggests a few translations (original from the article in italics) into more outspoken plain English, alternative and improved “translations” are welcome!

“The CPC emphasised the need for Party building, especially in efforts to prevent and curb the degradation of political ideology, ethics and lifestyle among Party members.”
= Many party members are corrupt and don’t care about the Communist ideology.

“In terms of civil service reforms, the Committee said it was important to improve existing staff and attract talented people to work for Party and State agencies, organisations and public units.”
= There are too many underperforming civil servants, it is difficult to compete with the private sector.

“It said the press should be developed professionally and effectively to meet public demand for information, while uniting society and contributing to the development of the country and its people.”
= Our controlled press is too boring and the people don’t reed it.

“National defence and security should also be strengthened with social progress and fairness ensured, making it easier for the country to pursue its path in global integration, he said.”
= We have problems with the armed forces, draft and pay are not fair enough.

“He asked for more studies on important issues, especially the settlement of bad debts and macro-economic stabilization plans.”
= After decades of reform we are still struggling with economic and financial problems.

“Delving into a proposal related to a more synchronous political and economic overhaul, the leader said that it involved stronger efforts to accelerate Party building and stop political and moral degradation to create a consensus within the Party and society at large.”
= Our party suffers from a lack of consensus, internally and with the society.

As Ferdinand Lasalle (1825-64, one of the godfathers of early Socialism in Germany) said, “All great political action starts with the definition of the problems. Covering them up is petty political brinkmanship.”
Vietnam’s Central Party Committee
is definitely correct in naming the shortcomings. May their correction be fast and successful in the interest of this great nation and her people.

No Freedom To Lead: Aung San Suu Kyi Not Running for President

Partyforumseasia: Allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president in the elections later this year would have changed the whole set up of parliament and government in Myanmar and ended the military control. From their standpoint it is only logical not to change the constitution which bars her from a candidacy. As far fetched as this clause may look, it is preventing a more than likely sweeping victory of the opposition.

Aung San Suu KyiMyanmar’s opposition leader and democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged she will be unable to become her country’s next president after elections later this year, a decision that will disappoint millions of her supporters.
The 69 year-old Nobel laureate will instead seek to chair Myanmar’s parliament where one-third of seats are allocated to the military, according to Aung Shin, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Ms Suu Kyi has conceded that despite intense lobbying Myanmar’s quasi civilian government will refuse to abolish a constitutional clause barring her from the presidency before the elections that are seen as a crucial test of the country’s move towards a freer and open society after almost 50 years of often-brutal military rule.
The clause specifically directed at Ms Suu Kyi bars anyone from becoming president who has a spouse or child who is a citizen of a foreign country.
Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and their two children hold British passports. Taking the chair in parliament would boost Ms Suu Kyi’s power and likely increase unity among opposition parties.”
See the whole article in The Sidney Morning Herald, LINK here

Cambodia: Resurrection of Funcinpec to stop growth of CNRP Opposition?

Partyforumseasia: Among the many long-term dominant parties in the region, Malaysia’s UMNO, Singapore’s PAP, Vietnam’s VCP, Laos’ LPRP, and Cambodia’s CPP, only the first and the last have sufficient reason to fear being voted out of power. Ranariddh 1The planned return of prince Norodom Ranariddh (71) to the helm of the more than half dead Funcinpec party opens the arena for many speculations. One possible interpretation is that the move is a strategic masterpiece of Prime Minister Hun Sen to limit further growth of Sam Rainsy’s CNRP by absorbing the royalist vote and secure his own and the CPP’s grip on power.
Foto: Prince Ranariddh announcing his return during a press conference in his villa in Phnom Penh on January 5th.

