Hopefuls and Presidentiables in the Philippines


Partyforumseasia: The United States of America and the Philippines have quite a few things in common.One feature they share rather visibly at the moment is the long preparation for the next presidential election, due in the US in November 2016 and in the Philippines in May. Since President Aquino‘s term has boosted the Liberal Party, they understandably try to continue with a liberal candidate and field interior secretary Manuel Roxas. His hopes to get popular senator Grace Poe as team mate have failed since Grace Poe seems to run increasingly away in all polls and “offers herself” for the post. The Philippine Daily Enquirer praises her sensible stand on many raging issues which has earned her Poe Escuderoplaudits from the public, her clean persona and intimate connections with show biz royalty, another similarity with the USA. But with Francis Escudero, a fellow senator, as her choice of running mate she may undermine her “presidentiable” image. Escudero has a record of supporting former president Estrada who was impeached for corruption but resurfaced as mayor of Manila.
Another quite popular team of candidates is formed by vice president Jejomar Binay Binay Marcoswho is facing a corruption probe and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. , son of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos who allegedly syphoned away between five and ten billion US$ during his terms in office.
Voters in the Philippines, either a forgiving lot or cynical about their political class or both, seem to enjoy the presidential race and its entertaining aspects and don’t mind the expenses, like the American voters.

Historical links between the US and the Philippines:
The USA indirectly supported the Philippine Revolution which ended about 350 years of Spanish colonial rule by their own war against Spain in 1898.  Spain ceded the Philippines to the US for 200 million $. One of the leaders against the Spanish occupation, Emilio Aguinaldo, born in 1869 was the first president of the Philippines from 1899 to 1901.
Aguinaldo voll

The contemporary illustration in a French journal (1901) shows Aguinaldo’s capture by US forces:

But the US quickly ended the dream of independent statehood by establishing her own colonialism in 1901. Limited self-rule granted in 1935 under president Quezon was soon interrupted by the Japanese invasion, full independence came only in 1946.
The Spanish heritage is still visible in the family names and many Spanish words in the national language Tagalog. What persists from the US-rule is widespread English with local pronunciation, the presidential system and many other legal features, the education system, close military cooperation, and 3.4 million Philippinos in the US.

The Split of Parti Islam Se-Malysia (PAS)


Partyforumseasia: Founded in November 1951, PAS was itself splitting from the United Malay National Organization UMNO, but allowed dual membership in the beginning. It championed Malay and Muslim rights and the recognition of Islam as state religion which was somewhat contradicting the founding principle of Malaysia as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country with full citizenship for the massive Chinese and Indian immigration under the British colonial rule. The contradiction has festered until today and generated a party system along racial lines with UMNO and PAS competing for the Malay Muslim vote, especially in the more conservative rural areas.
The opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance consisting of Anwar Ibrahim‘s racially open Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), PAS and the Chinese dominated DAP seemed to blur the ideological divisions until PAS president Abdul Hadi‘s push to introduce Hudud (Muslim penal code regulations) in Kelantan exposed the internal fault lines in PAS and triggered the break-up of the Pakatan Rakyat.
But not all PAS members are following the hard-line Muslim clerics under Hadi Awang, the so called “ulama” faction. A minority formed the “Erdogan” faction, when the Turkish president was still considered a moderate Muslim leader, but lost all leadership posts in internal party elections earlier this year.
Splitting from PAS in big numbers now, the moderates have founded a new party under the name of “Parti Amanah Negara” (in short “Amanah” = trust or fulfilling one’s obligations in Arabic). Mat Sabu
The new party’s president Mohamad Sabu aka Mat Sabu was a deputy president of PAS since 2011 and moderate challenger of the clerical hardliners. In a statement during the launching of the party he said the new political platform is committed to continue the legacy of political Islam, but realizing that Malaysia is a country of people from diverse social and religious backgrounds, Amanah interprets Islam in a more holistic and inclusive manner. In an era of increasing Arab influence in the country a shift to moderate and more open alternatives should be welcome.

Amanah was officially launched on 17 September
with thousands of supporters attending and claiming that more than 30,000 members are  already joining, including non-Muslims and over a hundred lawyers.

With DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang also attending the meeting it is clear that the new party is most welcome to replace PAS in the opposition coalition. Amanah, though, states its openness to co-operate with PAS, but president Hadi Awang as leader of the hardliners has immediately excluded any truce with the “traitors”. Nevertheless, discussions on the rejuvenation of the opposition coalition as “Pakatan Rakyat 2.0” are underway with PKR and DAP, because without the massive remaining membership potential of the old PAS there is no chance of ousting UMNO and its coalition partners from their entrenched power position, despite the extreme pressure on prime minister and UMNO-leader Najib Razak with the embarrassing 1MDB financial scandal.

If the break-up of the opposition looked like a timely relief and victory for the government, it is matched by the slow erosion of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional by the marginalization of smaller component parties which were  kept alive by massive financial support from UMNO  anyway.

Malaysia needs urgently strong and united leadership to get out of the crisis. Unfortunately, the ruling and government coalitions look equally weakened.

For a better understanding of party politics in Malaysia see Kartini Aboo Talib‘s country paper (available at Amazon) in:
Amazon Party Politics SEA

Smiles, Charisma and Political Leadership


Partyforumseasia: Political charisma comes in many different forms. Dictators like Hitler, Stalin or Mao didn’t have to smile because they instilled fear and terror to everyone around them, and they continue to fascinate many people until today. According to Max Weber’s classical definition they are set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional qualities. But Weber also cautions that the recognition on the part of those subject to their authority is decisive for their power. This brutal type of charisma has nothing to do with the ancient Greek meaning of χάρισμα (khárisma) as “gift of grace”.

In democratic systems, even the flawed ones, leaders and candidates have to be attractive in more charming ways. One of the most important tools of anybody who tries to attract others is of course a smile. From sales personal and pick up artists to preachers and politicians all get advice from psychologists and strategy gurus. For all the basics of an attractive and bonding smile the French physician Duchenne has done the groundwork more than 150 years ago. For being convincing it must come from the limbic system, the emotional steering centre of the brain, and most people can detect the difference between a sincere “Duchenne smile” and an artificial looking “cheese smile” by the raised cheeks and crow’s feet around the eyes. They are correct at a rate of sixty per cent, but leave a chance of forty per cent for the fakers to fool their target group.

Many politicians are not sufficiently informed about the difference but could get useful coaching from the more sophisticated sales promotion industry. There is plenty of literature, training seminars and research on how to fake a genuine smile, constant smile exercise in front of your mirror being a must for success in sales. So far the grey zone how convincing “fake sincere smiles” can be is still unknown. And, also in terms of a scientific approach, the genetic roots of smiles are ambivalent enough. Chimpsmile
Apes bare their lower fangs as a warning that they may bite, and chimpanzees differentiate between a submissive “fear face” which resembles already a human smile and a “play face” with corners of the mouth and eyes drawn upwards. According to psychologists the human smile is serving the same purpose, showing that you are not threatening and asking to be accepted on a personal level. Signalling a fake smile is also the baring of the bottom teeth, among primates a clear sign of aggressive attitudes. And if you observe your political candidates, genuine smiles are late-coming, they don’t appear instantly on demand.
Dominant persons like president Putin and his foreign minister Lawrow or Margaret Thatcher and Charles Bronson don’t  smile because they don’t want to be seen as submissive in any way.

On this background the effects of smiling leaders are politically rather interesting. Once the big boss ventures a smile, the whole entourage smiles automatically as well. And even more intense, followers and admirers are so pleased to be close to their idol that their smiles come close to extacy.
TrumpMessianic expectations of voters and supporters can go into unbelievable dimensions, but are frequently matched by overblown self-confidence of politicians. And psychologists (Link) have found out that over-confident leaders are seen as strong, competent and charismatic and not as potentially failing because of their unrealistic self-image. Another study (Link) concludes “When managed well, the social status conferred by overconfidence has an aura just shy of magical, capable of keeping our attention diverted from measurable results. (…) Belief sells, whether it’s true or not. In the case of overconfidence, the belief in one’s ability—however out of proportion to reality—generates its own infectious energy. Self-deception is a potent means of convincing the world to see things your way.”
Overconfidence is often very close or overlapping with narcissism, one of the motivations for self-styled candidates. A study on “Narcissistic Personality and Politics: Smiling while Insulting” (Link) states that “Personality disorders are represented in politics to a larger degree than the general population” and concludes that politicians  “require excessive admiration. Just take a look at the rallies and gatherings they experience on a regular basis with people holding signs and calling their name. Politicians and actors are the only people who experience that kind of adulation. It certainly isn’t unique to see actors becoming politicians and politicians becoming actors. They have very similar personalities.”

Under the title “Humble leaders build high-performing companies” a recent (December 2014) study by Arizona State University (Link) the research team found for business leaders: “With top management working together, an empowering organizational climate emerges, prompting middle managers to become more engaged and committed and to perform better at their jobs, according to the model.” The study is also suggesting to study the influence of Confucianism on leadership in Asia. The article is too new to have influenced Singapore’s PAP, but it seems to describe its successful cooperation style in the top management.

Election results world wide seem to confirm the above findings in many ways, but, fortunately, in many places as well, rational and responsible leadership prevails nevertheless…

PAP Singapore: Higher than Expected Victory


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s dominant and long-term government party PAP has surprised everybody from political observers, journalists and the opposition to its own membership with a sweeping victory of 69.9 % in yesterday’s (11.09) general election.
In a rather colorful nine day official campaign Workers’Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) especially managed to pull huge crowds and rouse the expectations of their supporters.

