About partyforumseasia

Party Research and Consultancy, Singapore

Anwar Ibrahim: After 11 Years in Prison on the Way to the Top Job Once Again


After winning the by-election

Partyforumseasia:  Few politicians have gone through more suffering and humiliation than Anwar Ibrahim. After convincingly winning a by-election in Port Dickson on Saturday, 13 October, Anwar is on the way to Malaysia’s premiership he was so close to already 20 years ago. In 1998, as deputy Prime Minister, he fell out with his “boss” Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who sacked him rather unceremoniously, accusing him of corruption and sodomy. At that time, money politics was just starting in big style in the country, and the following sodomy trial was unspeakably tasteless with a mattress being carried into the court room etc. Convicted to nine years in prison, Anwar was freed in 2014 when the supreme court overturned the sodomy conviction. But the bad treatment, a striking symbol of it being Anwar being beaten up in prison and coming to court with a black eye, also triggered massive street protests and calls for reform. It facilitated the formation of a reform party called Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) or People’s Justice Party in 1999. Its success in the general election in 2008 was followed by another controversial sodomy trial and Anwar landed back in prison. After altogether 11 years in jail, the politician is unbroken and ambitious and charismatic as ever. After the May 2018 surprise defeat of the eternally ruling UMNO party, and his former nemesis, Mahathir Mohamad back as Prime Minister at the age of 93, Anwar is now back in parliament and, reconciled with Mahathir who even campaigned for him in the by-election, supposed to succeed him within the next two years. The PKR was led during Anwar’s prison time by his wife Wan Aziza, and survived all attacks under the premiership of Najib Razak, who may well end up in prison himself any time soon. 255px-Parti_Keadilan_Rakyat_logo.svgThe party logo, two white crescents on a blue background, supporters say symbolizes Anwar’s infamous black eye and the eye seeking justice.

Now the biggest party in parliament, the PKR is starting to reap the usual benefits of power. Its membership has nearly doubled to 900,000 compared to the landslide election on May 9th, and very probably the donors are queuing, including the ones who used to fund UMNO before and try now to save their lucrative projects with the government. PKR and Anwar himself are symbols of political perseverance and eventual success, paying a hefty price during their struggling years but also being successful because of severe political mistakes of the Najib government and its rampant corruption. Whether the banned CNRP opposition in Cambodia might be encouraged by the success of PKR is therefore a big open question.

Losers in Search of Survival Strategies – Malaysia’s UMNO Licking its Wounds


Partyforumseasia:  After six decades in power, not only the ruling UMNO party could no longer imagine to lose an election. As usual they had done everything to make sure they would win another mandate, especially by financial largesse with the traditional vote banks like 1.6 million civil servants or rural settlers on land distributed by earlier governments. The political guru community, including Partyforumseasia, was also believing that the Barisan Nasional (National Front or BN) could not afford to lose, because its internal money cascade, fed by contracts and a huge network of Government Linked Companies (GLCs), would create havoc for the country’s economy. Everybody was wrong, including the opposition, which had not really imagined that they could win so decisively. But, against all pessimists, the regime change was home-made and opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in only hours after the election result was out. At the age of 93, the reactivated statesman is now the oldest chief of government in the world.

The signs of a possible defeat had been on the wall since 2008, though, when the results started to nosedive and money politics and the heaviest geryymandering did not work as planned any more in the British-inherited first-past-the-post electoral system. The May 9, 2018 results were 113 seats for the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) opposition coalition (+45) and 79 (-54) for the losing BN coalition.

Ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak conceded the defeat fast and sort of graciously enough, but also tried to leave the country. Citizens rushed to the airport to prevent that, but soon the new government banned him from leaving. When police investigated a number of Najib’s houses in Kuala Lumpur, the worst suspicions of the citizens were topped by what they found. Confiscated cash and valuables amounted to RM 702 million or US$ 170 million. Especially the notoriously spendthrift wife of the ex-PM was exposed as a colossal liability. But above all, the ongoing investigations in the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB turned out to be a deeper reason for many faithful Malay UMNO voters to vote for the opposition in order to get rid of Najib. In post-election polls many of them admitted that they were disappointed with the party because of the blatant corruption on all levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a way out? First results of the party convention last weekend:

As usual, election losers are also losing their appeal to members and supporters. Defectors have joined the new government coalition, among them five elected UMNO law makers and rather prominent party figures, including two former ministers. Since practically all signs of the ongoing international investigations, searching for evaporated billions of US$, are pointing toward Najib. The regionally unmatched* extent of money politics by UMNO and its cronies might even lead to the deregistration of the party. Najib maintains that he is innocent which may not even be formally incorrect because party finances are practically unregulated in Malaysia. But he is charged with numerous counts of breach of trust and others, his wife as well. Free on bail, he is still participating in UMNO activities and even enjoys support from party members, but too many Malaysians are expecting to see him in jail. Assets and accounts of the party are frozen, and more party leaders may be indicted.

The deregistration is a warning by UMNO strongman and former deputy chairman and deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who took over when Najib resigned a few days after the election. Whether this will prevent further defections or even increase them is unclear at the moment, but the party leadership made unity a priority during the party convention which ended Sunday 30 September. One instrument to retrieve some funds will be to ask defectors to pay back their campaign expenses shouldered by the party. The call to give back their mandates will be in vain because this is not in the electoral rules and regulations.

All but two of the formerly twelve component parties have left the BN-coalition, and a closer partnership with the second Malay party, Party Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) is being discussed without a consensus in sight. The openly Islamist PAS which, among others, campaigns for the extension of Shariah punishments, has been a long-term competitor of UMNO for the same voter spectrum, predominantly conservative rural Malays. Unlike the money obsessed UMNO, PAS has managed to keep a frugal image, but even together the two parties have no power perspective.
More confusing for the 5,700 delegates of the weekend convention were ideas of a rapprochement with the new Pakatan Harapan government and a possible “unity government”, ventured by Zahid. It sounds unreal, but the new Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, has been UMNO president for more than twenty years and he was the one who made it as strong as it was before Najib ruined it, mainly with the huge 1MDB finance scandal and the way he managed to hide details for three years. Media and politicians are soul searching by now how they could believe the excuses of Najib, that the 700 million US$ in his private accounts were a donation by Saudi royalty…

The closing speech of chairman Zahid Hamidi on Sunday revealed that his attempt to unify the party is anything but finished. He urged the party to respect the decisions of the supreme council. “We want to bring UMNO back to life. Don’t poke holes in the ship and let it sink. If that’s the case, then you are a traitor to the party. Have some decorum when you want to criticise. This is Zahid, full stop.” This quotation has been published by the Star newspaper, belonging to the remaining component party Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) which won only one seat in the May election. Without the power of unlimited political funding and the money cascades being distributed by Government Linked Companies (GLCs), an authoritarian leadership style will be difficult to uphold. And having the ambitious former youth leader and former minister in Najib’s cabinet, Khairul Jamaluddin, who ran for the presidency without success, on his heels, Zahid will have to struggle to keep the party together.

Political activities on the ground are continuing nevertheless. Anwar Ibrahim, pardoned by the King and released from a longer prison term for alleged sodomy, has made peace with his former nemesis, Mahathir Mohamad, and is supposed to succeed him as Prime Minister within the next two years. He is campaigning now in a by-election in Port Dickson to join parliament and qualify for the succession. UMNO has declared to boycott this by-election, but Anwar will face six other candidates, among them the former aide who pretended being sodomised by Anwar…

__________________________________________
* For a regional overview on money politics in Southeast Asia see: 10726.cover

ISBN: 978-981-3230-73-6

Cambodia’s Ersatz Opposition


Partyforumseasia:  Like him or not, Cambodia’s eternal Prime Minister Hun Sen has always new ideas to find a way out. Some called the election victory of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) end of July a landslide, others a charade because the main opposition party had been banned and its two leaders neutralized, one in exile and the other in prison. But unlike former Prime Minister Najib Razak in Malaysia who may have seen the defeat coming but decided not to believe it, Hun Sen took all the unpopular precautions to prevent it. This strategy was probably even more efficient than he himself wanted it to be. The CPP won all 125 seats of Parliament, the 19 smaller opposition parties none, leaving the leader in the somewhat embarrassing situation that the desired democratic mimicry has disappeared. But never underestimate Hun Sen, he always finds a way out. He now wants democracy and opposition views and establishes the “Supreme Council of Consultation”, inviting all the losers and even offering advisory posts in several ministries. Some parties declined or hesitated to participate, but after all, on September 21st, there are 16 opposition parties attending the first meeting which host Hun Sen praises as a step toward a “culture of dialogue”.

The first meeting of the Supreme Council of Consultation in Phnom Penh

Cambodian observers interpret the establishment of the Consultation Council as a move to avoid the stigma of one-party rule and to show a semblance of democratic debate to meet more demanding domestic expectations, especially with the young generation,  with nearly 50% of Cambodians being under 24.

As to the eliminated CNRP leaders: Sam Rainsy might have overdone his opposition role from abroad by calling in vain for vote abstention and even an uprising against Hun Sen. There are doubts whether he will ever be allowed to come back at all. And Kem Sokha, the less emotional but equally charismatic CNRP-leader, remains in prison for alleged conspiracy with US support, while other CNRP members got a royal pardon and were released from prison.

Economic sanctions by the US and the EU, both critical of the election results,  might harm Cambodia’s economy, but Hun Sen feels on the safe side with the backing of China. Decades of massive Western support for a democratic Cambodia seem to be wasted.

Is this the Beginning of the End of Political Corruption in Southeast Asia?


Partyforumseasia: Most of the region’s countries, except Singapore – and Malaysia to a certain degree – rank as rather corrupt in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Here is an excerpt of the CPI 2017 for Southeast Asia:

Since politics has become a profitable business model in the region, many “unusually rich” politicians have attracted criticism from the taxpaying electorate, with envy or without. But, on the other hand, the funding of political parties is widely unregulated or, if contained by legislation, the rules are not enforced at all or only half heartedly. The election campaigns are increasingly expensive, so the necessity of getting donations at any cost, mainly from the private sector or by skimming public procurement and infrastructure projects, has brought about many “creative” solutions.

The financial creativity of the toppled Malaysian leader Najib Razak, who was virtually sitting on a gold mine with his dual role as Prime Minister and Finance Minister is legendary. The 1MDB scandal with billions missing has probably broken his neck in the 9 May election and brought back former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (93) who is now trying to clean up Malaysia and see Najib convicted.

Some recent headlines:
9 August: “Ex-PM accused of receiving $14m in proceeds of illegal activities from former 1MDB subsidiary.”

24 April: “Ex-speaker of parliament Setya Novanto sentenced to 15 years for his role in stealing $170m from public funds.”

6 August: “Vietnam court jails 46 bankers, execs for loan scheme. He joins scores of bankers, executives and former politicians behind bars in the one-party state that has long had the reputation of being one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.”

8 August: “Thaksin’s trial to begin without him.”
The former Thai Prime Minister lives in exile in Dubai since he was ousted in 2006. This case is especially remarkable because the alleged malfeasance took place in the 2003 Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI) scandal. The retroactive prosecution has been made possible by a new law on criminal procedures for political office-holders which took effect in September 2017. Similar regulations existed in some Italian city states like Lucca and Pisa in the 12th century, but were forgotten since then.

________________________________________________________________

More information about the dilemma of money politics in Southeast Asia is available in our new publication ISBN 9789813230736 which covers nine of the ten ASEAN countries.

 

 

 

 

Cambodia’s Parliamentary Election 29 July 2018


Update: According to CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, political parties had no authority to announce the number of seats they believed they had won, but according to the NEC’s unofficial calculations, the ruling party had won comfortably and no other party could win a single seat. (The Phnom Penh Post, 1.8.18)

Partyforumseasia: The first unofficial results of yesterday’s election are out, showing the expected overwhelming victory of the CPP and a voter turnout of over 80 %. Here is a preliminary table, courtesy of Mear Nup at Phnom Penh. Out of the 125 Parliamentary seats, 114 would go to the CPP, six to FUNCINPEC, and five to the League for Democracy Party.

