Electoral Integrity in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: The 2016 report of the Electoral Integrity Project (PEI), an academic research project under political scientist Pippa Norris, Harvard and Sidney, is being introduced with the headline “Fraud, rigging and corruption – the world’s elections this year”. From the Scandinavian and some other European countries on top, via the USA ranked no.53 out of 153, and the usual suspects in Africa at the bottom, Southeast Asia, unfortunately, does not do very well:

pei-seaStarting the Asia-Pacific comparison with New Zealand and South Korea with scores over 70 on top, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia come dangerously close to African score levels.  Yellow means Moderate Electoral Integrity (50 – 59), and Red signals Low to Very Low Electoral Integrity (less than 50).
The PEI – project uses 11 criteria and pertinent questions for each of them, namely: 1. Electoral laws, 2. Electoral procedures, 3. Boundaries, 4. Voter registration, 5. Party registration, 6. Campaign media, 7. Campaign finance, 8. Voting process, 9. Vote count, 10.Post-election, and 11. Electoral authorities.

For Southeast Asia, with the exception of the Communist one-party states Laos and Vietnam, many of the formal criteria are not the problem. The institutions are in place, party and voter registration are acceptably fair, the vote counting works fine, and the days of ballot-box-stuffing are definitely over. But there are serious weak areas nevertheless. The following “performance indicators“, used by PEI as positive or negative (the negative ones underlined below), are telling:

  • Boundaries:  1. Boundaries discriminated against some parties,  2. Boundaries favored incumbents,  3. Boundaries were impartial.

    See e.g. the ongoing and rather controversial discussion about the blatant gerrymandering in Malaysia! 

  • Campaign media: 1. Newspapers provided balanced election news, 2. TV news favored the governing party,  3. Parties/candidates had fair access to political broadcasts and advertising, 4. Journalists provided fair coverage of the elections, 5. Social media were used to expose electoral fraud.

    Indonesia is not the regional front runner by accident, but maybe the freest country in terms of press freedom and number of media.

  • Campaign finance: 1. Parties/candidates had equitable access to public subsidies 2. Parties/candidates had equitable access to political donations, 3. Parties/candidates publish transparent financial accounts, 4. Rich people buy elections, 5. Some states resources were improperly used for campaigning.

    Finance is by far the most problematic area in the region. Like in the First-past-the-post slogan “winner takes all” it is safe to say that ruling parties take all the money or nearly all. Finding money for running an infrastructure or for election campaigns is most difficult for opposition parties, apart from other legal and de facto impediments. Rich people can buy a promising candidacy and their own election, and they can choose the party they like more often than not. And above all: Politics in Southeast Asia is big business and makes many politicians rich.The 2016 Report is available here (LINK)

Guess Who’s Responsible? Right, Political Parties!


Partyforumseasia: Sure, any among the growing number of index comparisons is debatable in details and might contain some flawed information or not doing justice to every special circumstances in some countries surveyed. But the ranking is very telling nevertheless, especially for Southeast Asia, condensed in the following table:

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2016
http://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/media/wjp_rule_of_law_index_2016.pdf

Country and Global Ranking:                      

1      Denmark
9     Singapore
18    USA
56    Malaysia
61    Indonesia
64    Thailand
67    Vietnam
70    Philippines
80    China
98     Myanmar
112   Cambodia
??     Laos (not mentioned)

The criteria for the ranking are: Constraints on government powers, Absence of corruption, Open government, Fundamental rights, Regulatory enforcement, Order and security, Civil justice, Informal justice, Criminal justice.

No Comment:
“Government spokesman Phay Sipha, however, was dismissive of the report’s findings, which he characterised as “biased”. “Cambodia’s government doesn’t care about ranking, because [the report] serves its own purpose,” he said. “It’s biased and selective; they do their own research for their own interest.”
The Phnom Penh Post, 20 October  (LINK)

“Anomaly in Indonesian Politics” Normalized?