Here are the main results, published by Election Commission and Straits Times:
GE2015 Results

And nota bene: These results still look rather mild for the opposition parties because they calculate their percentage on the votes in constituencies they contested. Only the PAP had fielded candidates for all 89 seats. If calculated on the total number of valid votes the two main opposition parties look much more miserable:

Total number of valid votes: 2,257,016                 Invalid/rejected votes: 47,315 (2%)
Voter turnout: 93.56%

Workers’Party (WP) share of all valid votes:                          12.48%
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) share of all valid votes:  3.75%

The Workers’Party narrowly retained the group constituency in Aljunied and more convincingly one single member constituency, losing one other it had won 2 1/2 years ago in a by-election. All seven other opposition parties did not win any seat but three candidates will be offered a seat as Non Constituency MP as “best losers”.

The media are talking about a two thirds majority which in reality is closer to four fifths. But calling the results “undemocratic” or “reminding of North Korea”, as losing party leaders said in their disappointment, is certainly far from justifiable. The first-past-the-post electoral system is not helpful for small opposition parties, sure, but all in all space of maneuvering, access to mainstream media including TV coverage, allocation of big open spaces for rallies, canvassing, and publication of pamphlets were free and fair enough. The ruling party could bank on its track record of running the country with exceptional and corruption free  success plus the financial means to improve nearly on all practical aspects of the citizens’ lives. Attacking the government for underground train disruptions or increasing prices for food and health care did not resonate with the PAP supporters, nor could criticisms of the compulsory savings fund CPF, which includes in the meantime a lifelong pension scheme after retirement, mobilize a population of (close to 90 %) home owners against the government. The privileges  of citizenship in the city state contrast quite favorably with what most other countries have to offer, including the neighbors in Asia. So the opposition parties tried to harp on the importance and usefulness of opposition voices in parliament as checks and balances but obviously the silent majority does not care too much for more controversial debate. Nearly 70 % seem to think that the PAP government is caring enough and has sufficient foresight to lead Singapore into an even better future.

Winner takes all

First-past-the-post system:

Winner takes all

SDP losers

Loser loses all

Myanmar: What to Expect After the 8 November Election?


Partyforumseasia: Officially launching the NLD election campaign yesterday, 8 September, democracy icon and party leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not sound as confident of a clear victory as most observers predict it to be. Aung peacock
Asking the international community to monitor the election intensely and carefully shows her fears that military and USDP under president Thein Sein will try to manipulate the vote again after NLD’s accusations that the 2010 election was widely rigged. But the NLD had boycotted it anyway. As in other elections in the region before, parachuted international observers will have a limited understanding of the technicalities and equally limited access to remote areas. But an immediate effect of her appeal for international support is the anger of the military which in any outcome will have 25% of the seats in parliament and far reaching veto powers.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s widely criticized silence in the Rohingya issue was followed by a top level decision of her party not to allow Muslim candidates, even in predominantly Muslim areas. This, on the other hand, underlines her fear of antagonizing the Buddhist nationalists and their spearhead organization Ma Ba Tha, or Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
For a decisive victory the NLD will need support from the parties of the ethnic minorities who may not be too keen to sacrifice their regional interests to the democratic battle cry of the NLD, though they all hate the military. Forging a pro-democracy and anti-military election coalition among the ninety (90) odd parties contesting this election is more than a herculean task for Aung San Suu Kyi.
Many voters are confused anyway, the NLD’s peacockpeacock symbol being used by at least half a dozen other parties as well.

Even with a sweeping victory for the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi will have no chance to sideline the military. Ex-general and president Thein Sein has signaled his interest to run for another term in 2016 and his ouster of USDP party chairman Shwe Mann for being too cozy with Aung San Suu Kyi does not augur well for a viable arrangement between the two big players after the election.
With neighboring Thailand in a potentially explosive limbo between militarily supervised calm and democratic renewal as well as Malaysia with an increasingly shaky UMNO government, a more stable Myanmar would be preferable for the region and the investors.

Radical Buddhism Meddling in Myanmar’s Politics


Partyforumseasia: The international headlines focus predominantly on radical Islam, sometimes on radical Hinduism in India, from time to time on Christian fundamentalism in the US. Buddhism, all in all, has managed to keep an image of peacefulness, except in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks took part in violent attacks on the Muslim Rohingya minority. Since mid 2013 they are organized in the “Association for the Protection of Race and Religion”, also known under the acronym Ma Ba Tha or “မဘသ” in Burmese.
Ma Ba Tha pic.The organization is being described as nationalistic, fiercely anti-Islam, and well connected to the military. Though article Article 364 of the Constitution prohibits the “abuse of religion for political purposes”, Ma Ba Tha leaders are openly supporting the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). During its second anniversary conference in June, Bhaddamta Vimala, a senior monk and secretary of Ma Ba Tha, criticized the opposition as too inexperienced to rule the country and urged the monks to drum up support for the USDP in the upcoming elections on 8 November. Monks cannot vote but their influence among the population is considerable.
After independence the U Nu government tried to introduce Buddhism as the state religion, but the law was never passed after resistance in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Nevertheless, Ma Ba Tha has celebrated “state religion day” on 30 August to commemorate the 1961 move toward Buddhism as official religion. The day’s religious importance derives from Buddha teaching the Metta Sutta, or discourse on loving kindness which seems to be rather irreconcilable with the militant and violent sides of Ma Ba Tha.
The organization was also more than supportive in legislation concerning religious conversions and interfaith marriages as well as compulsory monogamy and population-control – it actually drafted them. The last of the four laws was signed by president Thein Sein on 31 August, the whole package being criticized by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi as discriminatory for the minorities. But this may backfire in the elections, because Ma Ba Tha has grown into a very powerful nationalistic force which will certainly use its considerable influence to support the USDP and reduce the chances of the NLD.
Nota bene: Christian groups in the West should not cry foul too easily. The Christian Democratic parties in Europe have enjoyed the churches’ support for many years, and American Evangelicals still wield considerable influence until today.

Myanmar Election: How Free and How Fair?


Partyforumseasia:  Myanmar’s democratic opening has received regional and world-wide attention and praise, and subsequently attracted the interest of all shades of businesses, from the well-known fast-buck-entrepreneurs to long-term investment interests. Especially the latter are vital for the country if it wants to catch up with the neighbors in Southeast Asia. ASSK and Thein
The recent purge within the military dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party and the sacking of rather popular speaker of parliament Shwe Mann are widely interpreted as a step back from the reform drive promised by President Thein Sein.
Now speculations for the upcoming election on 8 November start to get more heated. Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is sure that her party will win “if polls can be free and fair” (Agence France Press). And the country’s army chief, senior general Min Aung Hlaing recently declared:
“We wouldn’t mind even if the National League for Democracy won in the next general election, as long as it is free and fair. The Tatmadaw’s (Army) desire is to see the upcoming elections be held free and fair.” (Straits Times, 26/08/2015)

On the background of heavy-handed interference since the 1990 elections when the military had underestimated the NLD and simply ignored the results, such a statement sounds a bit too good to be true. At least the generals have learned to speak to the international media and the investors who want to see stability. The 2010 ballot was widely seen as rigged and a quarter of the parliamentary seats is reserved for unelected army officers anyway.
But to be fair with struggling Myanmar, organizing free and fair elections with a level playing field is certainly not as easy as in Denmark or Sweden. Ongoing problems with 135 (!!!!) distinct ethnic groups officially recognized by the government, festering and nearly intractable pockets of civil war with some of the minorities, the Rohingya question unsolved, rural underdevelopment and lack of infrastructure wide-spread, all that makes national elections more than a challenge. The definition of free and fair certainly has to be adapted to the local circumstances.
If the NLD wins a decisive majority, we have to take into account that its uncontested leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still full of fighting spirit but already 70 years old. The constitution does not allow her to be president and the president is head of the government. Details of the constitutional set-up are sobering:   “The Commander-in-Chief appoints the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, selecting candidates from within the Defence Services (Tatmadaw), while the President appoints the remainder. The President also appoints the Deputy Ministers of the respective ministries, following the same qualifications as those of Union Ministers, with the exception of age (35 years, instead of 40).” Source:Wikipedia, Cabinet of Myanmar.
On this background it may be easy for the military to look good with free-and-fair statements and that they don’t mind if the NLD wins…

The Siamese and the Thai Army 1893 – 2015


Partyforumseasia: Since Thailand’s Armed Forces have taken over a quasi political party status for the time being, it may be allowed to look into its past some 120 years back. This early piece of picture journalism (a precursor of photo journalism) was printed in 1893 and discovered by Partyforumseasia on a holiday in France. Le Petit Journal, according to an advertisement in this copy published 29th July 1893, had a circulation of more than a million daily. It shows the great interest of France as one of the big colonial powers in Southeast Asia in the military strength of Siam.
Siam Bild (2)

The text of the article highlights the structure of the army (whose commander was prince Devang Wonsee, a  brother of the king), the armament and manpower, about 10.000 soldiers altogether. Foreigners were hired as riding instructor, British, and head of the naval force, French. The picture suggesting that the royal elephants carried cannons on their backs is maybe a European exotic fantasy. The text says that they are prepared for warfare (“parfaitement dressés pour la guerre” but normally carry the king and the princes in big ceremonies.
Siam Text

