No Velvet Gloves in Phnom Penh

Partyforumseasia:  With huge amounts of development aid and investments flowing into Cambodia, relatively low paid jobs and industries have been created, giving at least to the capital Phnom Penh a veneer of success and normality compared to the other big cities in the region. But underemployment and poverty are still too visible and contrast with posh villas and the big SUVs of the rich.  Belated trials against Khmer Rouge criminals in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are bringing back memories but the younger generation is not very interested. The country has gone through so unspeakably cruel times and experiences that the older generation of survivors probably prefer to forget as much as possible. But the deadly memories may still linger in the social fabric of the country.  Hun Sen
Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, is certainly not known for a soft style with political opponents. With his survival instinct he rules Cambodia since 1985 and ranks now as no. 7 on the “List of current longest ruling non-royal national leaders” world wide (Wikipedia). Two very recent news items, both dated 26 October and concerning Mr. Hun Sen are remarkable:

1. “Opposition lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were beaten and severely injured by protesters outside the National Assembly on Monday morning during a demonstration demanding that CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha step down as the parliament’s vice president.”  According to the Cambodia Daily (Link here) the demonstration was supervised by heavy police presence, but the traffic police closer to the cars of the victims did not interfere. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself confronted with protests in Paris, signaled from there that he respects the right to demonstrate, and an official of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party CPP denied that the demonstration was organized by them. Party spokesman Sok Eysan regretted that the demonstration got out of control but has doubts that the perpetrators can be found.

2. Under the headline “Hun Sen, Pondering Defeat, Has War on Mind”, the Cambodia Daily (Link here) reports a series of threats the Prime Minister is publishing for the case that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) should win the next election in 2018. Though CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has already announced that he would not remove the CPP supporters in the army and the public service, Hun Sen seems to feel that he has to dramatize the possibility of losing power already three years before the election. His horror scenario goes from civil war to the return of the Khmer Rouge. Probably one can trust his power and survival instinct. If he feels that early intervention is necessary to nip an opposition victory in the bud he must have sufficient evidence and background as well as secret service information. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will take it as an encouragement, but the attacks on the two MPs should be a warning. There are no velvet gloves in Phnom Penh.

The latest from Cambodia Daily:
Phnom Penh beating 26.10.15

Oust Kem Sokha

Thailand: Which Election System Under A New Constitution?

Partyforumseasia: Thailand is holding some dubious world records, namely the number of military coups and the number of constitutions. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the average life span of a constitution was about four years. The military government under general-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gave up on the Prayuthlast draft after nine months of gestation under rejection pressure from practically all political parties. The most controversial among the 285 articles was the creation of a so called National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee (NSRRC) with the commanders of all the military services and the police and sweeping powers to interfere even after successful elections and the establishment of civilian government. Abandoning the draft constitution extends the military rule through mid 2017.
Meanwhile, the discussions within the new drafting committee (CDC) may give some clues about what the generals want to avoid. Last week a panel of the CDC was discussing the future electoral system and the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system which was part of the rejected draft constitution. The proponents and supporters had studied the German system which works well for decades now. It gives two votes to the voters, one for a candidate and one for a party of his preference. One argument against its adoption  was that it would necessitate an electronic system not available so fast  in Thailand, which it does not have in Germany either, though. The system was seen as a safeguard against one-party rule and favoring coalition governments and smaller parties. For the generals, meanwhile, coalition governments with possibly a multitude of small parties may seem too weak to reconcile the country and push for consolidating necessary reforms.
A viable reform of Thailand’s democratic institutions hits the ceiling of decades of wrong developments. This was openly addressed by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, former chairman of the political reform committee under the now-defunct National Reform Council, by saying that the major challenge to the Thai system was that most of the MPs came to power through election fraud. Century-old patterns of leadership in the social structures have undermined the establishment of really free and fair elections and advanced the continuous proliferation of vote buying and violent intimidation of voters. THB donationsThe collusion between dubious local business elites („chao pho“) who enjoy profitable concessions and monopolies which often cover partially unlawful activities on one side and politicians, bureaucrats, police and military on the other side as well as more and more „chao pho“ in parliament themselves. The system has been “perfected” over the last few decades by a variety of vote canvassers („hua khanaen“) on local, provincial and regional level who sort of guarantee a mandate to the candidate who offers the best price. To be fair, it must be mentioned that Thailand is not the only country in the region with this problem, among others Indonesia can compete on that level.
The ongoing political uncertainty is aggravated by another major uncertainty, the pending royal succession. But it is not excluded that the military may have a better chance to control the transformation than any unstable coalition government.