 

“The Anomaly in Indonesian Politics”, this is how The Jakarta Post, in April last year, called Grace Natalie and her newly founded Indonesian Solidarity Party Grace Natalie(PSI) (LINK), and Partyforumseasia asked whether it would be a niche party or more (LINK). Founder and chairwoman of the new party, 34 year old Grace Natalie, has come a very big step closer to her dream to establish a youthful alternative to the macho-and-money dominated party scene of Indonesia – against the odds of efforts to reduce the number of political parties. On Friday, 7 October, Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna H Laoly officially announced that PSI had been granted a legal entity status. Accordingly, it is allowed to contest in the 2019 legislative election.

PSI is meant to be a “party by young people and for the young people”. Accordingly, only people up to the age of 45 maximum can be elected to the party’s boards of management from the national level down to the sub-districts. According to Law No. 2 Year 2011 on political parties, the requirements for registration are the following:

They must have a chapter in all provinces across the country.

At least 75 percent of the total districts/cities within that province must have a party chapter.

At least 50 percent of the total sub-districts within the district/city must have a party chapter.

All local chapters must have an office that can be verified.

Four other parties who applied at the same time have been rejected for not meeting the requirements. Global Indonesian Voices, a startup publication, speculates that about ten new parties will contest in the next elections, due by 2019 (LINK):
“The 10 new parties may include Partai Persatuan Indonesia (Perindo, or Indonesia Unity Party) owned by prominent businessman Hary Tanoesoedibjo; Partai Kedaulatan Bangsa Indonesia Baru (PKBIB, or National Sovereignty Party for New Indonesia) which is jointly formed by Yenny Wahid and Kartika Sjahrir; Partai Nasional Republik (Nasrep, or  Republic National Party) which is owned by Tommy Soeharto; and Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI, or Indonesia Solidarity Party) which was founded by Grace Natalie.”


Grace Natalie, founder and chair of the party, doubly minority with her Chinese and Christian background, is optimistic about the echo among the younger generations, though these days Islamist demonstrations against the similarly minoritarian  Governor of Jakarta, “Ahok“, who is running for re-election, are somewhat alarming.

All over the world, anti-establishment sentiments are encouraging alternative movements and political parties to participate in elections and win. Youngspiration is a new localist party in Hongkong, founded in early 2015, and winning two seats in the Legislative Council (Ledgco) recently. Since both elected members are advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China, the establishment majority of the Legco, last Wednesday 19 October, walked out to prevent the “rebels” from being sworn in.

Maybe the oldest youth party in recent history is Fidesz in Hungary, a party which started in 1988 as a student movement against communism, accepting members only up to 40 in order to exclude any communist turncoat, but morphed in recent years into the role of the dominant and ruling party. Victor Orban, one of the founders, is now Prime Minister of Hungary, and seen by the rest of Europe as an authoritarian right winger.

Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots


Partyforumseasia: Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Techo Hun Sen ( or Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander Hun Sen in English) in office (or better in power) since 1985, is one of the longest serving leaders in Southeast Asia and the hun-senworld. It would be an understatement to say that he is dominating Cambodia’s political scene for more than thirty years. His control of the country is quasi total, but maybe not so easy to maintain. The autocrat par excellence is being challenged by the the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which is popular with the younger generation and all those who are victimized by the regimes repression. Huge parts of Cambodian land have been given away as long term concessions without much concern for the people living there and losing their livelihood. While the regime’s cronies and the bureaucracy flaunt their affluence shamelessly with grandiose villas and “Lexus” in big characters on the sides of their SUVs, the majority is struggling and the cheap workforce is being exploited with difficult working conditions and insufficient salaries.
The CNRP, under the leadership of former finance minister Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha has managed to organize the party nation wide by addressing the problems of the people and the shortcomings of the status quo, thus being perceived as a threat not only to the existing Hun Sen regime  but also to the Prime Minister’s obvious plans to install his eldest son, Hun Manet, as heir apparent.

