Cambodia’s Funcinpec Party Revived by China?


Partyforumseasia: រណសិរ្សបង្រួប បង្រួមជាតិដើម្បីកម្ពុជាឯករាជ្យ អព្យាក្រិត សន្តិភាព និងសហប្រតិបត្តិការ. This royalist Cambodian party is better known as FUNCINPEC or “Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif” in French, and “National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia” in English.
After winning the UN sponsored 1993 elections and being outmaneuvered by Hun Sen , the party kept shrinking but was kept alive as appendix of the Cambodian People’s Party. In the 2013 election it did not win a single mandate and looked more or less obsolete. In the local perception its image is tainted by the appendix role. Monday, 20 April, the deputy leader of the opposition CNRP, Kem Sokha, declared his party’s dialogue with the ruling party as “We’re not Funcinpec”.

SihanoukMaoOld friendship lasting: Sihanouk and Mao meeting in Beijing in 1971

After years of internal bickering and infighting, corruption allegations and leadership struggles, it might be too early to write Funcinpec off for good. On 20 April The Cambodian Daily  (link here) reports: “Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and second vice president Nhiek Bun Chhay left for China on Sunday to meet with officials from the Chinese Communist Party, the Cambodian royalist party’s longtime benefactor and supporter. China has provided financial support to Funcinpec since it was founded in 1981 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as an armed resistance against the government in Phnom Penh, and today continues to provide the party with basic funds and political training.”
Prince Norodom Ranariddh declared before the departure of the delegation that Funcinpec’s role is by the side of the CPP in contrast to the opposition CNRP. This revives the old suspicion that Prime Minister Hun Sen is using this small ally and the prestige of the monarchy against the growing weight of the opposition.
Strategy-wise:
1. The history of former king Sihanouk’s (1922-2012) friendly relations with China is rather unusual. The communist regime has hosted and supported the monarch by providing him exile in Beijing from 1970 after he was ousted by the Lon Nol coup. In an undated interview with China Central TV Sihanouk quotes Mao Zedong: “
There are some in the world who say that Communists have no love for Princes. We the Chinese Communists, however, both love and esteem a Prince like Norodom Sihanouk who has always been so close, so loyal and so dedicated to his people.”
But there are more mundane motives as well. Among other economic interests,
long term concessions on arable land in Cambodia add to China’s food security.

2. The international cooperation of political parties is anything but transparent. For the Western efforts to promote democracy, sometimes called “party support industry”, there is sufficient criticism, not least internally. The Cambodia Daily article reveals quite interesting details about the nature of the cooperation:
Funcinpec leaders revealed last year that the Chinese Communist Party continued to provide annual training to civil servants and youth members of the party, as well as giving them electric bicycles and petty cash to pay for office rental and amenities.”

Indonesia: The Hidden Price of Aklamasi


Partyforumseasia: As reported, the recent Bali congress of the PDI-P has  “reelected” Megawati Sukarnoputri by acclamation. With the weight of her family background as daughter of the nation’s founding president she would have won a real election as well, but the political culture has not yet arrived there. Not all Indonesians and certainly not all PDI-P members like this procedure, but if unconditional allegiance to the party line is being promoted before and during the congress, open internal dissent is not very probable. MegaJokowi

Photo: A traditional gesture of respect, but the matriarch seems to appreciate more than that.

The more vitriolic were media comments on “aklamasi”. The Jakarta Post quotes the definition of the English word acclamation as: “a vote to accept or approve someone or something that is done by cheers, shouts, or applause” (Merriam-Webster).
The comment (link here) continues:
But in the Indonesian context, the dictionary’s definition sounds euphemistic. In order for any political party chief to be elected by way of aklamasi, they have to exert formidable political and financial resources for backroom lobbying ahead of a national party congress.
This way, the congress is nothing but a ceremony to formalize the “election” or “reelection” of party leaders without the participants actually casting their ballots. All party executives who have voting rights have been effectively mobilized during preparatory meetings to agree to give their incumbent chief another term by way musyawarah-mufakat (deliberation for consensus). It is in this forum that the real battle happens.
Then when the party congress opens, the committee announces the aklamasi while the participants accept it by thunderous cheers, shouts, or applause. No objections are raised. What a sweet moment for the (re-)elected chief!”
The paper criticizes that “aklamasi” is a relic of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship but still widely practiced in the country:
“The dominant strong, charismatic leaders, such as the PDI-P’s Megawati, the Democratic Party’s Yudhoyono, Gerindra’s Prabowo and the NasDem Party’s Surya Paloh, has given rise to the prevailing feudalistic aklamasi election tactic. They are highly revered because they are founders of their respective parties. So powerful and revered are they, they have practically become cult leaders. Dissent is easily silenced. A member’s political rise often depends on his or her loyalty to the supreme leader instead of on real merit.”