In the absence of political parties in the 1890s it is clear that the army was the main political instrument of the king of Siam.
IMG_0494 (2) - Copy

Singapore: From 50th Anniversary Cheers to Election Fever


Partyforumseasia: The next general election is formally due only by early 2017, but Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, looks poised to call it any time now. Emotions for the city state have culminated since the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March, and the clockwork Birthday cake SGprecision of the national day parade on August 9 with its mixture of historical, military, social and artistic features has certainly contributed to national pride and patriotic feelings. Generous new subsidies for the pioneer generation (66+), the upcoming implementation of a comprehensive health insurance for all citizens and many other goodies, all seem to signal that the “ground is sweet” for the ruling PAP. Incidents like accusations in the blogosphere or anti-PAP graffiti on public buildings have been discussed by the media but seem to disappear in the red and white national flag tidal wave these days. The electoral boundaries have been adjusted without real controversy, some long-term MP’s and ministers have announced their resignation and new candidates are being introduced in the media, nomination day is near.
The question now is: Will the “tremendous show of love for our country” (the education minister) translate into another sweeping victory for the People’s Action Party (PAP)?
Partially due to the British first-past-the-post election law all election results since 1968 have given the PAP absolute majorities between 60 and 86 per cent of the votes. Even the lowest share of the popular vote (60.14% in 2011) yielded 93 % of the seats!  Lee Kuan Yew’s famous statement that it is not a task of the government to make it easier for the opposition is certainly still valid, so timing and goodies for the voters are well considered.
While the old opposition against Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian style is no longer relevant, the loss of a group representation constituency (GRC, with six seats) to the Workers’ Party in 2011has  triggered an alarm in the PAP. The Lee Kuan Yew- fear factor has vanished, but the chances of the splintered opposition are difficult to predict. The scene is diverse enough, SG opp.nine opposition parties will contest, and, quite remarkably, have managed for the first time to agree on each others claims and avoid splitting the anti-PAP votes. Another first time is the fact that all constituencies will be contested by opposition parties. The democratic anomaly that the PAP could win a precinct already on nomination day with a so called “walkover” because there was no other candidate, is over.
The economic success story of the city state and its well managed orderliness might make foreign observers wonder what the grievances of a pampered population can be. As everywhere else, in good times people take everything for granted and increase the expectations. Bigger issues are the growing foreign population, the high cost of living, property prices and the funding of retirement, which the opposition parties try to exploit. The uncontrollable blogosphere and the sometimes rather heavy-handed reactions of the government allow a certain glimpse into this potential of discontent. But as usual, there is a high probability that the bulk of the voters wants some opposition in parliament without risking to rock the boat. Only the Workers’ Party with 12.83 % of the votes has made it into parliament in 2011, the other eight parties try their best with “walkabouts” in food centers and coffee shops and distribute party papers and leaflets which most voters probably don’t bother to read. The pre-campaign scene (the official campaign is limited to nine days) is already colorful and the opposition parties are visible, but pamphlets and political smiles may not have too much impact.
On the campaign funding side: The spending of all parties in 2011 was a mere 5.5 million S$ (3.9 m US$) according to the Straits Times (21/08), but the spending limit for candidates per voter is being increased from 3.50 to 4 S$.

Opp Campaigning 1Campaign SG 1Bets on whether the PAP will be under or over the 60 % mark are welcome…

Power Struggle in Myanmar’s USDP


Partyforumseasia: Machiavelli would have cringed. Removing a challenging rival from the party leadership and leaving him continue as speaker of parliament would have been a grave strategic mistake in his eyes. Machiavelli bThe man only half removed, Thura Shwe Mann, is popular, obviously more Shwe Mannforward looking than the conservative military elite which had nurtured his career. But rising too fast over the peer group is always  dangerous. Being discussed as possible successor of President Thein Sein  was not endearing him either. But probably his most “dangerous maneuver”  was his apparent openness to a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi whose National League for Democracy (NLD) will most probably win the upcoming elections in November. For the moment President Thein Sein who seems to go for another term of office has eliminated Shwe Mann as rival for the presidency. But according to Machiavelli this victory will most probably not last. Shwe Mann does not lack ambition.

Najib’s Chutzpah or Who Donated 700 Million $ for Election Campaign 2013?


Partyforumseasia: Chutzpah (/ˈhʊtspə/ or /ˈxʊtspə/) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. (Wikipedia)
Corruption 2Audacity certainly belongs to the personal qualities which make a political leader, but too much insolence and cheek easily become a liability which takes away the necessary credibility and trust of the voters. Prime Minister Najib Razak shows a remarkable cold-bloodedness in the current crisis around the more than controversial sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and its deficit of 11 billion $ and a dubious “campaign donation” of 700 million $ from an undisclosed Middle Eastern source.
Having lost the trust of huge parts of the Malaysian voters and more and more of the three million members of his UMNO party, he has the cheek to introduce a “National Consultative Committee on Political Funding (JKNMPP) to regulate the rampant money politics in Malaysia within a year (sic)!
By now every Malaysian knows that the UMNO rule is based on a huge financial transfer system which takes funds from all sorts of government related business ventures at the detriment of the economy. Appointing two Ministers in the PM’s department as chairmen of the JKNMPP looks like the epitome of chutzpah in the worst form of its above definition.
For many, not only serial-nemesis Mahathir, the days of Najib look like ending soon. So the triumph of eliminating opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and emaciating the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat may turn out to be balanced by the self-destruction of UMNO by its own top leadership.

Malaysia: PAS Party Election Shock Waves Spreading


Partyforumseasia: The overwhelming victory in the internal party elections (see our comment last week, link here) for the conservative, Muslim scholar or ulama faction PAS arabmay not be such a triumph as the winners seem to believe. The aftershocks continue, on Monday 15 June with the resignation of Mazlan Aliman, the last “surviving” progressive in the 23 member Central Working Committee. In a press conference in the PAS headquarters he underlined his disappointment with the “cai paper” strategy, a list of ulama endorsed candidates.What is cai paper or cai list all about? Ironically, the pro-Malay PAS has adopted the word from the expression for menue in Chinese coffee shops. Lists with candidates recommended by the leadership are common in all parties world-wide. But for this convention the internal preparations were obviously much more carefully orchestrated than normally, the president challenged for the first time in decades and opinions split about the introduction of the Islamic penal code or hudud and the co-operation with the Chinese dominated DAP and the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. Normally the recommended candidate list game is played in the background, this time it was visible for friends and foes alike:
The “Cai Tan” or menu for electing the office bearers for the 2015-2017 term that was posted on the Dewan Ulama official Facebook account not long after the acting head of the wing, Datuk Mahfoz Mohamed asked members to reject leaders whose loyalty is not with party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang but Pakatan Rakyat allies, had raised eyebrows. While “Cai Tan” is important to ensure a working team is voted in, many did not expect the Dewan Ulama to endorse a complete list of line-up and make it public, too.” writes The Rakyat Post on 3 June (Link here).
Religious, strategic, ideological or loyalty considerations may not be the only driving force to influence the outcome so massively. A round table discussion on Islam and human rights in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June highlighted the material aspect of Islamic bureaucratization in Malaysia:
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is budgeted to receive more than RM783 million for its spending this year under the Prime Minister’s Department.
And there is also criticism of exaggerated enforcement of alleged religious prescriptions:
Here in Malaysia, they have even added things which are not even in the traditional interpretation of Shariah, especially when it comes to moral policing, intrusion of private space of Muslims.” Source: The Malay Mail Online, 14 June, Link here)

While President Jokowi emphasizes the specific peaceful characteristics of Islam in Indonesia, PAS seems to go for an even more Middle Eastern style. A friend of the author once told him “Here in Indonesia we are Muslims despite the Middle East”… Malaysia cultivates a supposedly more authentic and Arab style of Islam and honors sometimes dubious theological qualifications with cushy positions. This may alienate not only non-Muslims, especially in the fast growing urban population, but also many more moderate Muslims.

At the end the sweeping victory of the ulama faction may turn into a sort of Pyrric victory. The progressive faction is licking its wounds with some considering to split from PAS and start a new party. Meanwhile the 40,000 non-Muslim supporters in the “PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP)” who were anyway asking for more say before the convention are certainly not encouraged.

Partai Solidaritas Indonesia: A Niche Party or More?


Partyforumseasia: Indonesia has been rather radical though quite successful in reducing the number of political parties in the democratic era since the ouster of Suharto. An all too splintered party system is risky for a fledgling democracy in many ways, starting from confusing election outcomes and ending in the lack of transparency about vested interests and problematic interference of business influence. President Widodo’s role as leader of the nation is still heavily handicapped with his lack of a parliamentary majority and continuing infighting in parties like Golkar and PPP, this is why stability of the party system is important. Grace Natalie On this background and given the prevailing practices of funding and money politics it may be rather daring to start a new party from scratch. But the leader and figurehead of the new party, 32 year old Grace Natalie, may have some good arguments for her initiative. “She is young and beautiful. Her political party, Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), or the Indonesian Solidarity Party, was established only in March this year as an “open, pluralist and nationalist” organization. Yet, about a week ago, 32-year old Grace Natalie, former journalist and television presenter, declared that PSI is ready to contest in the 2019 general election. Claiming to be a party by young people and for the young people, the PSI will early this month (June 2015) formally invite Indonesian citizens to register themselves online with the party if they wish to become its cadres or supporters. Registration is made through its website, intro.psi.or.id.” writes the news startup Global Indonesian Voices (Link).