The Prime Minister’s defense-strategy, in tune with his adventurous biography from Khmer Rouge commander via exile in Vietnam and a cunning march to the top, is anything but gentle. His thugs have intimidated and manhandled opposition politicians and supporters again and again, but following a Southeast Asian pattern, he is also making use of a judicial facade to neutralize the opposition. The CNRP-leaders are both under extreme pressure, Sam Rainsy living in self-imposed exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home under a long list of rather dubious accusations, and Kem Sokha, under ever new legal threats,  trying to avoid detention as well. The newest law suit against Sam Rainsy alleges that Rainsy committed “incitement” and caused “social turmoil” on September 11 by addressing youth activists gathered at the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters via Skype.

cambodia-cnrpThe latest intimidation exercise, on 10 October, is a two and a half year prison term for CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An  for Facebook posts criticizing the government’s handling of the Vietnamese border. This looks more like a lèse-majesté  case than a fair legal sentence, but the Hun Sen regime has never bothered about velvet gloves.
Um Sam An was arrested already in April and the protest of the party ignored. The Phnom Penh Post’s comment (LINK) was telling:
Parliamentary immunity has been no obstacle for police in the past, however, and government officials on Monday were quick to assert that they were within their rights in arresting Sam An, citing a constitutional clause that allows for the prosecution of a lawmaker if they are caught “in flagrante delicto”, or in the act of committing a crime.”

Reprint free of charge, copy requested!

 

Can Malaysia’s Ruling Party Survive Without Donations From Abroad?


Partyforumseasia:  Cleaning up Malaysia’s Wild East – style political finances? 

The National Consultative Committee on Political Financing, established in August 2015 after the 1MDB-Scandal had come to light, has proposed 32 recommendations last Friday, 30 September. Its chairman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and former Transparency International Malaysia head, Paul Low, stated that “The good governance of the nation cannot be resolved unless we have political integrity and as such we need regulations for political funding”. Nobody would deny that, but what can be expected if the recommendations will be implemented?

The background: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has come under pressure since The Wall Street Journal revealed in June 2015 that the unbelievable sum of nearly 700 million US$ had been found in his personal accounts. So far, he surprisingly got Corruption 2away with the unbelievable explanation that it was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family for his support of Islam. The international pressure is not yet over. Several countries, including the USA, are investigating the obscure money flows, because at the same time billions are missing from 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund deep in debt, whose chairman of the board of advisers happens to be PM Najib Razak.

What the commission recommends: The media headlines are all highlighting the proposed ban on foreign donations. Surprise, surprise, should Saudi largesse no longer be accepted? Of course, it won’t come again so handily, so better ban it… A new law, the Political Donations and Expenditure Act, will regulate the patronage and money politics heaven the country has been so far, clean it up and control it ever after. According to Mr. Low donations to political parties and individuals will be “robustly regulated” with all donations deposited into a specific designated bank account set up at the federal, state and divisional level. Donations in cash or in kind above MYR 3,000 (725 US$) per annum must be declared to the Controller.

What can be expected in real life: Committee chairman Paul Low carries the Transparency International label, but as Minister in the Prime Minister’s office his neutrality may be questioned. The recommendations will be vetted by the cabinet which decides which to implement and which to drop. The legislative process will take time so that full implementation cannot be expected for the next general election due by 2018 but anticipated much sooner to take advantage of the divided and weak opposition.
On the background of UMNO’s patronage system, e.g. the 50.000 MYR (12,100 US$) which go monthly to the 190 branch leaders for expenses, the cash flows can hardly be changed overnight. In a regional and world wide comparison, political parties have always found their way to cut corners and find the money they felt were needed to win.

bersih-1The increasingly turbulent domestic scene: With the festering 1MDB corruption scandal, criticism of the ruling coalition has reached new hights. Prime Minister Najib has weathered the storms with remarkable cold-bloodedness, firing internal dissidents and installing cronies wherever needed, but calls for his resignation are multiplying. Since 1 October, a broad reform movement bersih-2called Bersih (Malay for clean) prepares rallies against Najib. While Bersih supporters wear yellow shirts, an organized counter movement of UMNO supporters wear red shirts and provoke clashes. The development reminds of the infamous street fights in Bangkok which led to the military coup in 2014.

Useful related articles:
Channelnewsasia, 
Malaysian political financing body recommends new laws, ban on foreign donations (LINK)
Intelligent Money,
Political Donations Here & Other Countries: Where Does Malaysia Stand? (Link)
International Idea,
Political Finance Data for Malaysia (LINK)
Sachsenröder, Wolfgang,
 Political Party Finances in Southeast Asia (LINK)