For a detailed overview on Thailand’s party politics see: Dusadeeisariyakul, Pimrapaat, Stability and Performance of Political Parties in Thailand
in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014
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Singapore: Low Risk For Not Voting

Partyforumseasia: Like in a few countries in Southeast Asia and many more world wide, voting in Singapore’s parliamentary elections is compulsory. As the Elections Department (ELD) announced last week, 155,180 voters did not vote in the recent election. That is 6.3 % of the eligible voters, whereas the voter turnout was 93.7 % out of 2,462,926 voters, a dream turnout compared to most countries, even those with compulsory vote. But casting your vote is easy in a small city state where polling stations are normally well in walking distance from your home.
The non-voters are automatically struck from the registers, but have an easy way of being restored to the voters’ list by explaining their missed opportunity to the Election Department. Acceptable reasons are living overseas or traveling, illness or delivering a baby. Voters can do that online via

But even if you don’t have an acceptable excuse you can still apply for being restored to the register by paying a fee of S$ 50 ( approx. US$ 36 ). It may be difficult to find out how many Singaporeans have completely dropped out because they did not apply for their restoration to the list, but the high turnout is an argument for the compulsory voting regime. For the tens of thousands of citizens living and working abroad the embassies offer local voting facilities, but only in places like London, Sidney etc. with a sizable number of eligible voters.
Regionally and internationally compulsory voting is not very common. Here is a world map from Wikipedia (Link)
Compulsory Vote Wiki

The enforcement is normally as lenient as in Singapore, though the list looks tough for countries like Egypt, Australia and Fidschi, where imprisonment is possible, and Bolivia where the non-voter risks to lose his or her identity card and closure of bank accounts. Doubts about the real enforcement  may be allowed, though.

Most countries impose a relatively small fine, but in Luxemburg it can reach up to 250 and in Turkey 130 Euros. Older voters over 70 or 75 are exempted, but all countries remove the non-voters from the registers.
In the overview Wikipedia lists 19 countries with sanctions and 13 with compulsory voting but no sanctions.
Since some countries have given up on compulsory voting one can assume that the decision depends on the expectations of the ruling parties or coalitions, whether they can count on better results with or without. Considerations about how to develop and improve democratic behavior might play a role in the debates but less so in the final decision of the parliaments.

For more details on Singapore’s political system see: Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014.
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“Flamboyant” Presidential Candidates in the Philippines

The upcoming presidential campaigns in the Philippines and the USA

Self-confidence is certainly a prerequisite for candidates running for leadership posts. And as political psychologists have found out, even overblown self-confidence seems to signal competence and leadership qualities to the voters. In the USA the top job attracts surprising numbers of “wannabes” despite the grueling burden of responsibilities. C-Span website “Road to the White House 2016” (Link) lists 24 declared candidates, and Politics1 (Link) includes all sorts of hopefuls in the hundreds. Internationally in the media and quite high in the polls in the US is flamboyant candidate Bush TrumpDonald Trump who has at least highly developed skills in self marketing. Jeb Bush with his handicap of being son and brother of former presidents obviously comes across as too boring though he would probably be much more qualified for the job than Trump.

In comparison, the Philippines are even more open to colorful and flamboyant candidates than the US. Partyforumseasia has taken up the topic already on 24 September. But the pre-campaign is getting more colorful by the day. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 6th, (Link) “Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is going solo in his quest for the vice presidency.” Since the elections of president and vice president are held on the same day but separately (Article II Sec. 13 of the OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES) a president elect can be confronted with an unwanted vice president elect.   Bongbong support
Bongbong Marcos is a senator since 2010 and seems to be acceptable to the voters despite the shadow of his father. Support by political fossils like his 86 year old mother Imelda, former president and now mayor of Manila Joseph Estrada (78), and controversial “eternal politician” Juan Ponce Enrile (91) may not be very appealing to the young voters, bu help him at least to keep his campaign budget healthy. Playing down his privileged youth and education he says: “I humbly ask them (the voters) to judge whether or not I am worthy of their trust to be Vice President on the strength of my performance as a public servant in the last 26 years: first as former vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte, then as representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte and finally, as a senator of the country.”
Somewhat more disturbing for Non-Philippinos is the candidacy of another senator. Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II, better known as Gringo Honasan, participated in the EDSA revolution ousting president Marcos, but staged an unsuccessful coup in 1987 against democracy icon Cory Aquino. Imprisoned and escaped, he was pardoned by president Fidel Ramos in 1992. According to an interesting Wikipedia formulation, Honasan “utilized his rebel infamy to enter politics in 1995, becoming the first independent candidate in Philippine history to win a seat in the Senate”, and is serving his fourth term now.


Gringo Sen.Honasan before (1986) and after as senator (now).

During last week he declared that he is not teaming up with vice president Jejomar Binay because of unbridgeable differences in policies, but his flamboyant and somewhat adventurous image may give him a realistic chance.

Roxas RobredoWhereas the entertainment value of flamboyant candidates is evident, the Liberal Party candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas may be more presidentiable,  but at least at the moment he remains in the media shadow of the flamboyants, a bit like Jeb Bush with Trump and others in the US. But Roxas has found an attractive running mate with Leni Robredo, the widow of popular politician Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012. Their poll results are improving since the announcement of the team agreement.

If we ask whether flamboyant politicians can be good leaders, Partyforumseasia tends to be skeptical. From Mussolini, Hitler and Mao Tse Dong to Ceausescu, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and the Kim dynasty in North Korea, flamboyant leaders may be successful in a certain sense but for good governance the dependable and sober “paperclips” are certainly a much better choice.