The conclusion of the article is certainly correct, but reveals a sad undertone: “The politics of aklamasi proves that oligarchies give rise to political corruption, cronyism and dynasties. Public trust is wearing thin as political parties are failing to prepare future national leaders and to promote democracy.” 
Other prominent Indonesian publications like The Jakarta Globe (link here) and Tempo  (link here) are similarly critical about these shortcomings which are too visible for the country’s voters and undermine the belief in fast consolidation of Indonesia’s  fledgling democracy. Especially detrimental are promotions of sycophants in the party hierarchy, even if they have been under suspicion of corruption.
By coincidence, The Economist, a British news magazine, has taken up the topic of dynasties in business and politics in its newest edition (April 18th – 24th 2015).

Strategy-wise: Blood is thicker than water, and too many leaders trust bootlickers more than courageous people who tell them unpleasant truths. Democratic procedures inside the parties are still underdeveloped in Indonesia.
Finally: Trust is good, control is better (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov alias Lenin).

Patronage: Party Members as Greedy as Poor Voters!


Partyforumseasia: “Voter Demands for Patronage: Evidence from Indonesia” is the title of a recent research paper by Jae Hyeok Shin, assistant professor of political science at Korea University, in Journal of East Asian Studies 15 (2015), 127-151. Based on field studies in selected suburbs of Jakarta by means of interviews and questionnaires, the results more or less confirm the hypothesis with which it started, namely that poorer and less educated respondents are more interested in individual benefits or patronage and much less in long term policies like education and health care. THB donationsThe study is theoretically based on the vast political science literature discussing whether patronage is more demand or supply-side driven. For the political practitioner the difference looks trivial in view of the complexity of political cultures in Southeast Asia. As usual, it needs two to tango, and developed democracies know more or less subtle examples of patronage as well. Though the paper derives its results from asking the voters and does not discuss the viewpoints of politicians and their constraints in such an environment, it is certainly laudable to do this research in the field, even when the rural parts of Indonesia are left out.

One of the most interesting findings, however, is that “politically active, wealthy voters tend to desire patronage as strongly as do politically inactive poor voters”.

Not too surprising for the political practitioner, the poor know how to calculate anyway by necessity. But members and supporters of political parties are not only idealists either. Ironically, PDI-P sticks out here with high results. And the ongoing debate on the “rivers of money” from Malaysia’s UMNO is certainly another case in point.
Partyforumseasia would strongly encourage more research in this important area since money politics in Southeast Asia is one of our constant concerns. Maybe the scholars could avoid the cliché of “poor and uneducated voters” as greedy simpletons. These people understand quite well what the political elites are up to and they see their own advantage before and on election day!
See also our paper “Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia”
(by Wolfgang Sachsenröder), available at http://www.academia.edu

Mega Power – Mega’s Party Congress


Partyforumseasia:  As much as this forum supports female participation and leadership in politics, it hears alarm bells in the language used to report Megawati Sukarnoputri’s (aka “Mega”)  re-acclamation (not re-election!!) as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) over this weekend in a party congress in Bali. PDI-P, with 109 mandates, is the biggest party in the Indonesian parliament and brought President Joko Widodo or Jokowi to power.
MegaJokowi3



Ms Megawati
, the sixty-eight year old former president and daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno is leading the party since 1999 and has now been confirmed for another five years. Not openly challenged, she lashed out nevertheless at “opportunists eying the presidency”, thus being seen as insisting on her towering role and supreme command, and reminding the cadres that they are “servants of the party“. That reminds somehow of Louis XIV’s famous dictum “L’état c’est moi” or “The state, it is I”.  But in a patriarchal society like Indonesia female leadership is certainly not easy. Megawati warned already at the beginning of the congress that cadres who don’t fall in line with the party will be ousted.

As much as Megawati may feel that President Jokowi owes his election mainly to her, it will endanger his presidency if he is being seen as her puppet. That is, by the way, a wonderful theme for the country’s witty and rather disrespectful cartoonists. With the proverbial Javanese courtesy Jokowi avoids direct confrontation, but the relationship is getting more difficult the longer he is in office.

Another worrying sign of potentially dangerous leadership hubris, maybe with a pinch of “megalomania”, is the list of handpicked loyalist appointees for the top 27 key party positions, including her two children,  daughter Puan Maharani, Minister for Human Development and Culture, who chairs the Committee on Politics and Security, and son Prananda Prabowo who will lead the Creative Economy Committee. Close loyalist Hasto Kristiyanto has been promoted to secretary-general.