Good looks are getting more important in politics world wide, though former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from Thailand is not the best example in this context because she is in trouble now. But there is certainly a groundswell among Indonesian voters against the same old macho and money style politics, especially among younger voters. The young party seems to have met already the rather demanding organizational requirements of the party law. Grace Natalie says that they have already established chapters in all 34 provinces and in almost all of the 412 regencies/cities with around 1,000 cadres at the provincial and regency/city levels. The Jakarta Post calls Grace Natalie “The anomaly in Indonesian politics” (Link). Yes, an anomaly she is, the strong lady in Indonesia’s politics, Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairperson of PDI-P, is known for a rather authoritarian style which reminds of the Suharto years and what socio-political analyst Julia Suryakusuma has described as “State Ibuism” (see link to Inside Indonesia for an update on this concept).

Malaysia’s PAS: A Theocratic Political Party


Partyformseasia: In one of Grimm’s fairy tales the optimistic hero has a convincing motto: “If you trust in God and are always lucky nothing can happen to you”. PAS MuktamarWatching the party convention (Muktamar) of PAS ending this Saturday 6 June and the sweeping victories of the clerical or  “ulama” faction on all levels, their trust in God may have been even stronger than their good luck. At least this is what they probably are sure about with their mission to implement the Islamic criminal law (or hudud) as a religious duty in politics.
As widely anticipated, the results were clearly against the more moderate “professional” faction. Incumbent president (since 2002) Hadi Awang polled 928 votes against 233 for his challenger Ahmad Awang, a former vice president of the party and Muslim scholar himself. Incumbent deputy president Mohamad Sabu was ousted with 279 votes against 881, which was seen as a punishment for disagreeing with president Hadi Awang. Similarly sweeping were the victories of the three vice-presidents, ousting all three incumbents, and the 18 members of the central committee.  Muktamar 61
With a lesser margin but clear enough the incumbent youth chief was ousted with 263 votes against 429 by Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, son of the late spiritual leader of the party. His deputy, Mohammad Khalil Abdul Hadi, was re-elected. He happens to be the son of party president Hadi Awang. PAS has two rising sons with charisma and a very clear mainstream in support of the religious leadership, Malaysian media call it wiping out of the progressives in the party. The buzz words are about the dangers of secularism and liberalism and the necessity not to separate religion and politics!!

There are at least two dangers in this development:
1. The conservative drive for hudud as a religious obligation will alienate PAS not only from the hudud critics in coalition partner Democratic Action Party (DAP) but endanger the fragile cohesion of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat as such. The UMNO dream of seeing the opposition coalition falling apart may come true.
The first direct fallout is already there: After the delegates approved a motion to sever ties with the secular DAP at the end of the convention, DAP leader Lim Guan Eng asked PAS representatives in the Penang state government to leave.

2. The second question mark comes with the emphasis on Islam and its mandatory lifestyle in a period of growing attractiveness  of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among Southeast Asian young Muslims. While Malaysia is trying to prevent young men and women to join ISIS and reduce radicalization within the country, the internal shift within PAS and its leadership might pour oil into the smoldering fire.

Malaysia’s PAS: Hudud, Non-Muslims and Party Cohesion


Partyforumseasia: Islamic or Islamist parties, maybe more than other religious parties, could be more coherent than their worldly counterparts because they share faith and rituals and certainties in life in a very direct way. Normally their spiritual leaders have clear-cut views and with their authority directly linked to God the dissent among members should be limited. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS has indeed enjoyed a sort of close-knit stability under its late spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who served also as chief minister of the federal state of Kelantan for 23 years. PAS has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling UMNO party for fishing in the same voter reservoir of Muslim Malays, especially in rural areas. Being seen as more caring for the poorer Malays and not corrupt like UMNO, the party pushed UMNO into a competition in terms of religious credentials which has entrenched the ethnic and religious divide in the country, bringing it ever more often to dangerous levels.
Hadi AwangPAS-president Abdul Hadi Awang (68), a Muslim cleric and in office since 2002
is standing for re-election in the upcoming party convention in June. But for the first time in four decades, he will have a challenger, and ironically, the difference comes after Hadi Awang’s very firm stand on the implementation of Islamic criminal punishments (hudud) which threatens PAS’ partnership in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Though the supporters of hudud say that it will be applied only to Muslims, the non-Muslim coalition partners in the (mostly Chinese-Malaysian) Democratic Action Party (DAP) oppose it strongly. Reasons for concern are certainly justified: There are quite a number of mixed marriages who may be effected. And the hudud punishments, normally described as not easy to execute because of a demanding number of male witnesses, e.g. for extramarital sex, obviously find willing supporters, e.g. Muslim medical doctors who say they are prepared to perform the prescribed hand amputations on thieves.

But the hudud-debate has also increased the internal split PAS between hardliners who are prepared to a rift with DAP and those who support the opposition coalition and the common fight against UMNO. So, the challenger of president Hadi Awang is another cleric, Ahmad Awang (79), who is Ahmad Awangpromptly being attacked as secretly supporting the DAP, whereas Hadi Awang declares it a duty of every Muslim to fight for hudud.

At the same time, the PAS strategy of enlarging its voter base to non-Muslims by establishing a special branch for them, the PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP), is creating additional irritations. If the publicly known figures are correct, the DHPP has 40.000 members out of about one million normal PAS-members. Though 4% look negligible,  the DHPP members can make a difference in the constituencies where PAS cannot win a majority alone and where the opposition coalition depends on PAS to win the seat. Giving up this potential would destroy years of effort to strengthen the party’s credibility among non-Muslims.

From Malaysian Maverick to Malaysian Nemesis


Partyforumseasia: In December 2009 the late Barry Wain published a critical biography of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003. The book, titled Malaysian Maverick, made waves because it highlighted a number of less successful projects which cost his country several billions, but it did not really damage the politician. Mahathir can be described as the political animal par excellence, turning 90 coming July and remarkably alert and interventionist. According to Wikipedia his political career spans over “almost 40 years”. That is slightly understated, because he entered UMNO in 1964 and is still today a force to be reckoned with in the party. The black and white photo shows him in 1965, the colored one in 2015, a span of 50 years.

Mahathir 1965Mahathir now

1965                                             2015

In contrast to his colleague from Singapore, the late Lee Kuan Yew, who prepared his succession successfully while still maintaining political influence mostly from behind the scene after his voluntary retirement, Mahathir is more than unhappy and dissatisfied with the prime ministers after him. In 2006 he replaced his handpicked successor Abdullah Badawi with the similarly handpicked Najib Razak who he tries to topple these days by all means with interviews, press statements and his blog, but also with a considerable support within the party. His arguments hit at shortcomings of the Najib administration, starting from the bad election results in 2013 when the UMNO-led ruling coalition lost the majority of the popular vote for the first time but survived due to the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post system, to the 42 billion Ringgit (nearly 12 billion US$) debt of a new “sovereign wealth fund” called 1MDB, whose board of advisors is chaired by Najib Razak. The prime minister tries to play down the accusations and manages to show support from the party leadership, but the media are speculating about his defeat in this showdown for months already.

The drama of elder statesmen clinging to power and influence by trying to change the constitution is common all over the world, but Mahathir, a trained medical doctor whose political manoeuvres were proverbially surgical in his hay days, may win at the end. Many Malaysians, not only in the opposition, are fed up with the rampant political corruption in the country.

At the end Najib may be comforted by his predecessor Abdullah Badawi like in this party convention snapshot:  Abdullah Najib

UK Election: FPTP System the Biggest Loser?


Partyforumseasia: Whoever has been standing for elections knows how highly emotional this test can be. The British parliamentary election on 7 May has produced quite a few losers, especially Ed Miliband from the Labour Party, Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party who all resigned from their party leadership after the fiasco. UK losersThe media did not hesitate to show their not amused faces, but there were two more losers, namely the polling institutes which had not foreseen the conservative victory at all, and – as commentators were quick to blame as well – the very British electoral system. The first-past-the-post system (or FPTP) , also practiced by former British colonies in Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore, allows parties with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote to win an absolute majority. In this election the Tories made it with just 36.9 %. From a continental perspective where different systems of proportional election systems reflect the popular vote results, it is difficult to imagine that the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 seats with only 4.8 % of the popular vote, the UKIP only one seat with 12.6%, and the Liberal Democrats eight seats with 7.8%. But this is the majority – winner takes all – system in which all votes not given to the winner are totally lost or wasted. This is why – except within the Conservative and Scottish Party of course – a discussion about electoral reform is intensifying, similar to the situation in Malaysia where the ruling coalition survived the 2013 general election due to the first-past-the-post system and the exaggerated weight of rural constituencies with few voters.
A comparison of the UK results under a different election system is rather interesting. A German university has compared the FPTP system with the German proportional one:
UK fptp vs proportionalThe hollow columns show the theoretical proportional outcome with the surprising difference that the Scottish National Party wouldn’t  have won any seat (because of the 5% minimum threshold), the Liberal Democrats in contrast 54, and UKIP no less than 92 seats instead of one!!!

