Malaysia’s PAS: Hudud, Non-Muslims and Party Cohesion


Partyforumseasia: Islamic or Islamist parties, maybe more than other religious parties, could be more coherent than their worldly counterparts because they share faith and rituals and certainties in life in a very direct way. Normally their spiritual leaders have clear-cut views and with their authority directly linked to God the dissent among members should be limited. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS has indeed enjoyed a sort of close-knit stability under its late spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who served also as chief minister of the federal state of Kelantan for 23 years. PAS has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling UMNO party for fishing in the same voter reservoir of Muslim Malays, especially in rural areas. Being seen as more caring for the poorer Malays and not corrupt like UMNO, the party pushed UMNO into a competition in terms of religious credentials which has entrenched the ethnic and religious divide in the country, bringing it ever more often to dangerous levels.
Hadi AwangPAS-president Abdul Hadi Awang (68), a Muslim cleric and in office since 2002
is standing for re-election in the upcoming party convention in June. But for the first time in four decades, he will have a challenger, and ironically, the difference comes after Hadi Awang’s very firm stand on the implementation of Islamic criminal punishments (hudud) which threatens PAS’ partnership in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Though the supporters of hudud say that it will be applied only to Muslims, the non-Muslim coalition partners in the (mostly Chinese-Malaysian) Democratic Action Party (DAP) oppose it strongly. Reasons for concern are certainly justified: There are quite a number of mixed marriages who may be effected. And the hudud punishments, normally described as not easy to execute because of a demanding number of male witnesses, e.g. for extramarital sex, obviously find willing supporters, e.g. Muslim medical doctors who say they are prepared to perform the prescribed hand amputations on thieves.

But the hudud-debate has also increased the internal split PAS between hardliners who are prepared to a rift with DAP and those who support the opposition coalition and the common fight against UMNO. So, the challenger of president Hadi Awang is another cleric, Ahmad Awang (79), who is Ahmad Awangpromptly being attacked as secretly supporting the DAP, whereas Hadi Awang declares it a duty of every Muslim to fight for hudud.

At the same time, the PAS strategy of enlarging its voter base to non-Muslims by establishing a special branch for them, the PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP), is creating additional irritations. If the publicly known figures are correct, the DHPP has 40.000 members out of about one million normal PAS-members. Though 4% look negligible,  the DHPP members can make a difference in the constituencies where PAS cannot win a majority alone and where the opposition coalition depends on PAS to win the seat. Giving up this potential would destroy years of effort to strengthen the party’s credibility among non-Muslims.

From Malaysian Maverick to Malaysian Nemesis


Partyforumseasia: In December 2009 the late Barry Wain published a critical biography of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003. The book, titled Malaysian Maverick, made waves because it highlighted a number of less successful projects which cost his country several billions, but it did not really damage the politician. Mahathir can be described as the political animal par excellence, turning 90 coming July and remarkably alert and interventionist. According to Wikipedia his political career spans over “almost 40 years”. That is slightly understated, because he entered UMNO in 1964 and is still today a force to be reckoned with in the party. The black and white photo shows him in 1965, the colored one in 2015, a span of 50 years.

Mahathir 1965Mahathir now

1965                                             2015

In contrast to his colleague from Singapore, the late Lee Kuan Yew, who prepared his succession successfully while still maintaining political influence mostly from behind the scene after his voluntary retirement, Mahathir is more than unhappy and dissatisfied with the prime ministers after him. In 2006 he replaced his handpicked successor Abdullah Badawi with the similarly handpicked Najib Razak who he tries to topple these days by all means with interviews, press statements and his blog, but also with a considerable support within the party. His arguments hit at shortcomings of the Najib administration, starting from the bad election results in 2013 when the UMNO-led ruling coalition lost the majority of the popular vote for the first time but survived due to the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post system, to the 42 billion Ringgit (nearly 12 billion US$) debt of a new “sovereign wealth fund” called 1MDB, whose board of advisors is chaired by Najib Razak. The prime minister tries to play down the accusations and manages to show support from the party leadership, but the media are speculating about his defeat in this showdown for months already.