It is futile to speculate whether the CNRP opposition and its leader Sam Rainsy would have won this election had the party not been dissolved in November 2017, officially by the Supreme Court, but de facto, of course, following the steely will and resolve of Hun Sen. The longer a politician is in power, the more difficult it is to give up. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving Prime Minister with 33 years in office. The former Khmer Rouge officer joined the Vietnamese who ended Cambodia’s horror years with an invasion in 1979, and, in 1985, at the age of 33, was appointed Prime Minister. After the 1993 UN-sponsored election which was won by FUNCINPEC under Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen was Second Prime Minister, but toppled the Prince in 1997 and regained the premiership. His grip on absolute power reflects the violent history of the country since the Vietnam War, including several instances where the “West” can be accused of letting down Cambodia. Maybe the most damaging one was the continuing recognition of the Khmer Rouge, in exile in Thailand, by the UN until 1993, a stance against the occupying Vietnamese who rather felt that they had liberated the neighbour from the genocidal Khmer Rouge. And the UNTAC-supported election, a huge international effort, failed to disarm the remaining Khmer Rouge and was never seen as positive by the Cambodians as by the international helpers and media.

The facts are as they are, Hun Sen and the CPP are confirmed in power by an election widely criticized as undemocratic and far from free and fair. Giving a special training and deploying thousands of military police “to prevent unexpected demonstrations and strikes” tells about the government’s precautions.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was the main opposition until its ban last year. It could neither participate nor organize a boycott and mass abstentions it advocated for, if the 82% voter turnout is realistic. Its leader Sam Rainsy lives in self-exile in France to avoid imprisonment for several dubious accusations, and his deputy, Kem Sokha, is in prison, accused of treason and plotting together with the United States to topple the Hun Sen government. Could all that have been avoided or did the two leaders overestimate their cards and underestimate the resolve of Hun Sen? The CNRP vote share of 44.5% in the 2013 election was certainly ringing the alarm bells for Hun Sen, but also boosted the self-confidence of the CNRP that defeating the CPP would be in reach. The excellent international contacts of both leaders and their image as the alternative and more democratic  leadership of Cambodia, on the other hand, may have opened a flank domestically and triggered the rather absurd treason accusations.

 

 

 

Malaysia’s UMNO Drama Unfolding Further


Latest development: Former PM Najib Razak detained on 3 July
at 3 p.m. by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)
___________________________________________________________

Partyforumseasia: The fall of Malaysia’s National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition after nearly 61 years in power is revealing more and more dubious secrets of its business model. The advantages of being the incumbant for so long, and having practically unlimited control of the country’s rich financial resources, had led to a network of the leading UMNO and the smaller component parties with huge flows of cash, donations, and bribes. Details are being revealed one by one, all but two component parties have defected, heads are rolling, but maybe most symptomatic for the “money-politics-disease” are the astonishing amounts of valuables found in the different dwellings of defeated party president and prime minister Najib Razak. The list of confisated items so far looks unreal to say the least.

                    The current exchange rate is four Malaysian Ringgit for one USD.

Najib’s explanations are manifold: He was not aware of the jewellery items of his wife. Many pieces are not his own and must be returned to the jewellers.  Najib 1Accepting gifts is not illegal. Most of the money was for the party, etc. He has asked his lawyers already to start legal procedures to get the confiscated items back. Nevertheless, Najib claims that his party has to reform itself and abolish money politics and payments for internal elections. But the investigations are going on, and bank accounts belonging to Najib as well as UMNO’s party accounts are being frozen. The “new – broom – governmant” under returned Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is trying to sweep as clean as possible.

The Najib portraits show the changes from the self-assured election winner and unassailable party leader to the loser threatened by the Malaysian anti-corruption agency with prosecution and eventually a Najib scepticalprison term. His attempt to leave the country immediately after the election defeat was thwarted by concerned citizens, followed by an official travel ban.
Investigations into the billions lost in the 1MDB scandal are intensely going on, so far 408 bank accounts are frozen, and more indictments can be expected. It all started in 2015 with the 682 million US$ found in Najib’s private accounts making waves internationally. AAznfO4.imgThe investigations go back to hundreds of transactions to “a party”, individuals, and organizations since 2011. There is hope that at least part of the lost funds can be recovered for the state budget, though experience with the Marcos and Suharto billions in the Philippines and Indonesia are not encouraging.

Meanwhile UMNO tries to pick up the pieces and convince the voters that they have understood the verdict of the voters and are serious about reforming themselves. The internal elections over the last weekend have produced mixed results, though. Najib’s former deputy Zahid Hamidi has won the presidency, in his own view to guarantee the continuity, criticized by others as hara kiri of UMNO. “Young turk” and former youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin was first runner-up with respectable 61 branches (out of 191) voting for him against 99  for Zahid.

For an overview on party funding and money politics in Southeast Asia see our new book, available at https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/10726

10726.cover

Political Parties, Party Funding, and Corruption


Partyforumseasia is pleased to inform you that our book on the funding of political parties in Southeast Asia is now available. Published by World Scientific in the Asian Politics series, this comparative survey covers all ASEAN countries except Brunei Darussalam which does not have parties.

The recent fall of the Najib/UMNO regime in Malaysia and the fast growing evidence of its massive political corruption is a timely reminder of how important it will be in the future to balance the funding of political parties in the region with the spiraling financial needs in ever more costly election campaigns and the increasing monetization of party activities. The public is now sufficiently aware to demand more transparency and accountability than the parties may like.

The following excerpt from the introductory chapter of the book illustrates how close partisanship and corruption can be. The sort of political Ponzi-scheme in Malaysia probably shows all the different shades of corruption mentioned here:

How to Define and Measure Political Corruption in Southeast Asia?

The word corruption has many different meanings depending on context and viewpoint. The Oxford English Dictionary defines political corruption as “perversion or destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties by bribery or favor; the use or existence of corrupt practices, especially in a state, public corporation, etc.” Beyond this broad definition, political scientists Heidenheimer and Johnston isolate three narrower definitions, developed and discussed in the social sciences:

  • Public Office-Centered Definitions focus on bribery as the misuse of authority for personal gain, whether monetary or not.
  • Market-Centered Definitions focus on civil servants and elected office holders who see their public office as a business and try to maximize their income.
  • Public Interest-Centered Definitions start from the true interest of the polity, and encompass even formally legal actions which are not benefiting the community at large, especially at the initiative of special interest groups.
    (Power Broking in the Shade, p. 6)

The book can be ordered from World Scientific under:
https://www.worldscientific.com/page/asianstudies/new-titles

 

 

Any Future for the Loser?


Partyforumseasia: Will the defeated Prime Minister end up in prison? One of the successful campaign slogans of the rather old (92, and dynamic) new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was his calling Najib Razak a thief and his UMNO party corrupt to the core.

Najib's resignation 2

Loser loses all. Najib and his defense minister resign from all party posts.

Most political observers had believed that the 1MDB scandal would not play such an important role and that the memories had faded since it erupted in 2015. But voters, often characterized as forgetful, may have remembered the case and believed Mahathir that he was running only to save the country from the corrupt Barisan Nasional government. Obviously, only few Malaysians were unaware of the wasteful corruption going on and continuing to increase.
Now, Najib Razak is no longer Prime Minister, after a lightning transfer of power and the swearing in of his successor Mahathir within 24 hours after the election results were out. Najib, at least confronted the media to declare that he accepted the verdict of the people…without having a choice anyway. But an attempt to board a private jet and fly to Indonesia was thwarted by a crowd at the airport, and Mahathir did not hesitate to ban him  and his wife from leaving the country.
Since Mahathir has called it his biggest political mistake to help Najib become Prime Minister, the latter cannot expect lenience or mercy. His private residence is already cordoned off by the police. Mahathir announced already that the attorney general, who had whitewashed Najib soon after replacing a less compliant one, will be replaced shortly. Mahathir has vowed to investigate the 1MDB scandal and take action against those who may have abetted or benefited from corruption at the fund. At least six countries, including the United States and Switzerland, are investigating claims that $4.5 billion was allegedly siphoned off from 1MDB. If found guilty, Najib might end up in prison.

The Miraculous Resurrection of a Prime Minister


A winner’s smile

Partyforumseasia: What Malaysia’s incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak called the “mother of all elections” has turned out to be the end of his political career, unless he follows the winner, Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned in 2003 after 22 years in power and now comes back at the age of 92! If some politicians are worn down by the burden of office and age prematurely, others seem to be rejuvenated by campaigning. Mahathir does not look like a nonogenarian at all, and the crowds he was pulling in his relentless campaign during the last two weeks were already a signal that he might lead the opposition coalition to victory. This victory is certainly a world record.
That it was possible against all the odds and against the predictions of most political pundits  is more than remarkable. The incumbent Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN) had used all possible tricks and means to defend its majority. The latest were a sweeping gerrymandering exercise to make it even more difficult for the opposition, the election on a Wednesday with the expectation of a lower voter turnout, and a cornucopia of election goodies and promises for more after the election. Maybe the visible nervousness of PM Najib and the list of dirty tricks were helping the opposition to tip the scale. The victory is clear, in the national parliament as well as on the federal state level. The official results for the Federal Parliament are as follows:
Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah, chairman of the Election Commission,  announced at    4.40am on May 10, that BN won only 79 seats, down from 133, and won with only 47% of the popular vote. The Islamist PAS, suspected to be wiped out by many observers, survived with 18 seats. But even if PAS should coalesce with BN, they can’t form a government.  The former opposition coalition PKR has now 109 seats, the Parti Warisan Sabah eight, and with probably some more going to join, the victory is perfect. Mahathir is taking over the premiership again with a promise to hand it over to Anwar Ibrahim after he will be released from prison and pardoned by the king. July will end his prison term anyway which he is serving after a dubious conviction for alleged sodomy.

One of the main reasons for the landslide, called tsunami in the region, is the rising cost of living in a country rich in natural resources, and the all too obvious corruption in the BN system. What most observers had underestimated, but Mahathir managed to remind the voters of, was the dubious role of Najib Razak in the 1MDB scandal and the 682 million US$ in his private accounts. Few voters could believe his explanation that the money was a donation of the Saudi royal family for a wonderful Muslim ally in Southeast Asia. The future of Najib and the BN money cascade will be a very interesting case for follow-up research and comments. If it should help against the rampant political impunity, it will be good for the democratic development in the region.

 

 

15 Years Not Enough? Setya Novanto Finally Sentenced


Partyforumseasia:  The corruption and embezzlement case around former house speaker Setya Novanto has come to a close. 15 years imprisonment, IDR 500 million (US$35,880) in fines and restitution of US$7.3 million, meted out by the Jakarta Corruption Court, is a landmark decision against one of the top politicians considered to be untouchable before. For many Indonesians, especially graft watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), the punishment is disappointingly lenient. They had preferred a life sentence, arguing that the restitution of the $7.3 million he obtained was only 22.69 percent of the total state losses caused by him. The $7.3 million was only his personal share of what the conspiracy deducted from a huge 2009 project of introducing electronic identity cards for the 266 million Indonesians. Novanto hid the money transfers through several corporate accounts at home and overseas. Novanto 1

Is the difference in expectations the normal difference between rule of law and justice, which often results in critical views of court decisions? On one side it certainly is, but the court is also raising the benchmark against the widespread impunity of top politicians who organize the funding of their parties and election campaigns. One of the usual instruments, in Indonesia and neighboring countries alike, is the skimming or scalping of government projects, normally reducing the amount which reaches the target groups or project purpose by about 30% on average. Since the lawmakers have the discretion to decide on project funding, especially in certain financially crucial committees, secret deals with the bureaucracy and affiliated commercial enterprises are more than common. The system in Indonesia is ubiquitous and not really a secret, however, party activities and elections have become excessively expensive, and candidates must invest heavily in their election or re-election campaigns. One recent research paper on vote buying in Indonesia found that poor candidates never win a mandate.

Will the final fall of Setya Novanto, who got away with a couple of other corruption cases before, set a precedent for Indonesia and possibly some of the neighboring countries? Punishing even Politbureau members in China or Vietnam has done rather little against the daily corruption of miserably paid policemen and other civil servants. But the top level convictions in Korea, Taiwan, and now Indonesia, may contribute to the visible nervousness of the Najib– government in Malaysia which is going to the polls on 9 May. Obviously, the 1MDB scandal has not been forgotten by the voters, 

 

Is PM Najib’s notorious self-confidence evaporating?