A completely different  question is whether the proportional system is always more desirable just because it looks fairer and shows the “will of the people”. The more and more diversifying party scene in many countries world wide can produce unforeseen results as well. Take for example the German election 2013 which forced the Christian and Social Democrats into a “grand coalition” after fighting against each other in the campaign and left the federal parliament with a tiny opposition. Or the difficult formation of a government coalition in Israel recently, which forced the incumbent prime minister Netanjahu into a rather humiliating compromise with radical fringe parties. It is probably safe to say that very few voters in both countries, if any, really wanted such an outcome.

Partyforumseasia‘s preliminary and debatable conclusions:
1. Electoral reform is already difficult to implement, but on top of that there is no guarantee that it works as intended.
2. No electoral system guarantees good governance.

Multiparty Systems and the Upcoming Election in Myanmar


Partyforumseasia: The much anticipated parliamentary election in Myanmar in November will probably be contested by around 70 political parties. 73 are already registered as eligible, 14 applications are still pending with the Union Election Commission (UEC). Out of the 73 registered so far, 53 will run nationwide and 20 only regionally. And among the 73 there are 43 ethnic based parties which reflects the complicated multi-ethnic structure of the country. MYThe many decades long civil wars in too many areas will make the voting process difficult if not impossible in some. But generally, the progress in regulating the election law and its supervision is being seen as positive by parties and external observers. Diversity and insufficient infrastructure will make the election a rather difficult task for everybody, and some flaws remain in details like enormous discrepancies in the size of constituencies and precincts (between hundreds of thousands and as few as 1400) which opens the doors to manipulations by the parties which can afford it.

The number of parties, a bit frightening at first glance, may be one of the easier parts of the exercise. First of all, it is much lower than the 235 registered parties in the 1990 election which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD but not accepted by the military. Secondly, the ethnic fragmentation of the country is certainly not easy to be overcome by any single party, though many pundits predict that the NLD may win a two-thirds-majority. And finally, Myanmar is in maybe not good but numerous company with its “Multitude-Party-System“:

The parliamentary election tomorrow in Britain, the mother of the two-party-system which worked for nearly a hundred years with the first-past-the-post election system, is being contested by only seven main parties (but seven already), and additionally a multitude of smaller ones as well. The UK has 428 registered parties and Northern Ireland another 36. There are about 800 candidates from minor parties and independents. In other European countries the party systems are similarly expanding or disintegrating, Germany had 34 parties in the 2013 election, etc.

Indonesia, to have a regional comparison, had an inflation of parties after the fall of Suharto. But the country managed to reduce the number of parties admitted to run in 2014 from 46 registered to finally 12 parties qualifying.

There are many reasons to establish a political party. From obvious material interests like state subsidies in many European countries or the license of publishing a profitable newspaper in Egypt to the personal ambition of born or self-declared leaders any combination is possible. Political participation is desirable in terms of democratic principles, but the competition must be regulated in order to make the system governable. Myanmar has progressed in that direction, many say that the November election will be the best in 50 years, so the international community and the Asian neighbors can only wish the country the deserved success.
________________________________________________
More information:
The International Crisis Group offers an excellent and downloadable background paper “Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape“, Asia Report No 266, 28 April 2015  (Link here)
For the evolution of Myanmar’s political system see: Moe Thuzar and Zaw Oo in Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization – Money – Influence, 2014, ISNB 1493587145 or ISBN-13: 9781493587148, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other online distributors.B&N book

Socialist Party Cooperation: China-Cambodia and Vietnam-Russia


A week ago Partyforumseasia had taken up the “development cooperation” between China’s Communist Party and the royalist Funcinpec Party of Cambodia. Another interesting cooperation is starting between Vietnam’s Communists and the A Just Russia Party or Справедливая Россия, СР in Russian. The latter, supposed to be social-democratic, was established end of 2006 as a collection of merging and rather heterogenous smaller parties. It promises to develop the New Socialism of the 21st Century. According to the Institute of Modern Russia (Link here) the party “has faithfully played the role of the (Putin) regime’s “left foot”, legitimized by its membership in the Socialist International (SI), but enjoys an opposition image in Russia.
SEDSocialist cooperation: This handshake on the flag of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany symbolized the not all voluntary merger of Socialists and Communists in 1946, “faciltated” by the Soviet Union which occupied the East of Germany between the end of WW II and unification in 1989.

The party to party cooperation seems to be less advanced than the Funcinpec – CCP training program, but desired on both sides. On 28 April the Voice of Vietnam (Link here) reports that “A delegation of the Communist Party of Vietnam has attended an international workshop in Moscow at the invitation of the A Just Russia Party.” The report reveals a certain socialist formality of the meeting: (Chairman) “Mironov affirmed that the A Just Russia Party backs the comprehensive strategic partnership between Russia and Vietnam and treasures ties with the Vietnamese Communist Party, hoping that bilateral relations can be elevated to a new height.He spoke highly of the Vietnamese struggle for independence as well as the achievements made by the Vietnamese people in the four decades since.”
D
eputy head of Vietnam’s Central Committee’s Commission for External Relations Nguyen Tuan Phongcongratulated the Russian people on the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, and hailed the success of the international workshop organised by the A Just Russia Party.”
With improving ties between Vietnam and the US, as well as their Pivot on Asia, Russia may be somewhat nostalgic about the cold war alliance with Vietnam. And with the Ukraine crisis threatening to isolate Russia, ideological partners are most welcome. China, though, seems to be far ahead with training courses for the Cambodian Funcinpec officials – and maybe other fraternal parties…

Cambodia’s Funcinpec Party Revived by China?


Partyforumseasia: រណសិរ្សបង្រួប បង្រួមជាតិដើម្បីកម្ពុជាឯករាជ្យ អព្យាក្រិត សន្តិភាព និងសហប្រតិបត្តិការ. This royalist Cambodian party is better known as FUNCINPEC or “Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif” in French, and “National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia” in English.
After winning the UN sponsored 1993 elections and being outmaneuvered by Hun Sen , the party kept shrinking but was kept alive as appendix of the Cambodian People’s Party. In the 2013 election it did not win a single mandate and looked more or less obsolete. In the local perception its image is tainted by the appendix role. Monday, 20 April, the deputy leader of the opposition CNRP, Kem Sokha, declared his party’s dialogue with the ruling party as “We’re not Funcinpec”.

SihanoukMaoOld friendship lasting: Sihanouk and Mao meeting in Beijing in 1971

After years of internal bickering and infighting, corruption allegations and leadership struggles, it might be too early to write Funcinpec off for good. On 20 April The Cambodian Daily  (link here) reports: “Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh and second vice president Nhiek Bun Chhay left for China on Sunday to meet with officials from the Chinese Communist Party, the Cambodian royalist party’s longtime benefactor and supporter. China has provided financial support to Funcinpec since it was founded in 1981 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk as an armed resistance against the government in Phnom Penh, and today continues to provide the party with basic funds and political training.”
Prince Norodom Ranariddh declared before the departure of the delegation that Funcinpec’s role is by the side of the CPP in contrast to the opposition CNRP. This revives the old suspicion that Prime Minister Hun Sen is using this small ally and the prestige of the monarchy against the growing weight of the opposition.
Strategy-wise:
1. The history of former king Sihanouk’s (1922-2012) friendly relations with China is rather unusual. The communist regime has hosted and supported the monarch by providing him exile in Beijing from 1970 after he was ousted by the Lon Nol coup. In an undated interview with China Central TV Sihanouk quotes Mao Zedong: “
There are some in the world who say that Communists have no love for Princes. We the Chinese Communists, however, both love and esteem a Prince like Norodom Sihanouk who has always been so close, so loyal and so dedicated to his people.”
But there are more mundane motives as well. Among other economic interests,
long term concessions on arable land in Cambodia add to China’s food security.

2. The international cooperation of political parties is anything but transparent. For the Western efforts to promote democracy, sometimes called “party support industry”, there is sufficient criticism, not least internally. The Cambodia Daily article reveals quite interesting details about the nature of the cooperation:
Funcinpec leaders revealed last year that the Chinese Communist Party continued to provide annual training to civil servants and youth members of the party, as well as giving them electric bicycles and petty cash to pay for office rental and amenities.”

Indonesia: The Hidden Price of Aklamasi


Partyforumseasia: As reported, the recent Bali congress of the PDI-P has  “reelected” Megawati Sukarnoputri by acclamation. With the weight of her family background as daughter of the nation’s founding president she would have won a real election as well, but the political culture has not yet arrived there. Not all Indonesians and certainly not all PDI-P members like this procedure, but if unconditional allegiance to the party line is being promoted before and during the congress, open internal dissent is not very probable. MegaJokowi

Photo: A traditional gesture of respect, but the matriarch seems to appreciate more than that.

The more vitriolic were media comments on “aklamasi”. The Jakarta Post quotes the definition of the English word acclamation as: “a vote to accept or approve someone or something that is done by cheers, shouts, or applause” (Merriam-Webster).
The comment (link here) continues:
But in the Indonesian context, the dictionary’s definition sounds euphemistic. In order for any political party chief to be elected by way of aklamasi, they have to exert formidable political and financial resources for backroom lobbying ahead of a national party congress.
This way, the congress is nothing but a ceremony to formalize the “election” or “reelection” of party leaders without the participants actually casting their ballots. All party executives who have voting rights have been effectively mobilized during preparatory meetings to agree to give their incumbent chief another term by way musyawarah-mufakat (deliberation for consensus). It is in this forum that the real battle happens.
Then when the party congress opens, the committee announces the aklamasi while the participants accept it by thunderous cheers, shouts, or applause. No objections are raised. What a sweet moment for the (re-)elected chief!”
The paper criticizes that “aklamasi” is a relic of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship but still widely practiced in the country:
“The dominant strong, charismatic leaders, such as the PDI-P’s Megawati, the Democratic Party’s Yudhoyono, Gerindra’s Prabowo and the NasDem Party’s Surya Paloh, has given rise to the prevailing feudalistic aklamasi election tactic. They are highly revered because they are founders of their respective parties. So powerful and revered are they, they have practically become cult leaders. Dissent is easily silenced. A member’s political rise often depends on his or her loyalty to the supreme leader instead of on real merit.”