The drama of elder statesmen clinging to power and influence by trying to change the constitution is common all over the world, but Mahathir, a trained medical doctor whose political manoeuvres were proverbially surgical in his hay days, may win at the end. Many Malaysians, not only in the opposition, are fed up with the rampant political corruption in the country.

At the end Najib may be comforted by his predecessor Abdullah Badawi like in this party convention snapshot:  Abdullah Najib

UK Election: FPTP System the Biggest Loser?


Partyforumseasia: Whoever has been standing for elections knows how highly emotional this test can be. The British parliamentary election on 7 May has produced quite a few losers, especially Ed Miliband from the Labour Party, Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party who all resigned from their party leadership after the fiasco. UK losersThe media did not hesitate to show their not amused faces, but there were two more losers, namely the polling institutes which had not foreseen the conservative victory at all, and – as commentators were quick to blame as well – the very British electoral system. The first-past-the-post system (or FPTP) , also practiced by former British colonies in Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore, allows parties with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote to win an absolute majority. In this election the Tories made it with just 36.9 %. From a continental perspective where different systems of proportional election systems reflect the popular vote results, it is difficult to imagine that the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 seats with only 4.8 % of the popular vote, the UKIP only one seat with 12.6%, and the Liberal Democrats eight seats with 7.8%. But this is the majority – winner takes all – system in which all votes not given to the winner are totally lost or wasted. This is why – except within the Conservative and Scottish Party of course – a discussion about electoral reform is intensifying, similar to the situation in Malaysia where the ruling coalition survived the 2013 general election due to the first-past-the-post system and the exaggerated weight of rural constituencies with few voters.
A comparison of the UK results under a different election system is rather interesting. A German university has compared the FPTP system with the German proportional one:
UK fptp vs proportionalThe hollow columns show the theoretical proportional outcome with the surprising difference that the Scottish National Party wouldn’t  have won any seat (because of the 5% minimum threshold), the Liberal Democrats in contrast 54, and UKIP no less than 92 seats instead of one!!!

A completely different  question is whether the proportional system is always more desirable just because it looks fairer and shows the “will of the people”. The more and more diversifying party scene in many countries world wide can produce unforeseen results as well. Take for example the German election 2013 which forced the Christian and Social Democrats into a “grand coalition” after fighting against each other in the campaign and left the federal parliament with a tiny opposition. Or the difficult formation of a government coalition in Israel recently, which forced the incumbent prime minister Netanjahu into a rather humiliating compromise with radical fringe parties. It is probably safe to say that very few voters in both countries, if any, really wanted such an outcome.

Partyforumseasia‘s preliminary and debatable conclusions:
1. Electoral reform is already difficult to implement, but on top of that there is no guarantee that it works as intended.
2. No electoral system guarantees good governance.

Multiparty Systems and the Upcoming Election in Myanmar


Partyforumseasia: The much anticipated parliamentary election in Myanmar in November will probably be contested by around 70 political parties. 73 are already registered as eligible, 14 applications are still pending with the Union Election Commission (UEC). Out of the 73 registered so far, 53 will run nationwide and 20 only regionally. And among the 73 there are 43 ethnic based parties which reflects the complicated multi-ethnic structure of the country. MYThe many decades long civil wars in too many areas will make the voting process difficult if not impossible in some. But generally, the progress in regulating the election law and its supervision is being seen as positive by parties and external observers. Diversity and insufficient infrastructure will make the election a rather difficult task for everybody, and some flaws remain in details like enormous discrepancies in the size of constituencies and precincts (between hundreds of thousands and as few as 1400) which opens the doors to manipulations by the parties which can afford it.

