Cambridge Analytica Malaysia


Partyforumseasia: The ongoing controversy around political data mining has catapulted the discreet services of Cambridge Analytica (CA) into the international limelight. CA has obviously played an important role in Donald Trump‘s victory over Hillary Clinton, and its utilization of Facebook data is now in the center of the storm. Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, one of the brilliant young data experts in CA, has made public the dubious methods applied by the company.

Having offices in New York, Washington, and London, in countries where election campaigns are known to be sophisticated and dirty, Brazil is another client country, and there is only one more: Malaysia! The looming election (GE14), expected to be called in May, hasCA 7 already triggered a heated exchange of suspicions and accusations, since CA had been hired by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the 2013 election to win back the federal state of Kedah from the opposition. Obviously learning only now that the BN had hired CA, the opposition wants to know details about Prime Minister Najib‘s role in the deal. Najib, as usual, denies everything and directs all the blame on Mukhriz Mahathir, former chief minister of Kedah when he was still member of UMNO, and in charge of the 2013 campaign. Mukhriz, in turn, denies any involvement, even knowledge of Cambridge Analytica.

NajibMukhriz 2

Whatever will eventually come to the surface, a glimpse into the services of Cambridge Analytica must create respect, if not admiration, for the technical ingenuity of this company. It is indeed combining all sorts of campaign instruments and strategies with the new opportunities provided by social media and internet penetration, including the dirty tricks which have tarnished the lofty democratic ideals of the United States. What is the background of CA and its parent company SLC Group, a data giant with 25 years experience in helping governments and military organization in over 60 countries with “behavioral change programs” (SLC homepage)? Involved were controversial figures like Steve Bannon and Russian experts, and the funding was mainly provided by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, one of the prominent supporters of Donald Trump.

For anybody who has participated in election campaigns, the services of CA Political, the campaign branch of CA, must look more than attractive. They have been paid with many millions world wide and are certainly affordable for potential clients like UMNO. The branch office in Kuala Lumpur is not there by accident. And the revelations might impact the coming campaign and the chances of the opposition.

Here are some excerpts from the CA homepage (LINK, which might disappear any time from now if the scandal widens):

Experience an end-to-end campaign service

POLLING
With one of the best track records of accuracy in the industry, we will provide you with in-depth polling to advise informed decision making.

PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS
The global leader in predictive analytics, CA Political provides precise insights that will allow you to forecast voter behavior.

TV AND DIGITAL AD PLACEMENT
Through our detailed models, predictive analytics, and sophisticated ad-tech, you can find the most effective locations for ad placement and meaningfully impact your voters.

LIST BUILDING
Accumulate email addresses and an organic following in order to fundraise more efficiently and distribute campaign material.

EVENT PROMOTION, VOLUNTEER RECRUITMENT, APP PROMOTION
Rally supporters, promote your campaign events, and increase attendance through our creative and precisely targeted messaging.

REAL-TIME REPORTING
With our up-to-date reports, you will stay informed on the progress of your campaign and assess your voters’ reactions to the campaign in real-time.

PERSUASION
More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.

GET OUT THE VOTE (GOTV)
Drive organized and methodical ballot initiatives, targeting the voters who could swing the election in your favor.

Some clients:

A New Multi-Party Democracy in Thailand?


Partyforumseasia: Since the Thai military ousted the Yingluck Shinawatra / Pheu Thai government in May 2014, party political activities were banned. Promises to re-establish democracy by holding elections were superseded by new promises and delays. YingluckBut junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, feeling the growing frustration of the prohibited voters, has finally announced that the election will be held “no later than February 2019”. This means that there is still a year for preparations on all sides of the broad political spectrum which includes the military and several supporters who want to prevent a return to the tumultuous contestation which triggered the military coup, and especially a return of the Shinwatra clan.

Since 1 March, in preparation of the election, the Election Commission has started to accept applications for new parties, after no less than 114 groups have expressed their interest to apply. By Friday, 2 March, 38 applications had been submitted with their party name and logo, among them many newcomers. More than any other country in the region and beyond, the Thai party scene has been volatile with ever changing parties and coalitions as well as “reincarnations” of parties dissolved or banned by the courts. Registration is possible until end of March, and the Election Commission will have another 30 days for vetting and approval.