The conclusion of the article is certainly correct, but reveals a sad undertone: “The politics of aklamasi proves that oligarchies give rise to political corruption, cronyism and dynasties. Public trust is wearing thin as political parties are failing to prepare future national leaders and to promote democracy.” 
Other prominent Indonesian publications like The Jakarta Globe (link here) and Tempo  (link here) are similarly critical about these shortcomings which are too visible for the country’s voters and undermine the belief in fast consolidation of Indonesia’s  fledgling democracy. Especially detrimental are promotions of sycophants in the party hierarchy, even if they have been under suspicion of corruption.
By coincidence, The Economist, a British news magazine, has taken up the topic of dynasties in business and politics in its newest edition (April 18th – 24th 2015).

Strategy-wise: Blood is thicker than water, and too many leaders trust bootlickers more than courageous people who tell them unpleasant truths. Democratic procedures inside the parties are still underdeveloped in Indonesia.
Finally: Trust is good, control is better (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov alias Lenin).

Patronage: Party Members as Greedy as Poor Voters!


Partyforumseasia: “Voter Demands for Patronage: Evidence from Indonesia” is the title of a recent research paper by Jae Hyeok Shin, assistant professor of political science at Korea University, in Journal of East Asian Studies 15 (2015), 127-151. Based on field studies in selected suburbs of Jakarta by means of interviews and questionnaires, the results more or less confirm the hypothesis with which it started, namely that poorer and less educated respondents are more interested in individual benefits or patronage and much less in long term policies like education and health care. THB donationsThe study is theoretically based on the vast political science literature discussing whether patronage is more demand or supply-side driven. For the political practitioner the difference looks trivial in view of the complexity of political cultures in Southeast Asia. As usual, it needs two to tango, and developed democracies know more or less subtle examples of patronage as well. Though the paper derives its results from asking the voters and does not discuss the viewpoints of politicians and their constraints in such an environment, it is certainly laudable to do this research in the field, even when the rural parts of Indonesia are left out.

One of the most interesting findings, however, is that “politically active, wealthy voters tend to desire patronage as strongly as do politically inactive poor voters”.

Not too surprising for the political practitioner, the poor know how to calculate anyway by necessity. But members and supporters of political parties are not only idealists either. Ironically, PDI-P sticks out here with high results. And the ongoing debate on the “rivers of money” from Malaysia’s UMNO is certainly another case in point.
Partyforumseasia would strongly encourage more research in this important area since money politics in Southeast Asia is one of our constant concerns. Maybe the scholars could avoid the cliché of “poor and uneducated voters” as greedy simpletons. These people understand quite well what the political elites are up to and they see their own advantage before and on election day!
See also our paper “Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia”
(by Wolfgang Sachsenröder), available at http://www.academia.edu

Mega Power – Mega’s Party Congress


Partyforumseasia:  As much as this forum supports female participation and leadership in politics, it hears alarm bells in the language used to report Megawati Sukarnoputri’s (aka “Mega”)  re-acclamation (not re-election!!) as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) over this weekend in a party congress in Bali. PDI-P, with 109 mandates, is the biggest party in the Indonesian parliament and brought President Joko Widodo or Jokowi to power.
MegaJokowi3



Ms Megawati
, the sixty-eight year old former president and daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno is leading the party since 1999 and has now been confirmed for another five years. Not openly challenged, she lashed out nevertheless at “opportunists eying the presidency”, thus being seen as insisting on her towering role and supreme command, and reminding the cadres that they are “servants of the party“. That reminds somehow of Louis XIV’s famous dictum “L’état c’est moi” or “The state, it is I”.  But in a patriarchal society like Indonesia female leadership is certainly not easy. Megawati warned already at the beginning of the congress that cadres who don’t fall in line with the party will be ousted.

As much as Megawati may feel that President Jokowi owes his election mainly to her, it will endanger his presidency if he is being seen as her puppet. That is, by the way, a wonderful theme for the country’s witty and rather disrespectful cartoonists. With the proverbial Javanese courtesy Jokowi avoids direct confrontation, but the relationship is getting more difficult the longer he is in office.

Another worrying sign of potentially dangerous leadership hubris, maybe with a pinch of “megalomania”, is the list of handpicked loyalist appointees for the top 27 key party positions, including her two children,  daughter Puan Maharani, Minister for Human Development and Culture, who chairs the Committee on Politics and Security, and son Prananda Prabowo who will lead the Creative Economy Committee. Close loyalist Hasto Kristiyanto has been promoted to secretary-general.

Strategy-wise: Handpicking loyalists is, of course, quite common in party politics. But the inherent danger lies in a lack of corrective dialogue and contradiction by all too subservient loyalists in case the great leader has a bad idea. As the Roman political orator and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote some 2059 years ago, you can learn more from an enemy than from compliant friends.

Money Politics in the Philippines=Business as usual?


Napoles  picPartyforumseasia: Would you buy a second hand car from this lady?
Probably not, because this is not a selfie but the official mugshot. Janet Napoles is accused of cheating the Philippino taxpayers at a rate of up to 10 billion Pesos (nearly 225 million USD).
M
oney politics and pork barrel scams are the ugly and dark side of politics, unfortunately not less widespread in Southeast Asia than in most politically underdeveloped parts of the world. Against the feelings of the voters and analysts, however, impunity makes them attractive for different sorts of shady “political entrepreneurs”, too many of them in parliaments and governments. Wherever the tax payers’ money is easily available, predators are not far away, and the Philippines are no exception, on the contrary.
The business minded Ms. Napoles had obviously found an easy trick to siphon away huge amounts from a well intentioned government program supposed to help lawmakers do good in their constituency and help their voters fast and efficiently, a typical pork barrel program.

The Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF was established under the Cory Aquino government in the 1990s and constantly grew until today, its allocation to the legislators being a useful instrument for the presidents to win their support in parliament. Napoles’ and her helpers “genius” created a big number of fake Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) which pretended to implement the infrastructure projects and channeled the money back to the members of parliament and of course Napoles.
During the last decades NGOs have played a big role in implementing development programs on behalf of international donors. They were sometimes classified as Bingos and Lingos (big and small NGOs), but there were also the Rongos, or robber NGOs….
So the Napoles scam is nothing new per se but quite unique in its dimension of 10 b Pesos. And also very remarkable concerning the number of lawmakers who would have bought the second hand car from Napoles without hesiation: Napoles, last week, handed a list of “clients” to a Senate Committee with the names of 20 senators and 100 congressmen!
AsiaSentinel
(Link here) in a recent article has calculated that this means “five sixths of the entire Senate and more than a third of the House of Representatives”. And the legal instruments to bring all these perpetrators to justice are slow and not efficient enough. Headline:The Destruction of Philippine Politics…

Malaysia’s UMNO: Rich Party – Poor Voters


Partyforumseasia has been quoting the Philippino version of the golden rule: “Who has the gold rules”. Plutocracy (Merriam-Webster: Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth) was rampant throughout history, from ancient Greece and Rome to Italian merchant republics like Venice and Florence and up to our days. Campaigning without money is practically impossible and political parties cannot survive without sufficient funding. The crucial question of the legitimacy of party funding is simple: Where does the money come from? Clean democracies in Northern Europe use membership fees, state subsidies and controlled and transparent donations.Corruption 2
In the case of Malaysia, membership fees are symbolic, direct state subsidies for parties don’t exist, and donations are anything but transparent. Nevertheless, UMNO and its component parties in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition have no  funding problems at all. On the contrary, they seem to print the money themselves.

In an article with the headline “The Secret of Malaysian PM Najib’s Staying PowerKeeping the cadres fed well“, the asia sentinel (Link here) explains the cash flows which keep Prime Minister Najib and his party machinery liquid and in power:

The money river flows The reason that Najib is unassailable, however, is the unceasing river of money that flows from government coffers to UMNO cadres. Thus the unanimous confidence vote in early March, when the prime minister called together 160 of the 191 UMNO division chiefs to a party meeting in Kuala Lumpur. That was followed a strong confidence vote from other component Barisan parties.  It is money that not only appears at election time, to pay for lunches or small items like tin roofs for constituents’ whose kampung houses leak, but pays them wages between elections.
The payments are made through various government agencies including the Village Security and Development Committee, to which the cadres are appointed.  They are also appointed to four propaganda agencies under the Ministry of Information Communications and Culture, which have offices in each of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories. The bulk of the money to support these propaganda agencies comes from the 1MDB Foundation, from which more than RM1 billion was siphoned off, purportedly for charity work, a well-placed source told Asia Sentinel.”

The article lists quite a number of dubious practices in Malaysia, how the business conglomerate controlled by the state and its cronies generates the necessary wealth.