The number of parties, a bit frightening at first glance, may be one of the easier parts of the exercise. First of all, it is much lower than the 235 registered parties in the 1990 election which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD but not accepted by the military. Secondly, the ethnic fragmentation of the country is certainly not easy to be overcome by any single party, though many pundits predict that the NLD may win a two-thirds-majority. And finally, Myanmar is in maybe not good but numerous company with its “Multitude-Party-System“:

The parliamentary election tomorrow in Britain, the mother of the two-party-system which worked for nearly a hundred years with the first-past-the-post election system, is being contested by only seven main parties (but seven already), and additionally a multitude of smaller ones as well. The UK has 428 registered parties and Northern Ireland another 36. There are about 800 candidates from minor parties and independents. In other European countries the party systems are similarly expanding or disintegrating, Germany had 34 parties in the 2013 election, etc.

Indonesia, to have a regional comparison, had an inflation of parties after the fall of Suharto. But the country managed to reduce the number of parties admitted to run in 2014 from 46 registered to finally 12 parties qualifying.

There are many reasons to establish a political party. From obvious material interests like state subsidies in many European countries or the license of publishing a profitable newspaper in Egypt to the personal ambition of born or self-declared leaders any combination is possible. Political participation is desirable in terms of democratic principles, but the competition must be regulated in order to make the system governable. Myanmar has progressed in that direction, many say that the November election will be the best in 50 years, so the international community and the Asian neighbors can only wish the country the deserved success.
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More information:
The International Crisis Group offers an excellent and downloadable background paper “Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape“, Asia Report No 266, 28 April 2015  (Link here)
For the evolution of Myanmar’s political system see: Moe Thuzar and Zaw Oo in Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization – Money – Influence, 2014, ISNB 1493587145 or ISBN-13: 9781493587148, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other online distributors.B&N book

Socialist Party Cooperation: China-Cambodia and Vietnam-Russia


A week ago Partyforumseasia had taken up the “development cooperation” between China’s Communist Party and the royalist Funcinpec Party of Cambodia. Another interesting cooperation is starting between Vietnam’s Communists and the A Just Russia Party or Справедливая Россия, СР in Russian. The latter, supposed to be social-democratic, was established end of 2006 as a collection of merging and rather heterogenous smaller parties. It promises to develop the New Socialism of the 21st Century. According to the Institute of Modern Russia (Link here) the party “has faithfully played the role of the (Putin) regime’s “left foot”, legitimized by its membership in the Socialist International (SI), but enjoys an opposition image in Russia.
SEDSocialist cooperation: This handshake on the flag of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany symbolized the not all voluntary merger of Socialists and Communists in 1946, “faciltated” by the Soviet Union which occupied the East of Germany between the end of WW II and unification in 1989.

The party to party cooperation seems to be less advanced than the Funcinpec – CCP training program, but desired on both sides. On 28 April the Voice of Vietnam (Link here) reports that “A delegation of the Communist Party of Vietnam has attended an international workshop in Moscow at the invitation of the A Just Russia Party.” The report reveals a certain socialist formality of the meeting: (Chairman) “Mironov affirmed that the A Just Russia Party backs the comprehensive strategic partnership between Russia and Vietnam and treasures ties with the Vietnamese Communist Party, hoping that bilateral relations can be elevated to a new height.He spoke highly of the Vietnamese struggle for independence as well as the achievements made by the Vietnamese people in the four decades since.”
D
eputy head of Vietnam’s Central Committee’s Commission for External Relations Nguyen Tuan Phongcongratulated the Russian people on the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, and hailed the success of the international workshop organised by the A Just Russia Party.”
With improving ties between Vietnam and the US, as well as their Pivot on Asia, Russia may be somewhat nostalgic about the cold war alliance with Vietnam. And with the Ukraine crisis threatening to isolate Russia, ideological partners are most welcome. China, though, seems to be far ahead with training courses for the Cambodian Funcinpec officials – and maybe other fraternal parties…