The speculation is not new. Based on Agence France Press, the South China Morning Post ( Link ) raised it on March 17th, 2014 already, when the prince announced his return to politics: “Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced his return to politics yesterday amid speculation that he is being brought back by the strongman leader, Hun Sen, to bolster support for his government.”
Prince Ranariddh is the second son of the late and still revered king Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of the current king. Given his image as being not totally immune against corruption, Hun Sen might well have arranged a deal with him. The prince’s denial, “My goal is not to break up any political party. My single goal is to gather voices of royalists and Sihanoukists”, does not exclude the deal, though.
The royalist camp, not least through Ranariddh’s own political activities, is split and ailing despite a sizable amount of traditional popular support for the monarchy. Being the clear winner of the first democratic election in 1993 with 45.5 %, Funcinpec lost its last two seats from 2008 in the 2013 election. Ranariddh, Prime Minister from1993 was ousted in 1997 by his deputy Hun Sen. But nevertheless he served as President of the National Assembly from 1998 to 2006 and as President of the Supreme Privy Council since 2010.After his ouster from Funcinpec in 2006 he founded the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) which won two seats in 2008 but was dissolved in April 2014 and later replaced by the Community of Royalist People’s Party.
The acronym CRPP, by the way, sounds dangerously close to CPP. Rallying the royalist voters and co-operating with the ruling CPP may indeed weaken the strong CNRP opposition which is described as “republican” by Ranariddh now, citing the “bad example” of France after the revolution of 1789…
But Prince Ranariddh is not yet president of a new Funcinpec, he has to be formally  elected in a party convention. One of his critics from his own family, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, called the return already “a sad day for Funcinpec” (The Cambodia Daily, Link ).

Malaysia’s Competing Coalitions: War of Attrition Going “MAD”?

Partyforumseasia: Sometimes the epic struggle between the ruling Barisan Nasional and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalitions reminds of the cold war nuclear strategy called “mutually assured destruction” or “MAD” in short. But in reality it isn’t about deterrence, it is about the destruction of one or the other. The Non-Malay coalition partner of UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association ( MCA ) lost more than half of its mandates in 2013 with 7 seats in Parliament left. The other predominantly Chinese Barisan-party, Gerakan, is nearly annihilated since 2008, and both were losing despite generous financial support from UMNO.
Now the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), equally pampered by UMNO, and down to four seats, risks its own future by major infighting. What happens within the MIC? Strategic director S Vell Paari and former Youth chief T Mohan, rivals of  party leader G Palanivel triggered an order by the Registrar of Societies to hold fresh elections for three vice-presidents and 23 members of the central MIC fracas 2working committee after the convention in November 2013 was found to have breached the Societies Act 1966. Two weeks ago about 500 disgruntled members demanded Palanivels resignation and came into a scuffle with his loyalists, watched by 100 policemen. Leadership competition is normal in any party but in a declining party it easily gets out of control.
Altogether, the apparent weakness of UMNO’s traditional vote “absorbers” among the ethic minorities plus inroads of the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak must ring the alarm bells quite clearly.
UMNO has reason enough to fear a further erosion of its “majority-formula” which guaranteed its domination for decades by getting enough support from the Non-Malay minority groups in the Barisan Nasional or National Front coalition. Internal warnings were saying that a further two per cent drop in the next election would cost them the government.
To compensate this weakness on their own side, the answer is of course a strategy to create problems for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and use their apparent cleavages and lack of stable cohesion. The most visible cleavage at the moment is the hudud (Islamic criminal law and punishments)-debate between coalition partners PAS and DAP. If the PAS-dominated Kelantan State Legislative Assembly paves the way for hudud after trying to do so for more than two decades, a split of Pakatan may be imminent. The secular DAP can hardly cooperate in that matter with the Islam-driven PAS. And for political gain and its own survival UMNO can hardly afford to prevent Kelantan from introducing hudud. In this type of impasse UMNO will most probably opt for survival and not for the best interest and unity of the nation it leads. The decision of a a special state assembly sitting on December 29th to pass the amendments has been postponed because of the heavy flooding, but the climax of the drama can be expected any time soon.