PM Najib looking more skeptical than normally

Partyforumseasia:  The die is cast“. Prime Minister Najib Razak did not say it nor is he Julius Caesar, and there is no guarantee that he has the latter’s legendary luck. But the Star newspaper is already speculating that the day of the dissolution of parliament, which paves the way for the long expected election (GE 14), on 7/4 adds up to Najib’s lucky number. The 11, they say, is meaningful throughout his life, from the birthdays of his parents, to his official car plates, and only last week 11 measures worth 2.9 billion RM to support Malay (bumiputra) SMEs. So far, the Prime Minister and uncontested leader of Malaysia’s ruling coalition and dominant UMNO party, was seen as not leaving anything to luck in preparation for the upcoming election. His strategy to divide and emasculate the opposition on unprecedented levels culminated last week with a controversial delineation exercise by the Election Commission which is under his department and not really independent. Another blow against the new Malay opposition party PPBM (United Indigenous Party) came from the Registrar of Societies on allegedly missing formalities which have been met from the beginning according to the PPBM leadership.

Is PM Najib getting nervous?
The long list of election-related moves could be an indication that Najib has access to information about a groundswell against UMNO and himself and starts to get nervous, maybe even frightened. Against all the odds, his self-declared nemesis, veteran PM Mahathir Mohamad (92), seems to rally not only the opposition, but making inroads into the classical Malay vote banks of the ruling coalition.

Dr. M laughs
Will he have the last laugh?

The most vulnerable spots in Najib’s flanks are the still unresolved 1MDB-scandal, though he denied any wrongdoing, skillfully following strategy handbooks, and the festering unhappiness of many Malaysians with the ever rising cost of living. Pacifying all grieving subgroups costs many billions and the increasing spending exercises of the Prime Minister start to betray a growing nervousness about what he calls “the father of all elections”.
Partyforumseasia has argued for some years already that Najib and UMNO must win the election at any cost because a defeat would be a catastrophy of Greek drama dimensions for the ruling system and its enormous internal  cash flows. One of the newest indicators are threats by the UMNO leadership against “disappointed” candidates who are not fielded any more. They might “betray” their party and will be dealt with after the election. Najib and UMNO have not left any important stone unturned. But all these unprecedented efforts, obviously very costly for the taxpayers, seem to increasingly damage the nimbus of the ruling party’s invincibility.

Tan Sri Hashim Gerry from the EC Malaysia?


Partyforumseasia: On Wednesday, 28 March, the Malaysian Parliament approved the redrawn electoral maps with 129 to 80 votes, safe enough to reach the simple majority of 112. Ruling coalition and opposition were given only one hour each for debate, while opposition and critics outside parliament accused the motion of gerrymandering in favor of the Malay vote banks in predominantly rural areas. Prime Minister Datuk Seri NajibNajib, in his cold-blooded style, declared the Election Commission (EC), which happens to be under his Prime Minister’s department, as impartial and the changes as only for the benefit of the Malaysian people. The critics, on the other hand, call it gerrymandering and they do have a valid point here. While the redelineation of electoral boundaries is common everywhere when demographic changes like urbanization make it necessary, the malapportionment in Malaysia is exceptional. In the 2013 election, the number of voters per precinct ranged from 15,700 for the smallest rural to 145,000 for the biggest urban one. And, not by chance, the most reliable voters for the ruling Bairsan Nasional (BN) coalition live in the small rural districts. This is why, in 2013, and also due to the first-past-the-post majoritarian election system, a shortfall of 4% in the popular vote was changed into a 20% majority of seats. On average, BN constituencies were won with 48,000 votes, while the opposition needed 79,000.

The original 1812 gerrymander

Elbridge Gerry was the famous governor of Massachusetts who started the delineation trick in 1812 to benefit his Democratic Republican Party. And one of the precincts looked like a dragon or salamander, hence the new notion of gerrymandering.

If demographic change necessitates corrections, the opposition would normally accept fair changes. And in most democracies, these changes are being executed quietly, most voters don’t care. The Malaysian last minute exercise, however, is stirring up protest because it happens so closely before the elections expected in May. This might turn out to be a strategic mistake of PM Najib, who has already procrastinated with the election date due latest in August. So far, he has braved all the pressure created by the 1MDB financial and other scandals and pacified many unhappy former supporters with financial largesse. But the delay has given the opposition more time to rally under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who is all out to topple Najib.
It looks debatable whether the redrawn boundaries are strictly following the demographic changes. If the opposition is right, they do follow ethnic patterns as well, like in Subang close to Kuala Lumpur. The borders, at least, look increasingly complicated and salamander-like as shown in this 2013 – 2018 comparison.
Map: Singapore’s Straits Times (LINK)

 

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.

 

 

 

Wise Old Man or Running Amok?


Partyforumseasia:  Dr Mahathir Mohamad does not look his age of 92, and the unrelenting campaign he is leading against Prime Minister Najib Razak seems to invigorate and energise him even more. During his 22 years (1981 – 2003) Mahathir nowas Prime Minister he was not known for being too choosy with policies and actions against competitors and the opposition. His training background as a medical doctor was often used to explain the surgical precision of his shrewed and decisive political maneuvres.
Controversial as his tenure was on the one hand, Malaysia’s economic progress during the Mahathir years remains undisputed on the other. Some projects have seen less than lasting success, like the creation of a home-grown car industy, the Proton Saga, but under his supervision Malaysia has seen enormous growth and modernization.
Politically, the racial imbalance of the country had led to affirmative action in favor of the Malay population long before Mahathir, but he refined the system in a way that secured the dominance of his UMNO party until today.
After engineering the ouster of his immediate successor, Abdullah Badawi, in 2009, Mahathir has now turned against Prime Minister Najib Razak. He left UMNO and founded a new Malay party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) in January 2017.
For such a young party, the organizational progress is impressive. According to one of the leading internal political analysts of Malaysia, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and at the moment reseach fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, PPBM has established divisions in 137 out of 165 parliamentary constituencies in Peninsular Malaysia, and about 200.000 membership applications of predominantly younger people. See Wan Saiful’s latest analysis in Singapore’s Straits Times on 1 January (LINK).
PPBM, translated as Malaysian United Indigenous Party, is eyeing the Malay core voters, who, so far, have been voting for the ruling UMNO or its Islamist competitor PAS. The question is, of course, whether the unhappiness with the prevailing level of money politics and corruption can divert traditional UMNO supporters, who are not close to the PAS fundamentalists either, into voting for PPBM in the upcoming election due by August. Mahathir’s role as opposition leader is curtailed by the co-operation with the predominantly Chinese Democratic Action Party, which has been successfully defamed as anti-Malay and anti-Islam by UMNO propaganda.

Naj

Prime Minister Najib Razak

UMNO, however, does not take its victory for granted, and is setting everything in motion to weaken all the splintered opposition forces which it had already seen as toothless with former leader Anwar Ibrahim in prison and by getting closer to PAS which has left the opposition coalition. The newest re-delineation of constituency boundaries shows that the old gerrymandering tricks are being refined again. Malaysia’s level of malapportionment is rather unique and still growing.
For Mahathir the fight is more than uphill, but his energy at the age of 92 is remarkable, and his charisma and image are still working some magic and pulling the crowds. His determination to topple the Prime Minister might convince more voters than the polls predict by now that the UMNO system is detrimental for the country. But Najib and his cronies can be expected to do more than it needs to defend their dominance and the financial network.

 

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,

Sokha

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

Rainsy

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.
 

Southeast Asia is East…and West is West


Partyforumseasia: The vast scholarly literature on political parties is often rather theoretical, and academic ambitions make “theorizing” a necessity for the young scholars. Starting to analyze the parties in “Non-Western” systems with the tool box from Europe, where most of the scholarly models have been developed, can be tricky, though. At face value, there are all the well known attributes, headquarters, members, presidents, vice-presidents, branches, central committees, internal elections, even membership fees. However, to start with the latter, membership fees in Southeast Asia’s parties are symbolic at best, if collected at all. With election campaign costs spiraling and reaching absurd levels, the funding is getting more and more the central problem. That affects the image of many parties and their leaders because money has to be found, and  corruption scandals erupt frequently. In some countries in the region, the voters expect tangible returns for their votes which has lead to so-called “pork-barrel politics”. The candidates, rather often, invest into their campaigns, are expected to “help” their voters once they are elected, and consequently need to recoup the invested sums one way or the other. For many of them, just recouping is not enough, they can also enrich themselves via their political engagement. It is maybe one of the big differences compared with Europe that there are many more “unusually rich” politicians in Southeast Asia.  This is not saying that politicians in Europe are underpaid, but a mandate in most parliaments is financially not attractive for professionals and even less for entrepreneurs who earn much more.

Partyforumseasia has been interviewed by Global Review with a list of questions about the characteristics of political parties in Southeast Asia.
What are the differences between Western and Southeast Asian parties?

You find questions and answers under this Link

Comments and opinions are most welcome!

In case the above link does not work, try to insert the following:
https://www.global-review.info/2017/12/19/interview-with-dr-sachsenroeder-about-south-east-asian-parties-many-political-scientists-base-their-analysis-too-much-on-the-paradigms-and-theories-developed-in-western-europe/

 

How to Cement your Grip on Power


Partyforumseasia: Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (17541838), the French statesman and diplomat, held high positions through the French revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the Vienna Congress. He was famous for his political skills, flexibility, and venality. In a well-known bon mot he is quoted as saying that the farewell from power is the most painful farewell in the world. Two political leaders in Southeast Asia, the Prime Ministers of Cambodia and Malaysia, Hun Sen and Najib Razak, seem to feel like Talleyrand and try to avoid losing the upcoming elections at any price.
Strongman Hun Sen has successfully destroyed the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in the last few months. Driving the original leader, Sam Rainsy, into exile, and imprisoning Sam’s deputy and successor, Kem Sokha, was not enough for him. With his CPP-majority in parliament, he had no problem tweaking the party law and had the CNRP dissolved by the constitutional court. More CNRP leaders preferred to escape into self-exile before being detained.
The background and final motif of Prime Minister Hun Sen might be the conviction, based on findings of his intelligence apparatus, that the election coming up in 2018 is not going to be a sure win, and that there is a groundswell against his 32-year authoritarian rule. The local elections in June showed massive gains of the opposition CNRP, and revealed that the ruling party had not even secured the votes of all CPP party members. After getting the opposition out of the way, most of their parliamentary seats have been given to the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which had been wiped out in the 2013 election.
The political cost on the international level might grow in the meantime. Apart from Hun’s  loss of face and the already dented image, the EU is considering sanctions which could hurt Cambodia’s textile imdustry, one of the country’s important cash cows. The Prime Minister seems to count on closer relations and support from the big neighbour China as a handy way of balancing the loss of Western funding, as massive as it was hitherto.

The Malaysian case is similar in the way that Prime Minister Najib Razak is all out to reduce or prevent the challenge of an opposition win in the elections due by August 2018 latest, but possible any time earlier at the discretion of the prime minister. When the unprecedented corruption scandal around Najib, his stepson, and his UMNO party, broke out in 2015, with 682 million US$ found in his private accounts, not many observers beleived in his political survival. But his cold-blooded survival instinct, as well as his absolute control over the country’s finances, since he is finance minister as well, seems to have cemented his grip on power and his unchallenged leadership position in the party.
Dividing or destroying the opposition is a game of Najib which is more sophisticated than the one in Cambodia. The opposition coalition, so far, does not seem united enough to seriously challenge UMNO and its Barisan Nasional coalition. The most charismatic opponent, Anwar Ibrahim, already 70, is still in prison on a controversial conviction for sodomy. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is fighting Najib relentlessly, but at 92, Najib does not take him too seriously any more. Finally, the long-term rival party PAS, an Islamic party with the same vote banks as UMNO among pious and rural Malays, has left the opposition and is now closer to Najib. Vilifying the biggest opposition party, the Chinese dominated DAP, as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, is another promising strategy of the Prime Minister and UMNO president. Obviously, the heavy lopsided gerrymandering which just got the Appeal Court’s green light for further fine tuning, is not seen as a sufficient life insurance. All these manoeuvres, like in Cambodia, betray at least that the leaders have some doubts about their winnability, but, of course, the determination to win at any cost.

Talleyrand, if he could observe this, would understand the two: losing power would be too painful for them and their cronies…

Fresh blood for the survival of the party


Partyforumseasia: The recruitment and selection of politicians is widely unregulated in political parties. Charisma and leadership potential can only partially be learned and developed, but the first litmus test is the socialization in the local branches. The possible motivations to first join a party are manifold, from family history or concern about local issues to attention seeking and the urge of being important. Within a branch and the interaction with fellow members, the most widespread patterns may be eloquence and perseverance, in any case, availability and attendance whenever there is an event. And not to forget, supporting a superior is nearly always helpful for advancement, as long as the superior is not challenged.  If the party is in government, networks similar to roped mountain climbing or skiing partiesSeilschaft play an important role in filling all sorts of positions with trusted comrades. Generally, the necessary rejuvenation of a party is left to chance, sometimes to recruitment drives among suitable persons among friends and aquaintances of the party activists.