The IRONY of this transfer system lies in the fact that UMNO depends on the votes of mainly poor Malay voters in the rural areas. With the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post election system they have guaranteed UMNO’s grip on power over five decades. But Malaysians are increasingly fed up with these corrupt practices and propelled a shaky opposition coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Coalition) into a position to challenge the ruling party. No wonder that UMNO is all out to destroy it.

Lee Kuan Yew And His PAP: A Party Like No Other


With eulogies from all over the world pouring in and Singaporeans queuing by the tens of thousands every day for hours to pay their last respect to the island nation’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew was already a legend greater than life before he died on 23 March at the age of 91. Lee KYAs he is being described as “mellowed a lot” during the last few years, nearly all comments are positive and remind only discreetly of the former iron fist of the outstanding leader, the aristotelien “zoon politikon” (or political animal) par excellence. His vision and foresight as political leader and motivator have made Singapore’s transformation miracle possible. Nevertheless, the universal recognition for this life achievement is remarkable after decades of international criticism of his leadership as heavy-handed, authoritarian, and undemocratic.
Partyforumseasia will not add another eulogy but a short reflection on the party leadership Lee Kuan Yew style: Political power is a prerequisite for the implementation of policies, but in most democracies it is limited by regular elections, thus limiting the time for implementation. Fast changes of political personnel have a positive side, of course, bad leaders disappear sooner, but in most democratic systems the survival rates tend to be rather low. Governments with different concepts follow each other, institutions are being changed and laws reversed. Some leaders survive somewhat longer with changing coalitions, but the “reign” of Lee Kuan Yew is beating democratic and autocratic systems by far. Being re-elected and keeping his constituency for 60 (sixty!!!) years is a world record, even on the background of uncontested “walkovers” due to his advantages as incumbent, prime minister and party leader. Similarly unique is his tenure of 31 years as prime minister (1959 – 1990), ending with a voluntary resignation after carefully organizing his succession, and his handover as party leader after 38 years in 1992 without giving up his influence in the party’s policy formulation. There was also a strong fear factor in this dominant role, often dubbed as “no-nonsense-style”, but Lee Kuan Yew and his team managed to avoid outright condemnation as dictatorial by delivering the economic goods domestically and finding smart ways to sell limitations to political rights and press freedom as necessary for stability and progress.
Controlling a political party and keeping it dominant with more than absolute majorities like Lee did with the PAP over five decades is an exception many party leaders world-wide would probably dream of. Descriptions of the PAP with its estimated membership of no more than 20.000 as a Leninist-style cadre party are certainly outdated. The roughly 2000 cadres have only a minor role in decision making. But screening office holders and election candidates the rigorous way LKY practiced it, would certainly do many parties in the region good. Another remarkable feature is the weekly meet the people sessions, compulsory for members of parliament. The MPs are forced to be closer to the ground and the problems of the common people. That is easier to organize in a city state but maybe a useful example to MPs in bigger countries and their widespread aloofness.
Lee Kuan Yew once said that it cannot be his role as prime minister to make it easier for the opposition, and he really made it difficult with all legal means. This created a lot of latent resentment against the PAP and increasing numbers of protest votes recently. His son Lee Hsien Loong, successful as prime minister with a more relaxed leadership style since 2004, will most probably manage to maintain the dominant role of the party. He says the next election due latest by early 2017 will be tight, but the opposition is splintered and weak. In this party political perspective the Lee Kuan Yew era does not seem to be over yet.
Singaporeans queuing for up to eight hours in the tropical heat to pay their last respect.
Queue 1

Malaysia: Politics for God, for the People, or for the Party?


Partyforumseasia: During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Christian Democrats have been strong in several Western European countries. With over 40% they are still the dominant force in Germany, though the Christian element (the “C”) in its name does not play a big role in practical politics because under a secular constitution religion is considered to be private.
Hadi 2PAS president Hadi Awang has some reason for concern

In predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia religion plays a bigger role, and at least for the Friday prayers mosque attendance is much more subject to peer-group control, in rural communities more than in bigger cities. Religious credentials are important factors for political careers and open support for Islam is a must for Malay candidates in election campaigns. The competition for Malay Muslim votes between two big mainstream parties, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has triggered even more importance on religious issues for a couple of decades. Both are targeting the same Malay constituencies, especially in the rural areas, because of the relatively small number of voters per precinct and the better chances to get elected.
With the “holier than thou”- competition the nation has changed from a more relaxed religious atmosphere only two or three decades ago to much more peer-group pressure on the Muslims with elements spilling over to the minority religions. Restaurants have to be halal, alcohol is no longer flowing so freely, and gender relations are getting more difficult. The world-wide Muslim resurgence including fundamentalist currents are finding a lot of open doors in the country.
In the last few months, but festering for much longer in the background, the introduction of Muslim criminal law elements (or hudud), especially corporal punishment, has highlighted the fault lines in Malaysia’s society, though the constitution is giving equal rights to the strong minorities and their religions, and the British-inherited legal system is basically secular.
The PAS-controlled federal state of Kelantan has passed a law on the implementation of HUDUD in the local parliament on 18 March, and UMNO had no choice but to support the motion. For its final implementation the law needs approval from the national parliament, and many politicians and lawyers think it is unconstitutional.
Though the requirements for male (!) witnesses are high, the punishments are harsh in the 21st century. For theft (2 witnesses) a hand or both have to be amputated. For extramarital sex (4 witnesses!!!??) it is 100 lashes for unmarried and stoning to death for married persons. Drinking of intoxication substances (2 witnesses) costs 40 to 80 lashes. If this sounds archaic for modern Muslims already, the reaction of non-Muslims is also strong, though hudud is supposed to apply only to Muslims. In a multi-religious society like the Malaysian there a many mixed families and many non-Muslims can be affected.

Strategy-wise:   In this complex situation there a rather different outcomes for the Malaysian political parties:

1. PAS is proud of higher religious standards than UMNO anyway. Stating it again is not providing much additional mileage. But they have a leadership problem after their spiritual leader Nik Aziz passed away. Party chairman Hadi Awang, also a Muslim scholar, is not uncontested internally. His dogmatic attitude and his alleged openness for cooperation with UMNO are criticized by the so called “Erdogan faction”. Hadi is heading the more conservative “ulama faction” and may face a grassroots revolt. More than half of the party’s committee in its Batu branch has resigned in protest a few days ago.

2. UMNO has been leading a coalition of 18 parties, maximizing its votes with the help of the Chinese, Indian and indigenous ethnic component parties. These allies are against the hudud implementation, though they know that UMNO cannot be seen to be against it in the Malay constituencies in more conservative rural areas on whose support UMNO’s survival depends. But the threat of being voted out is only there as long as the opposition coalition is united and strong. Its leader Anwar Ibrahim neutralized in prison for the next five years, dividing the opposition and maybe even splitting PAS would mean practically ending the threat. But strategies often backfire, and the hudud dilemma could add to the pressure on Prime Minister Najib by Dr. Mahathir and his friends.

3. Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition composed of PAS, Chinese dominated DAP, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is actually close to breaking up. All non-Muslim members are against hudud and have suspected PAS of secretly dealing with UMNO for quite some time already. With Anwar in prison the “coalition of strange bedfellows”, united only by its fight against the government, is more unstable than ever.

4. The greater public: Non-Muslims anyway, but also Muslims with doubts about the more than creeping religious intolerance in the country are not fully convinced that the hudud policies are only religiously motivated. Leadership struggles in PAS and UMNO make it rather obvious that the hudud drive is not totally for God or the people but all too visibly party politics. Like in countries like Iran, where the clerics in power are detrimental to the acceptance of Islam, the turmoil created by PAS may turn out to be negative for the political development and the religion alike.

5. The social climate: A presenter at business radio station BFM 89.9 who discussed the question whether the hudud implementation would help to fill the country’s rice bowls in a video published on YouTube received death and rape threats and is under police investigation. She has apologized publicly saying that she regretted her tone and demeanor in the video and that she would never mock or insult any religion, let alone her own. The incident shows the raw nerves in the domestic debate and cast doubts on Malaysia’s  image as a moderate Muslim country.

Indonesia: Golkar’s Ninety-Eight Shades of Gray…


Partyforumseasia: The legendary Indonesian flexibility allows not 50 but up to 98 shades of gray, leaving little space for clear-cut black and white if you take the political reality at 100. But Golkar’s long march from Aburizal Bakrie‘s stubborn sticking to the Prabowo opposition after losing the presidential election to join the Jokowi coalition seems to have come to an
end.
Agung Bakrie

Aburizal Bakrie and Agung Laksono before the leadership struggle.

With the memory of saving its privileged government experience under Suharto well into the democratic era, it is no wonder that Bakrie’s opposition course would face stiff resistance among party members and leaders who prefer to be in power. If old fox Bakrie did not see this trap this may signal the end of his political career. But don’t count him out yet, the shades of gray may give him a second chance.
The internal struggle had developed in rather dramatic form with a party split and the election of two competing leadership teams under outgoing Aburizal Bakrie and new leader Agung Laksono. The Jakarta Globe on 17 March describes the rift as “The war between two rival factions of Indonesia’s oldest party reached a new height on Tuesday, with claims, accusations, lawsuits, threats and sanctions flying between the sides.” (Link here)
After inconclusive attempts to solve the problem with the internal party tribunal or the Central Jakarta District Court, the decision for Agung Laksono has been made by his growing support in the party, defections from the Bakrie camp, and finally by Bakrie dropping his law-suit against Agung last Tuesday, 17 March.
Under the Agung Laksono leadership Golkar will support the Jokowi government  with its 91 members of parliament and finally tip the scale against the so far dominating Red-and-White opposition coalition. A parliamentary majority for the president is certainly good for Indonesia and a smoother legislative process.
But Golkar is not yet part of the ruling coalition. In a meeting with PDI-P chair Megawati this week, neither Agung nor Megawati mentioned the accession to the government coalition. The open question is of course the compensation for the support in terms of government positions, not easy to solve when all the posts are filled already. The shades of gray may help!