Strategy-wise: Handpicking loyalists is, of course, quite common in party politics. But the inherent danger lies in a lack of corrective dialogue and contradiction by all too subservient loyalists in case the great leader has a bad idea. As the Roman political orator and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote some 2059 years ago, you can learn more from an enemy than from compliant friends.

Money Politics in the Philippines=Business as usual?


Napoles  picPartyforumseasia: Would you buy a second hand car from this lady?
Probably not, because this is not a selfie but the official mugshot. Janet Napoles is accused of cheating the Philippino taxpayers at a rate of up to 10 billion Pesos (nearly 225 million USD).
M
oney politics and pork barrel scams are the ugly and dark side of politics, unfortunately not less widespread in Southeast Asia than in most politically underdeveloped parts of the world. Against the feelings of the voters and analysts, however, impunity makes them attractive for different sorts of shady “political entrepreneurs”, too many of them in parliaments and governments. Wherever the tax payers’ money is easily available, predators are not far away, and the Philippines are no exception, on the contrary.
The business minded Ms. Napoles had obviously found an easy trick to siphon away huge amounts from a well intentioned government program supposed to help lawmakers do good in their constituency and help their voters fast and efficiently, a typical pork barrel program.

The Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF was established under the Cory Aquino government in the 1990s and constantly grew until today, its allocation to the legislators being a useful instrument for the presidents to win their support in parliament. Napoles’ and her helpers “genius” created a big number of fake Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) which pretended to implement the infrastructure projects and channeled the money back to the members of parliament and of course Napoles.
During the last decades NGOs have played a big role in implementing development programs on behalf of international donors. They were sometimes classified as Bingos and Lingos (big and small NGOs), but there were also the Rongos, or robber NGOs….
So the Napoles scam is nothing new per se but quite unique in its dimension of 10 b Pesos. And also very remarkable concerning the number of lawmakers who would have bought the second hand car from Napoles without hesiation: Napoles, last week, handed a list of “clients” to a Senate Committee with the names of 20 senators and 100 congressmen!
AsiaSentinel
(Link here) in a recent article has calculated that this means “five sixths of the entire Senate and more than a third of the House of Representatives”. And the legal instruments to bring all these perpetrators to justice are slow and not efficient enough. Headline:The Destruction of Philippine Politics…

Malaysia’s UMNO: Rich Party – Poor Voters


Partyforumseasia has been quoting the Philippino version of the golden rule: “Who has the gold rules”. Plutocracy (Merriam-Webster: Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth) was rampant throughout history, from ancient Greece and Rome to Italian merchant republics like Venice and Florence and up to our days. Campaigning without money is practically impossible and political parties cannot survive without sufficient funding. The crucial question of the legitimacy of party funding is simple: Where does the money come from? Clean democracies in Northern Europe use membership fees, state subsidies and controlled and transparent donations.Corruption 2
In the case of Malaysia, membership fees are symbolic, direct state subsidies for parties don’t exist, and donations are anything but transparent. Nevertheless, UMNO and its component parties in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition have no  funding problems at all. On the contrary, they seem to print the money themselves.

In an article with the headline “The Secret of Malaysian PM Najib’s Staying PowerKeeping the cadres fed well“, the asia sentinel (Link here) explains the cash flows which keep Prime Minister Najib and his party machinery liquid and in power:

The money river flows The reason that Najib is unassailable, however, is the unceasing river of money that flows from government coffers to UMNO cadres. Thus the unanimous confidence vote in early March, when the prime minister called together 160 of the 191 UMNO division chiefs to a party meeting in Kuala Lumpur. That was followed a strong confidence vote from other component Barisan parties.  It is money that not only appears at election time, to pay for lunches or small items like tin roofs for constituents’ whose kampung houses leak, but pays them wages between elections.
The payments are made through various government agencies including the Village Security and Development Committee, to which the cadres are appointed.  They are also appointed to four propaganda agencies under the Ministry of Information Communications and Culture, which have offices in each of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories. The bulk of the money to support these propaganda agencies comes from the 1MDB Foundation, from which more than RM1 billion was siphoned off, purportedly for charity work, a well-placed source told Asia Sentinel.”

The article lists quite a number of dubious practices in Malaysia, how the business conglomerate controlled by the state and its cronies generates the necessary wealth.

The IRONY of this transfer system lies in the fact that UMNO depends on the votes of mainly poor Malay voters in the rural areas. With the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post election system they have guaranteed UMNO’s grip on power over five decades. But Malaysians are increasingly fed up with these corrupt practices and propelled a shaky opposition coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Coalition) into a position to challenge the ruling party. No wonder that UMNO is all out to destroy it.