A systematic approach is rare, but there is one interesting example in Southeast Asia, namely Singapore’s long-term ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP). It can be traced back to founding father Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) who decided without political or popular pressure to step down after ruling the new city state as prime minister from 1959 till 1990. His obsession with leadership recruitment and selection is legendary. Candidates for parliament were screened in different rounds of discussions from the local branch to ministerial level and finally by LKY himself in increasingly grueling interviews.  His special focus was the character, a criterion not really common in most parties world-wide. The prevailing perception and the image of party politicians are so negative that positive connotations linked to the character are rare.

Lee KYThis LKY-heritage is obviously living on. The Straits Times, on 3 December, published a glimpse into this part of PAP internal procedures under the headline: “PAP identifies 200 hopefuls for the next GE” (LINK), due by April 2021. Overseen by the PAP’s organizing secretary, the rounds of “tea sessions” with ministers and MPs have started, later on, the candidates will be interviewed individually by a panel of ministers. The paper mentions that in the past candidates have been asked to undergo psychological profiling. In Darwinian terms, the selection process looks like the survival of the fittest. Normally, the party brings in replacements for about a quarter of its members of parliament with every general election. PAP

Similar to his father, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who is also the uncontested leader of the PAP, has made public his intention to step down by 2022. He carefully tries to organize the transition and announced several times that his successor is very probably already a member of the cabinet, but the next batch of candidates might have a chance as well.

The quasi-hegemonic long-term rule of the PAP is unique in many ways, but seeing political leaders everywhere like glued to their positions, it might be interesting to search for any other party similarly engaged in its own renewal and rejuvenation like Singapore’s PAP.

 

Corruption in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Transparency International has published its newest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), based on interviews with 21,861 people in 16 countries, regions and territories across the Asia Pacific region between July 2015 and January 2017. (Link)

Here are the most important results for Southeast Asia:

Among the ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam seem to have the biggest corruption problems in the perception of their citizens. Malaysia obviously because of the festering and unresolved 1MDB scandal with a major involvement of Prime Minister Najib Razak who is also chairman of the ruling UMNO party, and Vietnam with the rampant daily petty corruption which tarnishes the ruling Communist Party though it tries to reduce it. Asked whether corruption has recently increased, the Indonesian respondents are even more critical than the Malaysians and Vietnamese, probably because of the ongoing corruption saga with the Golkar party and its chairman Setya Novanto.

The low rating for Thailand seems to be one of the positive points in favor of the military regime which is otherwise heavily criticized for its lack of democratic credentials, especially on the international scene.

Looking into the perception of the citizens vis-a-vis the institutions, the ratings for the police are on top. In most countries of the region, the rank and file police officers are not well or not sufficiently paid, which is a root cause for their constant attempts to solicit bribes as petty as they may be. Much more frightening, however, is the image of legislators and government officials who come immediately behind the police on top of the ratings. These assessments are certainly not conducive for the consolidation of the different democratic experiments in Southeast Asia.

NB: Laos, known for high corruption, and Singapore, known for very low corruption, are not covered by the GCB.

Political corruption and the funding of political parties and election campaigns
is indirectly highlighted in the table on institutions above but is not treated in more details in this GCB report. The answers of the respondents, though, are visibly influenced by their  perception of the political scene. While 59% of the Malaysians see an increase in corruption, only 23% say that they have paid bribes for basic services in their country.

The Political Partyforum Southeast Asia is working on a comprehensive survey on political party and campaign financing in the ten ASEAN countries minus Brunei Darussalam. We will inform our readers once it is published. 

 

 

How to Create a Loyal Opposition


Partyforumseasia: Call it drama or saga, Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to get rid of the CNRP opposition because he is not sure that he would win the next general election if it is free and fair. His survival instinct is stronger than the CNRP wanted to believe, though they should have known him better. In the newest twist of the story, Hun Sen calls on the opposition MPs to defect in time before the impending dissolution of their party by the Supreme Court on 16th November. Singapore’s Straits Times on 5 November quotes Mr. Hun Sen as follows:
I want to give you this opportunity to continue in your job… It will not only be that the party is dissolved and then the matter is finished. Maybe more than 100 people will be banned from politics for five years.
The CNRP is accused of treason in collusion with the USA in order to overthrow the government led by Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peole’s Party (CPP). One by one, the CNRP leaders have been intimidated, beaten up, forced into exile, like former leader Sam Rainsy, or imprisoned and accused of treason like Kem Sokha. Their “crimes” are above all to dream of taking over the government, and winning too many mandates in the national and recently the local elections. Like many leaders all over the world who are used to power, and Hun Sen is by now with 32 years the longest serving prime minister, he as not the least intention to retire.
The official trigger for Kem Sokha‘s indictment was a video from 2013, in which he allegedly discusses with US-counterparts how to win the next election. Not only for Americans it sounds rather legitimate and normal for an opposition party to dream of taking over after winning the election.

Ironically, to warn and threaten the opposition, Prime Minister Hun Sen has used a speech on the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accord of 1991 which established a multi-party democratic system in Cambodia. This democratic big bang was what the Western signatories believed and accordingly pampered the CPP-regime with generous development aid, regularly pledging more millions than the government was asking for. Interfering now in support of the CNRP seems to be out of the question, of course.
The opposition, especially Sam Rainsy and his party with the same name, and merger partner Human Rights Party under Kem Sokha, who formed the CNRP in 2012, have become somewhat overoptimistic with their rising popularity and election success and rhetorically more aggressive. Getting their funding to a certain degree from the Cambodian diaspora abroad, and supported by American and European pro-democracy NGOs and the Western embassies in Phnom Penh, their optimism and self-confidence may have seduced them to underestimate Hun Sen’s resolve to stay in command. He is preparing his son Hun Manet as a possible successor, and his extended family has much to lose as well. Global Witness, a London-based NGO, reports that the family has registered interests in 114 private domestic companies,   mostly as chairpersons, directors or major shareholders. When Hun Sen first declared his assets in 2011, he was quoted as saying that besides his official salary of 13,800 USD per year he hadn’t any other income…

Indonesia: The Empire Strikes Back


Partyforumseasia:                                                    The Empire versus KPK
Only a week ago, we published a post with the headline “Indonesia’s Struggle Against Political Corruption” (LINK). The saga goes on and the drama may unfold or not. Whether it will follow the patterns of antique Greek drama and end with the catharsis or cleansing as an ethical benefit for the people of Indonesia is still everybody’s guess.
Golkar chairman and speaker of parliament Setya Novanto was named as a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in a political corruption case of exceptional dimensions. He dodged the hearings he should have attended recently by protesting heart problems but was eventually cleared by doctors to be fit enough. But buying time by being sick has helped him again to evade the KPK. On Friday, 29 September, South Jakarta District Court judge Cepi Iskandar declared that the court approved Mr Setya’s pre-trial motion challenging his status as a suspect in the case: “We declare invalid the suspect status against Setya Novanto dated July 17, 2017.” Everybody will be curious about the reasons.
However, after losing this round, the KPK is trying to find out how to proceed and possibly win the next round. If it manages to survive and can do so. Under the headline “A PLOT TO KILL KPK“, on 20 July, the influential news magazine Tempo had already suspected an attempt by powerful forces inside the parliament to weaken or crush the KPK by establishing a special “KPK Right-of-Inquiry Special Committee, or “pansus” in Indonesian
An investigation by this magazine has discovered that the pansus was established with a three-layered aim: dissolve the KPK, paralyze it by reducing its powers, or at the very least remove the main investigators who have been at the vanguard of corruption investigations.” (LINK)

The ongoing power struggle is widely seen as the transparent attempt of Novanto and many other political figures to maintain the prevailing impunity for apparent abuse of the insufficient political funding regulations in Indonesia. Marcus Mietzner, one of the leading experts on the country’s political system, called them “Dysfunction by Design” in a 2015research paper…

 

Indonesia’s Struggle Against Political Corruption


Partyforumseasia: The infamous e-ID card graft case is hotting up.  Golkar chairman and speaker of parliament Setya Novanto has been named as a suspect, and so far, managed to get away. He is no unknown to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which he fights as an enemy of the political establishment. Gresnews, a publication focusing on Indonesian legal and political issues, called his record “Setya Novanto´s Chain of Scandals” on 17 November 2016 (LINK). 
Novanto who had to resign end of 2015 in a bribery scandal of epic dimensions, was eventually cleared and re-appointed as House Speaker in 2016, and was again declared a suspect by KPK in June 2017. The new case, according to KPK, investigates the theft of 170 million USD from a project to issue electronic identity cards for the 255 million Indonesians. Sums between 5,000 and 5.5 million USD, the indictment letter states, had been openly divided up in a room in Parliament, involving at least 37 beneficiaries.
The KPK has been threatened of dissolution by its many enemies within the political elite, but President Jokowi’s reform policies may prevent such a move because it would be extremely unpopular. The question now is how tight the noose around Novanto’s neck might be or become. It is probably a sign of weakness for him to protest heart problems for not showing up for KPK hearings, but his doctors have declared him fit enough in the meantime. Obviously he has tried before some politicking in the background to influence the South Jakarta District Court to order the KPK to drop its investigation.  More than 80 witnesses have already testified against him in the KPK hearings, though.

The special Indonesian background:
Political parties need funding for their activities, lots of funding for their election campaigns, and even more funding if they buy votes and pay the canvassers.
The Indonesian party system has developed rather creative ways of raising the necessary funds by privatising the fund raising. One is the recruitment of oligarchs who can inject bigger amounts, the other one is the “scalping” of the many development and infrastructure projects which are available in the expanding economy and increasing state income of Indonesia. The mechanism is simple, in most cases the member of parliament manages to “sponsor” a project by influencing the decision making in the Parliament or a ministry, and gets a “commission”, regularly up to one third of the total cost. That method is anything but uncommon in the region in different varieties, and certainly not unknown in other parts of the world.
What sets Indonesia apart is the mindboggling size of some of the commissions paid. Since everybody knows about these procedures, many politicians have dropped any remaining reluctance to grab whatever they can get. And, no surprise, these financial skills are highly attractive for the political parties. This is one of the reasons why Setya Novanto made it back to the helm of the Golkar Party.

 

Cambodia: Who is a Traitor decides the Dictator


Partyforumseasia:     Opposition leader Kem Sokha detained for “treason”.
Lately, we have been reporting about Cambodia relatively often. The last few headlines were not positive, neither for the opposition nor the the ruling CPP: April 30, 2016: Party Competition Cambodian Style, October 14, 2016: Cambodia’s Opposition Getting More Sticks and no Carrots, January 2, 2017: Final Blow for Cambodian Opposition?, June 28, 2017: Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP.
Don’t blame pessimism in politics, it can always turn from bad to worse:
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy had been driven into exile in 2016 and practically forced to resign as chairman of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) because a new legislation allowed the suspension of the CNRP under a “convicted” leader. Even all his pictures had to be removed under the new law. Deputy chairman Kem Sokha took over and continued to prepare the party for the general election due by next year.
But Hun Sen, in power since 1985 and one of the longest serving prime ministers worldwide, seems to be nervous about his ruling party’s victory in 2018 and determined to do whatever it takes to continue his rule. He is only 65 by now, which is no retirement age for politicians. Known much more for his iron fist than for velvet gloves, Mr. Hun Sen has initiated a series of measures to guarantee that he stays in control. The newest was the arrest of Kem Sokha, Sunday morning, 3 September, 12:30 am at his home by 100 policemen and sent to a prison 200 km away from Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted as explaining the urgency: “The treason of colluding with foreigners to betray the nation requires {us} to make an immediate arrest”. The foreigners, also called “the third hand”, are the USA who, like it or not, do have a tendency to promote their idea of democracy by intervention and regime change, which is certainly not always popular in the recipient countries. In the case of Cambodia, the US supported the coup of general Lon Nol which ousted the late king Sihanouk in 1970. It is no secret that the US and European countries who have supported Cambodia with billions of development aid have been disappointed with the Hun Sen administration’s resistance against crucial domestic reforms.
Kem Sokha, who has already endured legal attacks over an alleged extramarital affair last year, is known for his very balanced and conciliatory personality. But as an experienced politician and human rights activist, he is also a good campaign speaker, and, of course, his aim as opposition leader is no less than winning the upcoming election. That is normal and completely legitimate.

