Partyforumseasia: Since Thailand’s Armed Forces have taken over a quasi political party status for the time being, it may be allowed to look into its past some 120 years back. This early piece of picture journalism (a precursor of photo journalism) was printed in 1893 and discovered by Partyforumseasia on a holiday in France. Le Petit Journal, according to an advertisement in this copy published 29th July 1893, had a circulation of more than a million daily. It shows the great interest of France as one of the big colonial powers in Southeast Asia in the military strength of Siam.
The text of the article highlights the structure of the army (whose commander was prince Devang Wonsee, a brother of the king), the armament and manpower, about 10.000 soldiers altogether. Foreigners were hired as riding instructor, British, and head of the naval force, French. The picture suggesting that the royal elephants carried cannons on their backs is maybe a European exotic fantasy. The text says that they are prepared for warfare (“parfaitement dressés pour la guerre” but normally carry the king and the princes in big ceremonies.
In the absence of political parties in the 1890s it is clear that the army was the main political instrument of the king of Siam.
Partyforumseasia: The next general election is formally due only by early 2017, but Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, looks poised to call it any time now. Emotions for the city state have culminated since the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March, and the clockwork precision of the national day parade on August 9 with its mixture of historical, military, social and artistic features has certainly contributed to national pride and patriotic feelings. Generous new subsidies for the pioneer generation (66+), the upcoming implementation of a comprehensive health insurance for all citizens and many other goodies, all seem to signal that the “ground is sweet” for the ruling PAP. Incidents like accusations in the blogosphere or anti-PAP graffiti on public buildings have been discussed by the media but seem to disappear in the red and white national flag tidal wave these days. The electoral boundaries have been adjusted without real controversy, some long-term MP’s and ministers have announced their resignation and new candidates are being introduced in the media, nomination day is near.
The question now is: Will the “tremendous show of love for our country” (the education minister) translate into another sweeping victory for the People’s Action Party (PAP)?
Partially due to the British first-past-the-post election law all election results since 1968 have given the PAP absolute majorities between 60 and 86 per cent of the votes. Even the lowest share of the popular vote (60.14% in 2011) yielded 93 % of the seats! Lee Kuan Yew’s famous statement that it is not a task of the government to make it easier for the opposition is certainly still valid, so timing and goodies for the voters are well considered.
While the old opposition against Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian style is no longer relevant, the loss of a group representation constituency (GRC, with six seats) to the Workers’ Party in 2011has triggered an alarm in the PAP. The Lee Kuan Yew- fear factor has vanished, but the chances of the splintered opposition are difficult to predict. The scene is diverse enough, nine opposition parties will contest, and, quite remarkably, have managed for the first time to agree on each others claims and avoid splitting the anti-PAP votes. Another first time is the fact that all constituencies will be contested by opposition parties. The democratic anomaly that the PAP could win a precinct already on nomination day with a so called “walkover” because there was no other candidate, is over.
The economic success story of the city state and its well managed orderliness might make foreign observers wonder what the grievances of a pampered population can be. As everywhere else, in good times people take everything for granted and increase the expectations. Bigger issues are the growing foreign population, the high cost of living, property prices and the funding of retirement, which the opposition parties try to exploit. The uncontrollable blogosphere and the sometimes rather heavy-handed reactions of the government allow a certain glimpse into this potential of discontent. But as usual, there is a high probability that the bulk of the voters wants some opposition in parliament without risking to rock the boat. Only the Workers’ Party with 12.83 % of the votes has made it into parliament in 2011, the other eight parties try their best with “walkabouts” in food centers and coffee shops and distribute party papers and leaflets which most voters probably don’t bother to read. The pre-campaign scene (the official campaign is limited to nine days) is already colorful and the opposition parties are visible, but pamphlets and political smiles may not have too much impact.
On the campaign funding side: The spending of all parties in 2011 was a mere 5.5 million S$ (3.9 m US$) according to the Straits Times (21/08), but the spending limit for candidates per voter is being increased from 3.50 to 4 S$.
Bets on whether the PAP will be under or over the 60 % mark are welcome…
Partyforumseasia: Machiavelli would have cringed. Removing a challenging rival from the party leadership and leaving him continue as speaker of parliament would have been a grave strategic mistake in his eyes. The man only half removed, Thura Shwe Mann, is popular, obviously more forward looking than the conservative military elite which had nurtured his career. But rising too fast over the peer group is always dangerous. Being discussed as possible successor of President Thein Sein was not endearing him either. But probably his most “dangerous maneuver” was his apparent openness to a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi whose National League for Democracy (NLD) will most probably win the upcoming elections in November. For the moment President Thein Sein who seems to go for another term of office has eliminated Shwe Mann as rival for the presidency. But according to Machiavelli this victory will most probably not last. Shwe Mann does not lack ambition.
Partyforumseasia: Chutzpah ( or ) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. (Wikipedia)
Audacity certainly belongs to the personal qualities which make a political leader, but too much insolence and cheek easily become a liability which takes away the necessary credibility and trust of the voters. Prime Minister Najib Razak shows a remarkable cold-bloodedness in the current crisis around the more than controversial sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and its deficit of 11 billion $ and a dubious “campaign donation” of 700 million $ from an undisclosed Middle Eastern source.
Having lost the trust of huge parts of the Malaysian voters and more and more of the three million members of his UMNO party, he has the cheek to introduce a “National Consultative Committee on Political Funding (JKNMPP) to regulate the rampant money politics in Malaysia within a year (sic)!
By now every Malaysian knows that the UMNO rule is based on a huge financial transfer system which takes funds from all sorts of government related business ventures at the detriment of the economy. Appointing two Ministers in the PM’s department as chairmen of the JKNMPP looks like the epitome of chutzpah in the worst form of its above definition.
For many, not only serial-nemesis Mahathir, the days of Najib look like ending soon. So the triumph of eliminating opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and emaciating the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat may turn out to be balanced by the self-destruction of UMNO by its own top leadership.