Slowly Forward for Thailand’s Future Forward Party?

Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s ruling coalition under ex-general Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may have carefully observed the two recent examples in the immediate neighbourhood: The bad one in Malaysia, where PM Najib Razak was defeated by the opposition and is facing 42 counts of breach of trust and money laundering in court. The other neighbour, PM Hun Sen in Cambodia, has simply eclipsed the opposition and the threat of losing the next election by asking the constitutional court to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Starting after the March 2019 election in Thailand with the proverbial wafer thin majority of his coalition with altogether 19 parties, some of them with one seat only, the Prime Minister did not hesitate to weaken the opposition. The first victim was Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, the youngest and surprisingly third strongest party winning 81 seats in parliament,  behind Pheu Thai with 136 seats, and PM Prayut’s Palang Pracharath Party with 116. Future Forward was a big success among the younger generation, and its leader Thanatorn, a 41-year-old auto part and media tycoon, is most popular. A poll published by Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) beginning of January, saw Thanathorn and his party as the most promising next Prime Minister and FFP as ruling party, which must have been an alarm signal for the Prayut-Government. Thanathorn lost his mandate for several technicalities prohibited by the Election Commission and was disqualified by the Constitutional Court already in November 2019, but the next hit was already coming:

A lawyer had filed a complaint against Future Forward for trying to FFP logooverthrow the monarchy, and (sic!) alleged that the party is linked to the Illuminati, an occult group seeking world domination. The FFP logo, he argued, looks suspiciouly similar to the Illuminatis’ all seeing eye…

Fortunately for its own and the image of Thailand, the Constitutional Court, yesterday, 21st January, dismissed both allegations. The party was not dissolved, but should be cautious. Immediately after the acquittal, jubilant supporters were chanting “Future Forward Party, fight, fight! Gen Prayut, get out! Dictatorship collapse, long live democracy.’’ The government and the military-monarchist bloc won’t like and won’t forget that.

                                                                                                  Wolfgang Sachsenröder


Najib: A Step Toward Impunity?

Ex-PM Najib Razak, called “Bossku” or my Boss by his supporters, after last week’s by-election win in Sabah. Dreaming of a return to power and impunity?

Partyforumseasia: Najib Razak, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, toppled in May 2018 by the surprise election victory of the opposition, is involved in one of the world’s most spectacular political corruption scandals. When the story blew up in 2015, he “explained” that the nearly 700 million US$ in his private accounts had nothing to do with the sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB, which he was supervising, but were a donation of the Saudi royal family. The reality was different. Najib’s ruling coalition, and especially its main  party UMNO, was probably worldwide the best funded political party, with money cascades from government linked companies facilitating one election victory after the other, until May 2018, when even the pampered Malay core clientele was fed up with the level of corruption.
Mr. Najib, faced with three charges for criminal breach of trust, one for abuse of power and three for money laundering, is now telling the court that his adviser, businessman Jho Low, was behind the abuse and fraud of the 1MDB fund, from which 3.5 billion $ had disappeared. He himself pleads innocent and maintains that he did not do anything illegal. That, by the way, may not be as wrong as it sounds, because party funding was not regulated at all during his premiership. But the whole money cascade controlled by Najib and UMNO, involved public money, even syphoned away from the haj pilgrim fund, and left the new government with a huge public debt.
The clever “businessman” Jho Low, has just sealed a deal with the prosecution in the US. In exchange for one billion $ in property and other assets he is at least partially off the hook there. The blame game between Najib and Low goes on and on, each accusing the other. Low describes himself as a political scapegoat, while Najib says he has been tricked by Low. And for millions paid on jewellery with his credit card he even blames his own wife, Rosmah Mansor, who has been famous for years as collector of expensive handbags, sunglasses and jewellery.
Like Low, who is still in hiding but with a new passport from Cyprus, and managed to limit his indictment in the US, Najib may dream of sitting out his nightmare of  years in prison by slowing down the prosecution as longs as possible. With the actual domestic weakness of the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan coalition, and with every by-election won by Barisan, the latest just last weak in Sabah, one of the two East Malaysian federal states on the island of Borneo, he may feel more encouraged to deny everything despite the overwhelming evidence. Voice recordings, released by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and reproduced in court, obviously prove attempts by Najib already in 2016, to untangle himself from the 1MDB scandal. And the ultimate relief dream would be final impunity if the UMNO-Barisan Nasional could make it back to power. That, at least, does not look impossible. The hopes of the Malaysian voters for a more transparent, less race-based, and overall cleaner political style have not been satisfied by the new government.
Wolfgang Sachsenröder

PS: For an overview of party funding and money politics in Southeast Asia see:




Cambodia’s “Multi-Party” System

CNRP leader Kem Sokha to be tried for treason on January 15th

Partyforumseasia: Whatever the real power structures are, the international image of a party system is important. Single party systems look somewhat authoritarian, outdated in some parts of the world, and at least a semblance of formal democracy looks better for investors.
Cambodia may have started thinking along these lines, whether for her international image or for her internal social cohesion or a repair-remedy for the latter.

In the July 2018 elections, in which twenty parties had participated, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had won all 125 seats of the parliament. Five years before that, the CPP could only garner a small majority of 68 seats, while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had won 55. That was obviously a bit too narrow for the CPP and its leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is ruling the country since 1985. For the world’s longest serving and probably most battle-hardened Prime Minister at only 67 years of age, the idea of letting the opposition win might be difficult to accept. Anyway, one of the results of 2013 was the dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in September 2017. The justification was an alleged plot to topple the Prime Minister and his government. Since CNRP-co-chairman Sam Rainsy was already abroad in self-exile, the remaining leader Kem Sokha was detained as one of the coup-plotters. International standards are difficult to apply, in bigger parts of the world opposition as such is not a crime and competing in elections against the incumbent ruling party considered quite normal. There is no doubt that an upcoming country like Cambodia and her economy need internal stability, but the popularity of the CNRP and especially Kem Sokha were showing that many voters did not fear chaos or the unforgotten horrors of the country’s civil war coming back in case the opposition had won.

If the Hun Sen government should start to think twice about the damaging effects of one party rule for Cambodia’s image and investment climate, the recent formation of a new party may be an indication. Banned and dissolved political parties morphing into new ones with a different name and program are not an exception in the region, the nearest example being the two re-incarnations of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in neighbouring Thailand. The re-incarnation of the CNRP has been allowed in principle by Sar Kheng, Minister of Home Affairs last week, saying in a letter:
“To obtain validity and be able to carry out activities in accordance with the Law on Political Parties, the Cambodian Nation Love Party must apply to be registered with the Ministry of Interior in accordance with Articles 9 and 20, and new Articles 14 and 19 of the Law on Political Parties.”
The applicants, according to the Phnom Penh Post as of January 7, are former CNRP members “after they received political rehabilitation”. And the new name of the party, Cambodian Nation Love Party (CNLP), is as close to the old one in the acronym as “rehabilitated” in essence.

While exiled leader Sam Rainsy has unsuccessfully tried to put pressure on Hun Sen and the CPP via his excellent international contacts, the CNLP may avoid that trap which led to the coup and plot accusations.
For the very popular co-leader Kem Sokha, the plot theory will be treated in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court coming January 15th. Kem is directly accused of “conspiracy with a foreign power”, committed between 1993 (!!) and his detention in 2017. He could be convicted to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The risk for the CPP government after such a harsh conviction could be a massive erosion of ground support, especially among the many younger Cambodians. Whether the American support, just celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations, or the EU preferential trade arrangements would suffer, remains questionable. All too often, the Hun Sen government has ignored their calls for more democracy in the last 30 years without any consequences.