Other measures of PM Hun Sen are complementing the arrest of Sokha:

An attack on press freedom: With a surprise tax bill of over six million USD, the 24 year old English language “Cambodia Daily” feels forced to close down immediately.

A CPP internal party purge: End of August a leaked secret paper informed about a party-internal exercise to review the attitude and reliablity of the CPP’s 5,370,313 members, no less than 68 percent of the nation’s 7.8 million registered voters. Many, especially the bloated civil service, have been expected or forced to join. All reliable members will get a new membership card after passing the personal screening by a party team.

If the CPP should have any remaining Communist elements, the party purge reminds of the infamous Lenin quotation “Trust is good, but control is better”...

 

 

Thailand: Ex-Premier Yingluck Shinawatra follows her Brother into Self-Exile


Partyforumseasia: Yingluck Shinawatra, the 28th Prime Minister of Thailand since August 2011, was ousted in May 2014 by the Constitutional Court. She was accused of abuse of power for replacing the national security chief by a supporter of her Puea Thai party back in 2011. In the same month of May 2014, not exactly by coincidence, the Thai military intervened and replaced the democratically elected Puea Thai government by a junta under retired general and now Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Unlike her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was Thailand’s 23d prime minister from 2001, and ousted in 2006, Yingluck continued to stay in the country. The first female prime minister of the country and probably the most beautiful and photogenic one of our times, still commands a huge popularity and political support, especially among the main electoral target group of her party, the poor farming communities in the North and Northeast. The Puea Thai Party is a re-incarnation of her brother Thaksin’s creation, the Thai Rak Thai Party which was dissolved in 2007 after the 2006 military coup, and of the People’s Power Party, dissolved in 2008, which had replaced the Thai Rak Thai Party.
Accused of negligence in handling her government’s multi-billion dollar rice buying scheme, introduced already by her brother, Yingluck could have been jailed for up to 10 years. The program was extremely popular with poor rice farmers, but buying the paddy well above the market rates turned out to be very costly for the government.
In a separate but related case, the court sentenced the former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail for faking a government-to-government sale deal involving rice from the 18 million ton state stockpiles.

Though under close supervision by the security forces, Mrs. Yingluck managed to leave the country on Wednesday, 23d or Thursday, 24th of August. Her absence may be an advantage for the military government which does not have to deal with a martyr in prison. Yingluck is supposed to join her brother in his self-exile in Dubai. His and her assets in Thailand are frozen by the junta, but the family clan seems to have enough money abroad to fund and maintain their massive influence on Thailand’s politics.

In a regional perspective, getting rid or disposing of political rivals is often executed with the legendary iron fist but not with a velvet glove, even if the judiciary up to the constitutional court is involved. The most striking example may be the “disposal” of former finance and deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in neighbouring Malaysia. Anwar was convicted of sodomy already under prime minister Mahathir in 1998, and again with the same accusation under prime minister Najib Razak in 2008 when his political charisma as opposition leader threatened the ruling coalition. Both convictions left a number of doubts and open questions, but were highly effective in neutralizing the rival.

 

Ruling Party of the Philippines to Learn from China’s Communists


Partyforumseasia: As we described in an earlier post (LINK) a year ago, the democratic system of the Philippines has developed a unique system of party hopping once a new president takes over. Faster than in any other country, losing parties join the presidential camp and MP’s leave their party and join the president’s. Call them opportunists, unprincipled, turncoats or traitors, it is a pragmatic and realistic way of providing the new president with a parliamentary majority that works from day one. This happened like a clockwork when President Duterte took over after his landslide victory in May 2016.

Based on several newspaper comments in the Philippines, the Global Times (LINK) reports a rather noteworthy project of the President’s Party. Aquilino Pimentel III, who is President of PDP-Laban and also the Senate President, has traveled to Xiamen in East China’s Fujian Province with a delegation of two dozen party cadres in June. The trip was a follow-up of an agreement between PDP-Laban with related departments of the Chinese government last December to send party members for “policy training” at the Party School of the CPC Fujian Provincial Committee.

While international observers are watching with some suspicion that the Philippines under Duterte are getting closer to China and seem to discount the long-standing and close relationship with the United States, the PDP-Laban – Communist Party of China co-operation projects might be an important game changer. As a former US-colony and close military ally in WW II, the Philippines have not only been important for military support by the US. The domestic political development after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship has also been a preferred area for America’s democracy and party support organizations like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the USAID, and some others from Europe. The 3.5 million Filipino Americans also played a part in keeping the relationship close and seemingly logical.
Getting closer now to the Communist Party and their cadre training must come as a shock and disappointment to all who thought the Philippines were a pillar for Western interests in Southeast Asia, not to speak of Obama’s pivot to Asia. PDP-Laban is certainly not really close to Communist ideology, but flexible enough to cooperate with the CPC, a party maybe no longer that close to traditional Communist ideology either, but well organized and efficient in cadre training.

Cambodia’s Commune Elections – Final Results Not Really Glorious for the CPP


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Hun Sen’s once famous iron grip on power is increasingly showing fatigue. Ruling as Prime Minister for 32 years and approaching a normal retirement age of 65 coming August, Hun Sen is by no means prepared to give up, and certainly not inclined to see the main opposition party CNRP take over. The official results of the 4 June commune elections have just been released by the National Election Committee, and the Prime Minister’s reactions are telling.
Driving his potential personal nemesis, long-term CNRP leader and rival Sam Rainsy into exile by debatable accusations and convictions, Hun Sen has once again pulled out all authoritarian campaign stops by threatening turmoil and civil war in case the CNRP would win. There were also reports that truckloads of soldiers were sent into “shaky” constituencies to tip the scale in favour of the ruling CPP. But, and that is not self-evident, the election was overall peaceful and well organised.
The results show at the surface a dominant ruling party but the details are not promising for a continued dominance in the 2018 general election.

Despite all the intimidation, the popular vote difference between CPP and CNRP, 50.8% to 43.8% or just 7%, is not really a fantastic victory for the ruling party and PM Hun Sen. His campaign rhetoric, to be fair, has probably been influenced by the self-predicted chances of the CNRP to win and take over the communes, especially the continuing provocative statements of Sam Rainsy in exile. All that can be taken as election and campaign fever which happens often enough anywhere.
The signs, however, that Hun Sen feels “touché” are coming up now after the official results are finally out.

Even for a battle-hardened politician like Mr Hun Sen who has never been known for velvet gloves and mincing his words, his statements during the last few days sound extraordinary. On 21 June, during an emotional re-enactment of his crossing over to Vietnam and defecting from the Khmer Rouge in 1977, the Prime Minister “suddenly took a sharp turn in his mood to quell any confusion about his recent warnings of renewed (civil) war and appeared to directly threaten to kill present-day political opponents. “Your tongues will be the motive for the war,” Hun Sen said, in an apparent reference to the opposition. “If you all keep talking about insults and the threats to kill, you all must prepare your coffins already.”
(The Phnom Penh Post 22 June, LINK)

But the ageing battle horse also proves to draw correct conclusions from the progress of Cambodia’s opposition. Since all including the drastic coffin threats don’t seem to be reliably effective, Hun Sen has started to look into the shortcomings of his own CPP. In a speech on 26 June at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, he criticised the arrogance of power of CPP office holders: “The people’s dissatisfaction stems from our behaviour,” and “Please pay attention to your wives and children.” (The Cambodia Daily, 27 June. LINK)
The Prime Minister mentioned several cases where wives or children of higher officials had been saved from judicial prosecution despite severe offences. Impunity of those in power is always causing resentment among the voters, especially in a country where status symbols like big villas and big SUVs are easily equated with the political upper-class among the CPP members.

The 2018 parliamentary election will show whether threats and self-criticism can save the ruling party for another term. The younger generations (the median age is 24!) have no memories of and little interest in the bloody Khmer Rouge past of Cambodia. But they need jobs and career perspectives and may set their hopes more on the CNRP and its liberal economic programs than on the CPP with its old-fashioned image and ageing leadership.

 

How Stable or Fragile is Southeast Asia?


Partyforumseasia: Are there any fragile states in Southeast Asia? The domestic and intra-regional perceptions may be more positive or optimistic than a world-wide comparative index with a comprehensive set of indicators. The “Fragile State Index 2017”, just published by the Washington based non-governmental research institute Fund for Peace (FFP), provides a ranking of roughly 180 countries. The Scandinavian countries, Finland with 178th place as the most stable,  plus Switzerland rank on top, and South Sudan and Somalia are the most fragile states as no. 1 and 2.

For Southeast Asia the picture looks like follows:


The indicators for this ranking are well defined and tested for many years, details can be found on the FFP website: www.fundforpeace.org

Fragile States Indicators

The index is a reminder that on top of lingering issues between some neighboring countries, there are serious stability problems within the states which form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This can only confirm the importance and central role of ASEAN in fostering cohesion and mutual support for the common stability of the region. The political process and the responsibility of political parties, on the other hand, are central for the internal stability of the member states.

PS: Stability in political terms can change rather fast. The ranking for the United States as no. 160 looks somewhat overrated after the tumultuous start of the Trump administration…

 

 

 

 

PAS Malaysia – No Cooperation With The Infidels


Partyforumseasia: Today, Monday 2d May 2017, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has wrapped up its 63d convention in Kedah, Northern Malaysia, close to the Thai border. With 800,000 members PAS is the country’s second=biggest political party after UMNO with 3.2 million, and also the second biggest Malay Muslim party after UMNO. Originally a split-off from UMNO, PAS has been the more religiously conservative movement, but the two parties’ competition for devout voters has pushed both of them increasingly towards a visible Islamization and Arabization. During a separate women’s wing assembly at the convention, some participants were wearing “niqabs” or face veils, while head scarves are mandatory for many years already.
Party leader Hadi Awang (69) is a Muslim cleric who has studied in Medina and Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and heads the party since 2002. During the convention, his religious and political message was absolutely clear. He told the 1,200 delegates that “aligning Islam in one’s self would save the country”, and debunked politics that are “liberal, pragmatic and secular”. That reminds somehow of the Middle Eastern slogan “Islam is the solution” which so far has not yielded much progress there. But Hadi’s domination of the convention and the party has a number of immediate and important repercussions for Malaysia’s domestic politics:  

  1. PAS is pushing a reform of the Shariah courts, a religious justice system parallel to the general judiciary of Malaysia. Hudud law has been enacted in the federal states of Kelantan and Terengganu, but so far, since it is supposed to be against the constitution of the federation it has not been implemented fully. The Sharia courts are limited to imposing fines, jail terms and caning. Hadi’s  private member bill asks for harsher penalties like up to ten years prison and 100 lashes with the rattan cane. These would affect only Muslims, but the bill (RU355) meets criticism and resistance from the minorities, especially the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP). In the screenshot above from Star TV, Hadi is saying: “How can we agree with people who want to go against Islam?”
  2. In practical terms that means that the DAP as former partner in the now defunct opposition coalition is no longer acceptable for any form of cooperation and that PAS will open a “third bloc” for the widely anticipated general election which Prime Minister Najib might call any time this year, and as long as the opposition is as disunited as it is.
  3. Feeling strong, PAS will compete in 80 constituencies, like UMNO predominantly in the rural areas with devout Muslim voters and small precinct, whereas the opposition parties DAP and PKR have better chances in the urban environment. PAS expects to win up to 40 seats, up from 14 now.
  4. For the UMNO-led ruling National Front coalition (Barisan Nasional or BN), the PAS decision is extremely positive. BN can avoid direct competition with a united opposition, and three-cornered fights would badly reduce the chances of the opposition to topple the government.
  5. For Malaysians and observers, the flirtation between PAS and UMNO is difficult to analyze. For PAS it would make more sense if UMNO, as it has done with the BN component parties, would allocate them a certain number of seats in the many constituencies where the opposition has no chance to win. But PM Najib has wavered in his support for the Hudud bill and has the upper hand already with the “third bloc” solution anyway.
    Rumors about a secret alliance between UMNO and PAS have made it to the courts already. Hadi Awang is suing the Sarawak Report website in a London court for defamation: “The suit is over a claim in the article that RM90 million was “reckoned” to have entered the accounts of top PAS leaders to woo them into supporting Umno and the Barisan Nasional.” (LINK). And the party has already collected donations for the legal costs during the convention.
  6. The separation from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the party of former ally Anwar Ibrahim who is still serving a prison term, has been high on the convention agenda and adopted unanimously. Unfortunately for PAS, it would mean its retreat from the state government of Selangor, the richest federal state, which PAS rules together with PKR and DAP. Pulling out would have opened the doors for the PAS-splinter Parti Amanah Negara which represents the more moderate wing against the Hadi-led “ulamas” or conservative Muslims.-  Hesitatingly, the official decision has been postponed, and the Syura Council as highest decision-making body of PAS will announce it in due course.
  7. Conclusion: On the colorful background display of Malaysia’s Muslim movement, the PAS convention has created a couple of new developments in the running-up to the next general election. The highlighting of religious differences and corresponding political animosities is not auguring well for the unity of the country but signaling political risks for the future.

Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Election Showdown


Partyforumseasia: According to the World Population Report, Indonesia’s capital hasJakarta el 1 more than ten million inhabitants. The local media count more than seven million eligible voters for the second round of the gubernatorial election which has started this morning, Wednesday, 19th April. In the early afternoon, private polls report a small lead for the former education minister Anies Baswedan over incumbant  Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or “Ahok”. Ahok was considered to win the election easily after taking over from president Jokowi after the latter moved to the presidential palace in 2014. Ahok was known as a decisive administrator, cleaning up the mega-city in many ways, but somewhat arrogant and brash which does not go well with the traditional Javanese politeness. But the decisive setback was the lawsuit for blasphemy under Articles 156 and 156a of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) , started by his enemies. In September 2016, Ahok had discounted claims that the Quran forbids the election of Christians and Jews to public office, and Ahok is in a double minority role as ethnic Chinese and Christian. Since the case is still pending, Ahok faced a severe handicap in his campaign, though his efficiency as governor has kept him a strong following. But the controversy and the  huge rallies organized by powerful conservative Muslim organizations have divided the Jakarta electorate, so that the voter turnout today is expected to exceed the 77% of the first round in February. Security measures are tight, under the threat of Muslim zealots intimidating Muslim Ahok supporters, more than 60,000 policemen are deployed around the polling centers.

Beside the outburst of religious sentiments on an unprecedented level, the religious parties being not too successful otherwise, this election is also highlighting other peculiarities in the dynamic political development of Indonesia’s democracy . Like in most countries in Southeast Asia, money politics and vote buying are rather common. The Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has warned against smear campaigns and vote-buying attempts, while numerous such violations are already under investigation. For the poorer voters it can start with staple food donations which are disguised as religious alms giving, but money is changing hands as well, and the manipulation attempts can reach practically all the 13, 034 polling stations.
The Indonesian Corruption Watch, many NGO’s, and of course the political parties behind the candidates, try to monitor the election process and have set up hotlines for reports by the public. Final and official results are not expected before end of the month.

False Hope for the Alliance of Hope?


Partyforumseasia: 

With the wild rumors swirling about an early date for the next general election in Malaysia, everybody wonders about the chances of the opposition to win in its third attempt. 2008 and 2013 saw important advances against the ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional or BN) coalition, but the gerrymandered election system, expensive gifts to certain voter groups, clever fear mongering, and insufficient co-ordination among the opposition parties kept UMNO and BN comfortably in power.

Prime minister Najib Razak, who is also president of UMNO, quite shrewdly managed to dismantle the People’s Pact (Pakatan Rakyat or PR) by eliminating its leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, probably the only politician who could unite the opposition. The seventy-year-old leading figure of the People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat), is still in jail with a controversial conviction for sodomy and banned from politics for five years. For the ruling BN coalition, the end of the Pakatan Rakyat in 2015 was a dream come true.

PM Najib, in the meantime, had other dangerous problems. The 1MDB financial scandal with billions disappeared from this state fund and hundreds of millions discovered in the prime minister’s private accounts would have led to his resignation or unseating in most other political systems. Not so in Malaysia. With remarkable cold blood and chutzpah, Najib has not only survived the storm so far but cemented his leadership in party and coalition as well.

But the opposition is reorganizing itself as well. And 91-year-old veteran politician and former long-term prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is playing an interesting role in this new game. He has left UMNO and started a new party, the United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia or PPBM) and just joined the new opposition coalition, the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan).
This new coalition unites now four opposition parties, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Chinese-dominated party with a socialist approach, the National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara), a splinter from Islamist PAS, and Mahathir’s PPBM as newest member since 20 March. The PH coalition is planning to optimize its forces by campaigning with a common logo and without competing against each other in any constituency.

With PAS keeping a hostile distance toward Pakatan Harapan because of the “anti-Malay” DAP and the “renegade” Amanah, the opposition has lost a former ally with a stable number of seats in the national parliament. The BN coalition of UMNO and twelve component parties holds 132 of the 222 seats. To oust BN and PM Najib, the opposition would need at least 112 seats. This looks like a tall order at the moment, up from 75 in the sitting parliament.

The next general election is formally only due by August 2018, but in the British tradition, the prime minister can call it earlier at his discretion and sense of opportunity. Najib is obviously playing the guessing game for all, has started the BN campaign machinery, and, most importantly, has survived the financial scandal so far with gaining more strength and power in his own party and coalition. His power to fire any internal critic and any civil servant or legal office bearer, and his grip on the government’s and the party’s cash flows, make him look more or less unbeatable. Large parts of the population, especially his Malay vote banks, seem to be relatively unfazed by the financial scandal, and the new proximity with PAS and its Islamist hudud (Muslim criminal punishments) project makes it even more difficult for the opposition.

But no election victory is ever guaranteed. With all the instruments in his hand, from the Election Commission to the money supply and distribution, the prime minister may still be feel too sure about winning. If the Pakatan Harapan coalition manages to unite and avoid all three cornered fights, and, of course, find the appropriate central message to the voters, nothing can be excluded.

Hun Sen vs Sam Rainsy: The Double Emergency Brake?


Partyforumseasia: The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CRNP) has come under the threat of being dissolved by an imminent amendment of the party law introduced by the Prime Minister, and targeting parties led by “convicted criminals”. Both CNRP leaders, Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha, are being prosecuted in a series of rather dubious lawsuits for alleged “crimes” from adultery to defamation, and Sam Rainsy has already chosen self-exile in France to avoid imprisonment at home. His resignation as party leader last Saturday leads to the following question:

Is the resignation his emergency brake to save the party from being dissolved by the Hun Sen government, or is it Hun Sen’s emergency brake to prevent the opposition CNRP from growing too strong and unseating him in the upcoming election?

Cambodia CompromisePower struggles are normal in political systems where elections can make a difference, and long-term leaders like Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is in office since 1985, with all the sweeping powers he can enjoy, are normally not easily tired and preparing for retirement, though turning 65 this year.
His ferocious fight against the CNRP and its two leading figures, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, plus many of the other members of parliament during the last months, reveals an unusual determination to destroy the opposition once and for all.
From his presumable point of view, Hun Sen’s frustration with Sam Rainsy and the CNRP, it is not completely unjustified. There is a tangible groundswell against the ruling CPP, especially among the younger Cambodians who are tired of Hun Sen’s authoritarian policies and the corruption of the establishment. And the CNRP has enjoyed great popularity among the neglected masses who are widely excluded from economic progress, especially in the rural areas where especially Kem Sokha is a very appealing speaker. Sam Rainsy is not a timid character mincing his words, on the contrary, he likes to harp on how his party will take over. So Hun Sen is probably regretting to have facilitated Rainsy’s return from exile just before the 2013 election and his welcoming handshake.
And to answer the second part of the initial question whether Rainsy intends to protect the party by stepping down: He certainly has this intention, but very probably not for giving up his ambition to be the next prime minister of Cambodia.

Voter Turnout Declining – Especially Among Young Voters


Partyforumseasia: International IDEA in Stockholm has published a survey on changes in voter turnout in December 2016. This is an issue of great importance to all political parties which have to compete against other parties even if the playing field is not even. “Bringing the votes out” is the internal battle cry in most election campaigns. Without mobilizing your own supporters and sympathizers it is difficult to win a democratic election or survive as a party.
Many political parties try to establish a vote bank of citizens who support them as regularly as possible. But voter decisions are predominantly less rational than emotional and decisions often change before and in the polling stations.
In the European context, ideologically based parties have been on the decline for decades already. Communists, Social Democrats, and Christian Democrats are struggling everywhere, while new movements and protest parties, like the Greens or the new Nationalists are thriving. Leadership is still a most important factor for electoral success, but some developments in voter turnout surveys reported by IDEA should be taken seriously. One rather striking is the low turnout of young voters:

voters-by-age

Despite debates in many countries to lower the voting age to 16 years, the first generations of “digital natives” seem to be less attracted by party politics and elections, maybe because their reading habits are not focusing that much on mainstream media and their reporting on politics any more. According to other surveys, a growing number of people find more of their information demand on social media rather than on newspapers and TV. If it is an overall trend it would give more voting power to the older generations and consequently nudge ruling parties and governments into showering the pensioners with promises and benefits.

The highly recommendable IDEA brochure is available online free of charge at the following Link:

 

 

How Many Parties???


Partyforumseasia: The last edition of the British News Magazine “The Economist“, January 14th, runs two articles on the ideal number of parties in a parliament. The first one comes with the headline “More choice is a good thing, but within limits”, the second one focuses on the ever more splintered party landscapes in Europe with the headline “That means better representation but clunkier governance”. (LINK)
econoIn contrast to the widespread proportional systems on the European continent, the UK has had little experience with coalitions (conservatives and LibDems under PM Cameron after 2010 are not a good example). The British First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) majoritarian system is probably no longer reflecting the cleavages in the society, and the successful years of ideological parties like Labour and other Socialists are even more outdated.

Now, what does the number of political parties mean in Southeast Asia? And does it have an impact on good or bad governance?
For a start, here is a comparison of the numbers:
number-of-parties

 

 

 

 

 

 

In general, the electoral processes reduce the number of political parties in the parliaments of Southeast Asia but don’t prevent smaller parties or independent candidates to enter. With the maturation of the political systems and the better informed electorate, parties everywhere feel some pressure to accommodate competition and opposition one way or the other.

The “other” way can be seen in Cambodia, where a ruling party under strongman Hun Sen feels threatened by a more united opposition or in Malaysia under similar circumstances. Since the old ways of buying over the voters are not safe enough, the strategy at hand is simply destroying the opposition leaders by physical intimidation and series of dubious lawsuits.

Indonesia has made regulatory efforts to keep the number of parties manageable. In a political culture where leaders, and especially rich ones for that matter, are more important than ideologies or party programs, that is quite an achievement. The enormous flexibility of parties and politicians in this country helps to bridge differences and create sufficient support for the president, who, of course, has jobs and positions to offer in return.

Laos and Vietnam are the remaining Communist one-party-systems, but they are increasingly forced to accommodate dissent for economic reasons. Vietnam is more advanced than Laos, a more open system to observe as paradigm for slowly growing pluralism.

Malaysia has many parties but too many among them are mere component parties, 12 of them are subsidiaries of the dominant United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is seen by a majority of Malaysians as abusing money politics to stay in power. The ongoing scandal about  vanished billions involving the Prime Minister underlines the suspicions.

Myanmar struggles with her ethnic division and cleavages and is in the beginning of her democratic self-finding process, but the towering popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi has solved the party problem in the parliament by giving her National League for Democracy an absolute  majority of nearly 60%.

The Philippines has a vibrant party scene which does not play a big role, though, because in the presidential system the elected president can count on more than enough party hopping MPs to join him.

Singapore is an interesting case insofar as founding a party is relatively easy, but winning a seat in parliament is rather difficult. Decades of a dominant People’s Action Party (PAP) rule with good results for most citizens have left little space for opposition parties which have no chance to prove that they have administrative skills. Since only the Worker’s Party has made it into the parliament, the PAP-government has introduced a pseudo or ersatz opposition in the form of “nominated MPs” to enrich the debates, and “Non-constituency MPs” as consolation prize for the best losers among opposition candidates.

Thailand has not yet found her balance between democratic aspirations, traditional money politics and military interventionism. Many doubt that the coming new constitution, supervised by the army, will bring at last political stability to the country.

Comparing the increasing fragmentation of the European party scenes with the situation in Southeast Asia yields rather ambivalent assessments:

1. Voter turnout higher in representative systems? The level of politicization and polarization, as well as parties or candidates seem to be more important.

2. Big parties more disciplined than coalitions? Depends probably more on leadership and availability of lucrative positions and funding.

3. Splintering can foster graft? No difference between one-party systems and coalitions, the Southeast Asian way of mixing politics and business is too conducive to corruption.