The expected playing field for the upcoming election will see at least three distinct party types. One will support the continuation of military supervision and “law and order”. Observers believe that the acting Prime Minister has ambitions to continue, which would be possible even is he is not elected, by a provision in the military-drafted new constitution through appointment by parliament. PM Prayut is being supported by several new parties, namely the “Reform People Party”, the “For Thai Nation Party”, the “Public State Party”, and “The Great Mass of People Party”. The latter has been

Suthep
Thaugsuban

initiated by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, the controversial driving force behind the street turmoil in Bangkok in January 2014, to which he reportedly contributed funds from his own wealth. (see our related post “Who is funding Bangkok’s street protests” here LINK).

Another group will count on the new proportional representation system in the party law to get a few seats in the new parliament. Some of them might get cabinet posts as free-riders in case they are needed for a coalition government.

The third group may try to offer an alternative to the “old” parties. The chances of the oldest Thai political party, the Democrat Party, with its pro-establishment, though anti-military image might be difficult to gauge. Rumors that nearly 80 year-old Chuan Leekpai who was Prime Minister twice in the 1990’s would run again don’t sound too realistic. But the former Prime Ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck still enjoy massive support from their former voters and try to be visible in the media. Be sure, though, that the military will do anything it takes to prevent them from returning.

YingluckThaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister 2001 – 2006
Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister 2011 – 2014

 

Interesting Cash Flows in Malaysia


Partyforumseasia: Election campaigns are getting more expensive practically everywhere in competitive political systems. Ruling parties regularly enjoy a huge advantage because private donors from the business sector have enough incentives to support them for all the possible protection they can get in return. Legislation can change their competitiveness in many ways, and in many Southeast Asian countries, especially in Malaysia, licences and big public procurement orders are not necessarily given to supporters of the opposition.

The upcoming election in Malaysia, “GE 14” (14th general election), due latest by August this year, is highlighting the monetization trend in a very special dimension. Not that the generous distribution of “goodies” and further promises are anything new before elections, but the Barisan Nasional government’s cornucopia, or “horn of plenty” has never been as full as this time. Being a political symbol of sorts, offering the cornucopia has a long tradition, e.g. in the seal of North Carolina or – more bluntly with gold coins – in the coat of arms of the city of Copiapó in Chile:

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the Finance Minister, explains the nature of the current cash flows as follows:
“ … the RM6.3 billion (USD 1.6 billion) worth of financial aid to be given to seven million people nationwide this year is a targeted subsidy scheme hatched by the central bank, not an effort to buy votes ahead of a general election due within months.”  (Straits Times, Singapore, 27 February 2018)

This amount is only meant for poorer people under the “1Malaysia People’s Aid Program” or BR1M. Other “cornucopia programs” have been implemented long before, RM 2.5 billion have already been paid since July 2017. Pay hikes and bonuses for the huge civil service which is dominated by the main voter target group, the Malays, and for another Malay vote bank, the farm land distributing organization FELDA. Discontent among the settlers seems to have been overcome with extra payments.

Prime Minister Najib dismisses criticism with his remarkable cold blood and straight face. When his challenger, veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad called the payments vote buying, Najib insisted that his government is truly concerned about the people and that the central bank suggested the latest round of payments, not the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). The rising cost of living is one factor in the looming election campaign which is a possible danger for his re-election. The corrupt image of the BN- government and its cronies is another one. This is why there might be a sign of nervousness despite all the successful maneuvers to split and harass the opposition, with the biggest coup being the new closeness to the Islamic PAS party and the defamation of the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) as anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

The Prime Minister keeps boasting about the fabulous economic development of Malaysia. The figures are indeed quite good, but could possibly be even better without some of the opaque political money flows, as a comparison with tiny Singapore illustrates. In 2016, the latter’s GDP was one billion USD higher than that of Malaysia, and the GDP per capita 5.5 times higher accordingly. The voters in Johor, Malaysia’s federal state bordering Singapore, know that very well, and the opposition tries to use their comparison with the rich neighbor to conquer Johor.