Transparency and Disclosure for Political Finance? Don’t Dream!

Partyforumseasia: The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance,  (IDEA) in Stockholm, Sweden, is doing a very good job with its research and publications on a wide range of topics to strengthen democratic developments all over the world. One of the new handbooks, published in November 2017, focuses on the often opaque funding sources for party activities and election campaigns.
“One of the major challenges related to money in politics is the lack of transparency surrounding political party and electoral finance.” (LINK)

That is especially true for Southeast Asia, where too many scandals around the finances of political parties are regularly blowing up. They not only tarnish the leadership but the image of the fledgling democratic systems altogether and leave citizens and voters cynical.
The booklet aims at helping to create more control and transparency by providing information on the possible instruments.

“The open and transparent funding of political parties and candidates is desirable because it helps ensure that everyone is playing by the rules, which in turn strengthens the integrity of, and trust in, politics, among both the general public and political parties.”

Everyone playing by the rules? For many countries, but especially for Southeast Asia, this sounds too good to become true in the near future. Many party treasurers and leaders may support the idea theoretically… when it is to be applied to the other parties. The reality on the ground looks different and the exponentially growing expenses for election campaigns might keep it this way for the medium term anyway. The legal regulations, so far, look good on paper, but the enforcement remains more than weak.
Under the title “Power Broking in the Shade”, Partyforumseasia has finalized a background study on political finance in nine of the ten ASEAN members. We will inform our readers when it is available.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen: 33 Years in the Driver’s Seat. And the Opposition: Morphs from Party to Movement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in an unusual driver’s seat

Partyforumseasia:         Thirty-three years in power! On January 14, 1985, at the age of 33, Hun Sen was the winner when then Prime Minister Pen Sovann was no longer backed by Hanoi, and successor Chan Si died in office. Few kings and emperors have reigned as long as Prime Minister Hun Sen though the feudal systems normally guaranteed their rule for lifetime. The political biography of Hun Sen shows a remarkable survival instinct and outstanding leadership skills which have made him one of the world’s longest serving prime ministers. His official title “Samdech” can be translated as “Lord”. It is bestowed by the King and, except to Hun Sen and his wife, awarded only to five other top politicians, the latest one in July 2017 to  loyal Defense Minister Tea Banh.

Celebrating the 33-year anniversary among some 5000 trishaw or tuk-tuk drivers, Mr. Hun Sen praised his long rule as based on elections and not on violence. The real dictators, he said, were the Khmer Rouge and US-backed Lon Nol. He also added that he was not keen on being the prime minister, but that he cannot retire because the country needs him.
For the upcoming elections in July this year, the Prime Minister seems to be completely assured of another victory. His potential nemesis, former opposition leader Sam Rainsy,


Kem Sokha

lives in self-exile in France to avoid a string of controversial convictions. His successor Kem Sokha, is in prison for plotting to topple the government with the help of the United States, and accused of “treason”. Most of the other leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) which has been dissolved by the Constitutional Court in November, are either in exile or barred from politics anyway. But in view of a groundswell against the ruling party, especially among the younger Cambodians, the


Sam Rainsy

CNRP refuses to give up. On 12 January, Sam Rainsy and more leaders have launched a new organization under the name of Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), which they claim “nobody can harm or dissolve”. (LINK)
They invite Cobodians “from all walks of life, regardless of their political affiliation, to join the CNRM in order to protect the will of the Cambodian people through free, fair and inclusive elections.”
As long as Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, and the extended leadership circle were active in the country, the tide seemed to swell in their direction and against Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). With the neutralization of the opposition, the task is much more difficult. Hun Sen brushes off all international criticism of destroying Cambodia’s democratic experiment. Western political and economic support is obviously no longer appreciated or necessary with China massively stepping in.
Expect Mr. Hun Sen to rule for the next ten years as he has said recently.