4. Coalition governments more expensive because they have more mouths to feed? In Malaysia certainly, but all governments have to stay in power and pay to satisfy their clientele.

5. Strange bedfellows in coalitions? Sure, but bigger parties are anything but close to homogeneous.

6. Party membership on the decline? That depends very much on what membership can offer. 3 1/2 million members in Malaysia’s UMNO alone show that members join if they can expect rewards.

7. New policies need new parties to champion them? Not really a successful model in Southeast Asia. New parties normally cannot promise much and deliver even less.

Conclusion: There is not much to learn from European party concepts in Southeast Asia where they were adopted only superficially. Level playing fields are rare and voters are realistically going for governments who can be expected to deliver more.

Ideologies and party programs have lost their appeal in Europe but were never important in Southeast Asia.

Final Blow for Cambodian Opposition?


Partyforumseasia:  In a democratic system, dealing with the opposition is not easy. They might win the next election and take over the spoils of power. If you are the ruling party or coalition and used to all the goodies, it is self-evident that you will do everything to prevent being voted out – if you don’t have to fear an independent judiciary…
Southeast Asian ruling parties are practicing remarkable tactics to stay in power and keep the opposition at more than arms length.

With the Malaysian example, PM Najib weathering the storm of the 1MDB financial scandal in which he is personally involved, domestically unscathed and nearly without blinking, Camobodia’s ruling CPP and PM Hun Sen are following suit with rather similar recipes.

Cambodia Compromise

No more handshake

Political weapon No. 1 is the law. Since charismatic opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been neutralized by consecutive prison terms, the same is now happening to Cambodia’s charismatic opposition leader Sam Rainsy. Living already in self-imposed exile in France to avoid imprisonment for an earlier conviction, he has just been sentenced to another five years in absentia.
Superfluous to add that all these convictions are more than dubious. At least they have a little bit of legitimate veneer, though not too many voters would buy it. But the Cambodian government  is using physical violence as well, opposition MP’s and Senators being brutally beaten up in full daylight in front of Parliament as reported by Partyforumseasia earlier. Malaysia, at least, is already a step ahead and refrains from un-elegant use of force. But neutralizing the opposition by imprisonment is still a scandal!

For details of the sentence see the following two articles in
The Cambodia Daily:
CNRP President Sam Rainsy Sentenced to a Further Five Years in Prison (LINK) and
Jail Time Piles Up for Sam Rainsy (LINK)

 

The Same Jinn in Two Bottles?


Partyforumseasia: Indonesia and Malaysia, the two Muslim majority but multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in Southeast Asia are playing with fire.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Indonesia: “The rally against Mr Basuki has thrust issues of race and religion to the forefront of the upcoming gubernatorial election, turning it into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.” (Jakarta Post, 2 December 2016, LINK)

rally-from-videoAfter a first rally on 4 November against gubernatorial candidate Basuki aka Ahok for alleged blasphemy had turned violent at the end, the Indonesian government was more cautious on 2 December. The rally had not been permitted but changed into a mass Friday prayer with more than 500.000 (!!!) participants. Massive security presence, timing in the morning, and the participation of President Jokowi may have prevented worse, but “double minority” candidate Ahok, who is Christian and Chinese, has seen his re-election prospects gliding from clear front-runner to nearly hopeless. Demonstrators are asking for Ahok to be imprisoned though judicial procedures are on the way whether his remarks in a campaign speech were blasphemous or not. Similar rallies were held not only in Jakarta but other places as far away as South Sulawesi or North Sumatra. Religious police-at-rallyemotions are boiling over and getting more difficult to control, putting a jinn back into the bottle is famously difficult.  The authorities, though, have to be commended for skillfully controlling the crowds. Police officers nearly blended with the protesters if they only could hide their boots

But the turmoil is not only about the Jakarta governor, religion and blasphemy. On a different level there is a fight against President Jokowi and his reformist government. Described by political scientist Leo Suryadinata as “Indonesia’s ideological war”  between entrenched interests and reformists (Straits Times, 2 December). As a proof how serious this struggle is, seven opponents to the Jokowi administration have been detained on the same Friday for allegedly trying to exploit the anti-Ahok rally to overthrow the government. The most prominent among the seven is Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of the country’s first president Soekarno and younger sister of former president and chair of the PDI-P party, Megawati Soekarnoputri, who supports Jokowi. For the president himself it is a delicate issue because the embattled candidate was his deputy when he was governor of Jakarta himself, and Megawati and her PDI-P are his indispensable political allies and partners.

Malaysia: With cold blood, chutzpah and by firing his party-internal critics, Prime Minister Najib has – so far – survived the enormous pressure of the 1MDB corruption scandal and his personal financial involvement in it. Compared to the 2008 and 2013 election results, dreams have come true for the ruling and dominating UMNO party and its president Najib. Najib is unchallenged in his party, and the opposition, after winning the popular vote in 2013 without getting a majority in parliament, is emasculated to unprecedented levels. After opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison on dubious sodomy charges again, any bonding among the old opposition forces seems more than improbable, and, even worse, UMNO has managed to oblige the Malay Islamist PAS party to move closer to the government by supporting its motion to further empower the Shariah Courts, a parallel judiciary line.
As usual, though, there is also more shadow where the light increases. By its corrupt image and ubiquitous money politics, UMNO has lost much support among the Non-Malays, whose Chinese, Indian, and racially mixed component parties in the broad National Front Coalition (Barisan Nasional)  are weakening towards insignificance. It is too obvious for many Malaysians that they have been thriving on generous handouts from the UMNO governments and cozy arrangements for guaranteed mandates. Taking these smaller parties for granted and as guarantors of comfortable government majorities may turn out to be a strategic mistake. As appendices and dogsbodies of UMNO they are more and more losing appeal. But sizable parts of the Malay population are also turning away from UMNO, and not all disenchanted Malay voters feel comfortable with conservative and Islamist PAS.
What remedy has magician Najib in his sleeves? The five day general assembly, ending 3 December, brought together 5.732 delegates from the roughly 3.5 million membership. PM Najib and his deputy in both leadership functions Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are being endorsed by all wings of the party, general, women, young women, and youth. But despite all the positive sides of the party’s current situation the mood sounds defensive. With auxiliary voters from the minority races no longer dependable enough, UMNO is scolding the component parties for not working hard enough. And what is probably even less convincing for them is the support for the PAS hardliners’ Shariah motion. The more UMNO harps on religious issues and the Malay Muslim identity the more its minority supporters will develop doubts. And one of the 191 division chiefs, Jamal Yunos, copies the infamous Thai “red shirts” to fight the “yellow shirt” Bersih (clean) campaign against corruption and election manipulations. But the most worrying messages from this convention are the warnings against the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which would threaten decades of pro-Malay policies and Malay privileges  if they should come to power. That, of course, is anything but imminent. The Election Commission has already heavily gerrymandered the precincts in favor of rural Malay UMNO voters against the urban majority. So, though due only in 2018, the general election will be called soon as PM Najib announced during the convention. The racial and religious overtones of UMNO’s policies are certainly not conducive for the racial and religious harmony  the country needs. On top, the progressive “Arabisation today is in fact a worrying trend” (Sociologist Syed Farid Alatas, LINK), even more so in view of the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia and the rampant radicalization of Malaysian and Indonesian believers.

In both countries alike, playing racial and religious cards is extremely dangerous. That UMNO and its president want to stay in power and will defend their dominance by all means is understandable. But doubts about the long-term effects and the stability of the country especially in the era of international jihad are more than justified.

The witch-hunt against Jakarta governor Ahok and the underlying power struggle between vested interests and reformers fanning religious passions is equally playing with fire. Both countries are jeopardizing the multi-racial and multi-religious social equilibrium and open the doors for passions and violence. It is difficult to gauge how far the jinn is out of the bottle but it will be impossible to get it totally back.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Indonesia: Golkar’s Power Games and the Chairman’s Chain of Scandals


Partforumseasia: Golkar leader Setya Novanto returns as speaker of parliament despite his corrupt image.novanto

As “Party of the Functional Groups” (Partai Golongan Karya) Golkar was transformed  from a sort of NGO coalition into an electoral machine and power base of President Suharto. It was the ruling party of Indonesia from 1973 to 1999 with deep roots in practically all aspects of governance and statehood, down to the last  village, and of course, with much “experience” in state and private sector finances.

After the fall of Suharto and the begin of the democratic era, Golkar had to struggle for survival, but connections and political skills helped a lot. In the presidential election 2014 and under the leadership of business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie, Golkar supported the wrong candidate  and landed in the opposition. But experience and power instinct are bringing the party step by step closer to President Jokowi and his ruling coalition. Former presidential candidate Prabowo is not amused but as the loser no longer useful for Golkar.

Corruption 4This pragmatic move in itself is normal party politics. No political party volunteers for an opposition role if it can avoid it. And Golkar’s new leader since May this year, Setya Novanto, is back as speaker of Parliament since 21 November. The little problem with this resurrection is that he had to resign from this post less than a year ago after a major corruption scandal involving a big mining company and allegations that he was asking for a 20% kickback. As former treasurer of his party, Novanto seems to have valuable financial skills, useful for the party but as well for himself. What the New York Times called “A Watergate Moment for Indonesia” (LINK) is being closely observed and investigated by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the Indonesia Corruption Watch (LINK), and the Ethics Council of the Parliament.  Gresnews, a publication focusing on Indonesian legal and political issues, called it “Setya Novanto´s Chain of Scandals” on 17 November (LINK).

Strategy-wise: The broader picture of Indonesia’s complex domestic political scene shows good reasons for President Jokowi to accept Golkar and its controversial leader in his coalition. Golkar as the second biggest party in Parliament adds ninety-one MPs to the President’s Great Indonesia Coalition and finally dismantles the  Red and White Coalition of Gerindra leader Prabowo, the 2014 presidential loser. What took only days and weeks after the presidential election in the Philippines by simple party-switching of hundreds of members of Parliament to join Rodrigo Duterte‘s house majority, has been much more difficult in Indonesia and took about two years.
For the Golkar leadership it was a long overdue step to leave the Red and White Coalition and give up its loyalty toward Prabowo who cannot provide any power perspective in the foreseeable future.
Another serious and festering domestic problem is the turmoil around the upcoming gubernatorial election in Jakarta. Protests against incumbent and long time front runner Basuki aka Ahok. He is under investigation for blasphemy after referring to the Koran in a campaign speech. In his double minority position as Chinese and Christian, Ahok may attract attacks from Islamists as well as from enemies of President Jokowi, whose deputy he was during his time as governor of Jakarta. A first big demonstration against Ahok turned unusually violent on 4 November, and another rally is to be staged on Friday, 2 November. More violence would be seen as a weakness of President Jokowi’s government.

Electing Robin Hoods? The Voting Power of the Left Behind


Partyforumseasia: The presidential election in the United States has shown new levels of campaign spending. While Jeb Bush burned “only”  130 million $ without getting anything back, Hillary Clinton spent more tan 700 million $ on her campaign robin_shoots_with_sir_guy_by_louis_rhead_1912(Bloomberg, LINK). Donald Trump managed to win with a much smaller budget. Is this signalling that money is getting less important than the right target group? That a sort of Robin Hood candidate has better chances than big money? And what could that mean for the widespread addiction to money politics in Southeast Asia?

Francis Fukuyama, in an analysis  in Foreign Affairs (LINK) on 9 November, summarizes Donald Trump‘s victory success as follows: “He has identified two very real problems in American politics: increasing inequality, which has hit the old working class very hard, and the capture of the political system by well-organized interest groups.”

Let us look into some examples from our region where inequality is the norm:

In Thailand, especially in the North and Northeast, the farming population is similarly left behind or much worse than the old working class in America. With generous Thaksinhandouts and promises they were easy to be nudged into securing billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s and his sister’s victories which eventually triggered military coupsAnd the country’s many other billionaires were not just looking on but actively manipulating the political market place as well.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised could be mobilized though Thaksin was not exactly a Robin Hood type, but old “Bangkok” elite and military managed to stem the tide.

In the Philippines, landed family dynasties with their private armies, coercion and patronage, have monopolized political power over most of the rural areas and remote islands since independence. The recent surprise election of maverick candidateDuterte Rodrigo Duterte who won against all the money of the traditional elites, is probably due to better information of the poor and an advanced election system run by the Commission on Elections.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised masses have made it against elites and oligarchs, President Duterte  is seen as their Robin Hood and champion . As a former American colony, the Philippines is more similar to the US than other countries in the region.

In Malaysia, due to a sophisticated patronage system controlled by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and a heavily gerrymandered election system, the left behind rural population provides the necessary majorities in the federal parliament.This vote bank, conservative Muslim Malays, as well as the public service, is being kept loyal by generous government handouts and the promise to safeguard theNajib Nov. Malay dominance against the Chinese and Indian minorities as it is enshrined in the constitution. The rural Malays’ loyalty seems rather  unshakeable despite  the rampant political corruption, culminating in the 1MDB scandal with billions disappearing from a sovereign wealth fund and hundreds of millions being found in the prime minister’s private accounts. Without radical changes in the electoral system the ruling party looks almost unassailable.
Conclusion: The ruling coalition has lost the popular vote but still enjoys decisive majorities in parliament, so it can be seen as a tactical and selective Robin Hood variety.

Indonesia has made remarkable progress in the development of her democratic procedures and institutions since the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998. But the huge Jokowiarchipelago has more than enough left behind rural areas and rural poor. The divided party landscape is characterized much more by rich and therefore winnable candidates and rich “party owners” than by programs and principles. Apart from ethnic and religious cleavages, money politics is a decisive factor in elections and governance.
Conclusion: President Joko Widodo was an outsider candidate who made it against the moneyed elites in the 2014 election. But the wannabe Robin Hoods are probably the Islamists.

Vietnam, one of the last communist one-party systems in the world, has developed quite interesting features of checks on party apparatchiks and performance of the party branches. But entrepreneurial space of maneuvering remains limited and the ruling party is still the best jumping board to get ahead. Competition for power positions and bribing in the widest sense are rampant. Whether daily corruption has been reduced by party policies is a question under debate.
Conclusion: The Robin Hoods by communist definition are in reality not helping the left behind.

The outlier in the regional comparison remains Singapore with very high ratings in rule of law, control of corruption, and good governance. As a city state there is no rural hinterland, but the economic development has of course left behind some groups which are targeted by social programs like housing and health care subsidies and many more. The political competition is not decided by money, but the ruling party, with support of its track record and the well organized administration, could increasingly contain protest votes and win elections.
Conclusion: The ruling party has skilfully institutionalized Robin Hood elements and shows its concern for the left behind in numerous support programs.

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)

 

 

 

“Unpopularity Contests” or What Type of Leaders Do We Deserve…


pres-chair-sg

Who should sit here?

Partyforumseasia: Nurturing Good Political Leaders and Character Screening for Candidates – an Unusual Debate about “Presidential Material” in Singapore:

Foreign Policy, in: Battleground ’16, 15 September ( LINK ) calls it “Unpopularity Contest“. Election campaigns, in the US and elsewhere, come with a lot of dirty tricks, heaps of dubious funds, and increasingly dubious candidates. If they are popular, they are called populist, which is supposed to be a negative qualification but remains rather fuzzy one. The Trump-Clinton trumpclinton2competition is alienating sensible citizens who think that both do not deserve their vote,  as if the image of politicians and political parties was not bad enough already. Political gurus say it is not a crisis of democracy as such, but more people than ever are fed up with corruption, mud slinging, eternal infighting and bickering in and between the parties, and all too often impunity of their errant leaders.

In Southeast Asia, cultural traditions and social norms of avoiding open conflict and face-saving attitudes in difficult situations should provide a less antagonistic picture on the media surface. But the name of the game is power politics like everywhere else, sometimes skillfully hidden behind a smoke screen or the traditional shadow play dutertenajibscreen. Here are some examples:

– In Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak is fighting against the fallout of a huge financial scandal and tries to save his own skin as well as the patronage system on which the dominance of his ruling party is based. The electorate is more divided than ever.

– In the Philippines the new president Rodrigo Duterte, who won with a landslide margin in May, is already under heavy pressure from political enemies and human rights groups for his crime busting trademark and alleged personal participation in the extralegal killing of criminals and drug dealers.

– In Thailand a military coup has created a semblance of political and social calm after the earlier multi-party system had led to years of crippling controversy close to civil war.

– In Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peoples’Party are so insecure about their continuing grip on power that they are all out to destroy the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party with law suits, defamation and violent intimidation.

So far the regional backdrop. In stark contrast to the dominance of violent power struggles and aggression in the regional and international political arenas there is a small island state, sheltered from taifuns, earthquakes and other common natural disasters. Singapore‘s hegemonic People’s Action Party (PAP) enjoys uninterrupted rule since independence 51 years ago. Regular elections are sufficiently free and reasonably fair in terms of registration of parties and access to elections, though, like in other (British) First-Past-The-Post electoral systems the playing field is not even. But the dominance of the PAP against a splintered and weak opposition is also based on good governance, control of corruption, a carefully balanced communication strategy with growing participatory and nudging policy implementation, as well as the successful creation and maintenance of a conducive economic environment.

A review of the elected presidency, a widely ceremonial office but also called “the second key” because the president is supposed to safeguard the republic’s financial reserves against a potentially spendthrift and less responsible parliament is on the way. One of the reasons for a review are the eligibility requirements which would formally qualify many more candidates if not updated. In the 2011 election a former PAP member of parliament, running as an independent, came dangerously close to victory. The PAP’s candidate, President Tony Tan,  won with 745,693 votes against 738,311, a margin of 0.35 % only.

Singapore is now adopting many of the recommendations of the Constitutional Commission. An article in The Straits Times, 16 September, page A4, summarizes: “Potential presidential candidates will have their reputation, character and integrity assessed more stringently by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC). (…) Applicants would also be required to list any “negative incidents”, such as disciplinary proceedings by professional bodies and market regulators in and out of Singapore, bankruptcy orders, personal protection orders for family violence and whether they have been the subject of legal proceedings of any sort.” The PEC will also be enlarged to six members, one from the private sector who will assess candidates without experience in the corporate world.

One may belittle these procedures as a luxury problem of a city state already known  for exceptionally good governance and cleanliness. But after a world-wide check of the political reality, dominated by too many aggressive and power hungry alpha males and females in leadership roles, caring about old fashioned personal qualities like character and integrity cannot be dismissed as naive. Ambition is necessary in politics, but especially in Southeast Asia’s predominant money-politics-model it can be more dangerous than we want.
Many political parties in the region would be well advised to think about character if they really care about their country and the citizens.

 

Reprint free of charge, copy requested!

 

Mixing the Cards Anew in Malaysia’s Power Game?


Partyforumseasia: Malaysia’s political landscape has seen enough dramatic maneuvers but the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has withstood the storms so far with the First-Past-The-Post election system and heavy gerrymandering in the narrowly won federal election in 2013, but also with the help of a widespread and costly patronage system. Prime Minister and UMNO President Najib Razak is under growing pressure with the 1MDB financial scandal after nearly 700 najib-under-pressuremillion US$ were found in his personal accounts. Few Malaysians are convinced that this money was a donation of the Saudi royal family when at the same time billions of Ringgit are missing in the 1MDB sovereign wealth fund. The dubious money flows are being investigated by several countries while the domestic clearance by a hand picked Attorney General are far from whitewashing the Prime Minister in the public perception. All the missing millions, and billions in the local currency, might signal emerging problems to maintain the patronage system. Many citizens see it anyway as appalling political corruption.

With the incarceration of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, once again on alleged sodomy grounds, UMNO and its dependent coalition parties looked like having achieved their  dream of splitting and emasculating the opposition. But they have also created a number of internal and external enemies. Among the sacked, resigned or retired UMNO members who are concerned about the future of party and country, one enemy is standing out: Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003 and 91 years old, is probably the keenist and most influential political figure in the country to bring down the Prime Minister. Many accuse him of abuse of power and growing money politics during his own term, but many voters may now support his fight against Najib.

The new player: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM)

Mahathir’s latest  maneuver is the formation of a new Malay-based party which has been registered in principle by the Registry of Societies (RoS) on September 8. Cleverly avoiding a popular uproar by denying them the registration, the RoS is not really facilitating the start of the new party.  It ruled that it cannot use the word Bersatu (United) in its name because there were already six parties or organizations with this name, ironically the ruling party UMNO or Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu in Malay… Full registration will only be possible when a changed name is acceptable.
The racial orientation of the new party has been criticized, but strategy-wise it is correct. UMNO as entrenched as it is in the rural Malay constituencies can only be defeated there. The Chinese and Indian minority parties will take care of the urban voters anyway.
Another shrewd maneuver is a surprise meeting between Mahathir and his former deputy and later victim Anwar Ibrahim. handshakeThe two have not met since Anwar’s sacking in 1998, but many believe that at least a strategic reconciliation and tactical alliance between the two is possible. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a viable and common pattern in politics. Since the fall of PM Najib may trigger Anwar’s release from prison and his return into the political arena, the personal bitterness should be overcome. Anwar’s smile, handshake and their 45 minute tête-à-tête  discussion seem to signal that.

The noose around the Prime Minister’s neck looks like tightening with these domestic developments and the international financial investigations, but Najib and his faithful cronies will certainly fight on. As Partyforumseasia has argued before, they cannot concede defeat because a collapse of the patronage system would be more than a disaster for too many people involved.
PS (16.9.):
The Straits Times, Singapore,
reports that the boundaries of voting districts have been changed, which may indicate that PM Najib will call early elections before a new opposition coalition can regain strength: “The changes, so far, lend credence to the suspicion that the redistricting exercise will likely be at the opposition’s disadvantage,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian. Most changes, he said, are to the states of Perak and Selangor – home to a large number of opposition lawmakers – where “significant changes make previously safe opposition seats become marginal”. LINK

For details on UMNO’s patronage system see:
Edmund Terence Gomez, Resisting the Fall: The Single Dominant Party, Policies and Elections in Malaysia, in: Journal of Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 46, 2016, issue 4, pp. 570-590.

 

Political Leadership, Competition and Succession


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (64) had a moment of exhaustion during his National Day Rallye speech on August 21 and needed a break behind the stage to recover. The audience in the lecture hall and in front of the TV sets all over the island was scared, being so used to his marathon speeches on these Captureoccasions, delivered in Malay, the national language, Mandarin, and finally in English in a row. Lee came back to the rostrum after a while and continued his speech with a reminder that his government is working on renewal and succession – including his own. After the incident, he said to applause and with a big grin, that the problem of succession was more urgent than ever.

Singapore’s dominant party rule by the People’s Action Party (PAP) – in power since 1965 and returned with nearly 70% in the last election – has not enjoyed a very positive international media image since the more authoritarian times of the country’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew. But it is difficult to deny that the style has changed and that the city state is well governed and by far the cleanest and least corrupt in Southeast Asia. It pays its civil servants and politicians quite well, which helps to attract capable people to serve the country. But the legacy of the late Lee Kuan Yew goes beyond that material incentive. He rigorously screened candidates and stressed the importance of character in politics and public administration.

TrioThat may apply to other countries as well, while so called populists and rather “flamboyant” personalities are considered electable by majorities, say in the US or the Philippines, not to mention the dictators in other parts of the world. The bad image of politicians and political parties in most countries in Southeast Asia suggests  that instead of good character and inclination to serve   less desirable qualities are helpful in political careers. The greedy and power hungry personality types shape the public perception of politics as dirty business. As a case in point the positive outcome of the military-controlled referendum in Thailand shows the degree of the Thai people’s disappointment with corrupt political parties and their hope for a cleaner regime to come, be it under the army’s supervision.

In Malaysia, many citizens are fed up with Prime Minister Najib and the blatant money politics of his ruling coalition. But Najib, under pressure by international financial investigations for an unbelievable sum of nearly 700 m US$ which he declared a donation from the Saudi royal family, and beleaguered as he is, does not think of stepping down and has instead fired all potential successors. If he is not innocent he is remarkably cold blooded. But as Partyforumseasia has argued before, with a patronage system like UMNO’s they cannot afford to lose…

In terms of political psychology, at least in open and competitive regimes, there is a rather fine line between leadership qualities and charisma on one side and the talent to keep possible competitors at arm’s length or worse on the other side, also called killer instinct. There is still enough internal criticism of the Singapore system and the PAP. But planning and scouting for, preparing and grooming  future leaders is a feature few other regimes or parties practice or never even think about. As the 18th century French diplomat-politician Talleyrand said: The most difficult farewell in this world is the farewell from power, but an orderly handover should be more normal in democratic systems.

The succession problem in older posts:
See: How Communist Are Vietnam’s Communists? LINK