Political Parties As They Come and Go…


Partyforumseasia: Three pieces of advice were quite shocking for the editor of this page when he joined a party as an idealistic young student: 1. Former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s warning about inner-party competition in three steps, “enemy, mortal enemy, party comrade”… 2. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that if you need a friend in Washington you better buy a dog, and 3. The claim of a party veteran, “No power in the world can destroy our party, only we ourselves…”
Political parties come and go, some rather fast, some more slowly. Southeast Asia has many of the first kind, but also quite a number of very resilient ones, most of them in power for decades. The self-destruction by infighting and power struggles can be observed in three interesting cases at the moment, namely Golkar and National Mandate Party (PAN) in Indonesia and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

GolkarGolkar is the oldest party in Indonesia with decades of a very privileged ruling monopoly under President Suharto. Adapting to the democratic era it has survived so far (with 91 out of 560 seats in parliament), but ambitious chairman Aburizal Bakrie‘s failed gamble in the presidential election and sticking to the losing coalition may eventually destroy the party. An anti-Bakrie faction may prefer more flexibility and has elected a rival chairman, former welfare minister Agung Laksono. On 3 March, two of the four judges on the internal party tribunal have voted for him as legitimate leader, two others avoided a decision and want the case to be decided by a court of law instead. The Central Jakarta District Court had already earlier refused to invalidate the party’s Bali congress which re-elected Bakrie. This way Golkar has two competing factions with two chairmen fighting for legitimation. Without a binding decision of the internal party tribunal and the obvious reluctance of the courts to tip the scale, the party risks to break up and become irrelevant without a role in government. A European-style way out would be a ballot including all party members, but the fluidity of party membership in Indonesia might exclude this alternative anyway.

PANThe leadership feud in the National Mandate Party (PAN), with 49 out of 560 parliamentary seats, has similar roots as the one in Golkar. Chairman Hatta Rajasa, who was Probowo Subianto‘s running mate in their unsuccessful candidacy against President Jokowi, was narrowly defeated (292-286 votes) by challenger Zulkifli Hasan. The new chairman’s victory was supported by party stalwart Amien Rais who alleged in the party congress that Hatta Rajasa had secretly met with Jokowi and was not faithful to the Prabowo coalition, known as Red-White Coalition or KMP. Loser Prabowo’s inability to concede defeat after the presidential election in July 2014 is still creating ripples in the political party scene of Indonesia.

MICThe Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) was for many years the useful vote getter among Malaysia’s Indian citizens on behalf of UMNO and its National Front or Barisan Nasional coalition but is down to 4 seats out of 222 in parliament in the 2013 election. The crisis followed a decision of the  Registrar of Societies to nullify the internal elections in November and directing the party to hold fresh elections for the three vice-presidential and 23 Central Working Committee (CWC) posts. Since then members of the CWC are challenging the Registrar of Societies order in court in order to maintain the November results. Once at the courts it looks impossible to find an internal compromise. As usual, voters are disappointed and question the quality of the leadership, a common paradox in democracy, which is about debate over policy solutions and compromise.
Dangerous for the party and its survival is above all a public debate about its relevance for the Indian Malaysians. Not surprisingly, prominent Indians and many letters to the editor of Malaysian newspapers say very clearly that the MIC is not serving the Indian community at all.
Nota bene: Political parties are all and always work in progress and turn easily into endangered species!

PS: To be continued…

Coming Clean? New Election Law in Cambodia Controversial


Partyforumseasia: Election outcomes depend to a rather high degree on the electoral law applied. But the law, if it is fair, must be applied and respected, competing parties must campaign with a minimum of fairness, and there must be a mechanism to detect and punish fraud. Sufficiently free and fair elections are by no means international or Southeast Asian standard or common practice, and Cambodia’s last parliamentary election in July 2013 turned out to be one of the most controversial elections after the country’s return to parliamentary rule. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) felt cheated of a majority it thought it had won and boycotted the new parliament for the ten following months. The boycott ended in July 2014 with a compromise, the main agreement being the implementation of a new electoral law and a bipartisan and neutral National Election Commission (NEC). After seven months of drafting the new law has been presented to the public by Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin and CNRP official Kuoy Bunroeun on 9 March. The unusual Wahlbetrugsituation now is that ruling party and opposition have come to a compromise but have to defend it now against a number of NGOs, among them the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), Transparency International Cambodia, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes that the law can be passed by end this month together with a new law for the National Election Committee (NEC). The NGOs want more consultations concerning their doubts about a number of details. They criticize among others articles 156 and 162 which could lead to the disqualification of a party from contesting if one of their officials violates articles of the law. According to articles 68 and 72 violations of the restricted time and number of rallies during the 21-day official campaign could also lead to disqualification. The same is stated in article 152 for insulting or instigating discrimination on “an ethnic person, or a group of a nation or race, or any religion”. Disqualification and hefty fines of 10 to 30 million Riel (about $2,470 to $7,410) seem to aim at the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric used by the opposition against the CPP before the compromise.

In regional and international comparison the Cambodian debate is very unusual. A certainly difficult compromise between CPP and CNRP to level the playing field for the next elections comes under pressure from NGOs, the politically more aware and outspoken part of the Cambodian society. But they do have a reason to worry because their role in the campaigns and election process is also regulated and reduced. The new law includes hefty $2,500 to $5,000 fines for those who insult parties (sic!).
NGO staff can be fined for direct or indirect speech or texts that insult a party or a candidate, or support them in a partisan way. Publishing opinion polls in support of parties or candidates is banned as well.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy promises to keep the last version of the law open to fine-tuning after debate. But shoulder to shoulder with the CPP he has to defend the compromise.
The National Election Commission will have four members each from the two parties (who have to give up their party membership, though) and an even more neutral ninth member who can decide in case of stalemates. Both parties would like to see the president of respected NGO Licadho, Ms Pung Chhiv Kek, as the ninth member. But she has her own preconditions and may refuse the position and embarrass the politicians.

By mere coincidence, “Coca-Cola and David Puttnam, the producer of the 1984 film “The Killing Fields,” have been recruited by the government to help shift the world’s image of Cambodia away from land mines and corruption and toward one of a booming economy and easy business, the commerce minister said Thursday.”
(The Cambodia Daily, 6 March 2015))

Political Funding by Private Donations and Party Preferences


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: In Southeast Asia private campaign and party donations are certainly not coming in smaller amounts from millions of citizens. The millions here are more investments by cronies and businesses interested in government contacts and contracts. Nevertheless, an article titled “Live together, vote together” in The Economist, November 22d, page 33, is interesting in the way it shows that peer groups can be rather influential on political choices: “Americans who live and work together are often politically like-minded, according to The Economist’s analysis of more than 1.7m individual contributions of $200 or more made during the 2014 election cycle. The analysis also reveals which cities and companies are most politically engaged, financially speaking.” The survey does not correlate its findings with the election results, but at least the more one-sided results are indicators.
Economist Nov.

In systems with only two parties like the US it is certainly easier to define the areas with better election chances than in splintered multi-party systems. But for political parties in Southeast Asia, apart from the traditional rural – urban divide, it may be useful to study possible partisan clusters in more detail.
One interesting case in point is a pocket of opposition stronghold in the North-East of Singapore, where the Workers’ Party has managed to surf a wave of anti-establishment and anti-PAP feelings and conquer a five seat group representation constituency (GRC) in 2011 plus a single member constituency in a by-election in 2013. The losing PAP normally has a very good grassroots system and its MPs get a feel of the ground in their meet the people sessions every Monday night. Both camps will be trying hard to gauge the voters preferences for the next election which is due by January 2017 latest.

“Southeast Asian Elections Worst in the World” ?


Partyforumseasia: Max Grömping, researcher and co-author of the Electoral Integrity Project (see our last post) has published an article on elections in our region in University of Sydney’s New Mandala (Link here). El. SEA 1

We take it up as an important follow-up, though the headline “Southeast Asian Elections Worst in the World” sounds a bit too bad to be completely true. The 2013-2014 survey is covering only 107 countries, so the worst performers in Africa and Latin America are not in and drag Southeast Asia to the bottom of the comparison.

El. SEA 2Even with this caveat the Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index for Southeast Asia is certainly disappointing enough and cries for reform and improvement in order to match the growing economic weight of the region.
Please read and evaluate Grömping’s assessments and conclusions yourself. Unfortunately, there is nothing much to add in favor of the five countries covered and the local electoral shortcomings. As Partyforumseasia repeatedly highlighted, the political finance or money politics issue is probably the most important Achilles’ heel, where even top rated Western Europe is not fully in the green area.

But Max Grömping offers some hope in his conclusions as well: “But if nothing else, the post-election protests in Malaysia and Cambodia, the small but continuous signs of discontent in Thailand, as well as the vibrant civil society efforts to strengthen electoral integrity in the Philippines and Indonesia show that citizens across the region are fiercely protective of their vote. This demand for democracy is currently met with an under-supply. But it does not need to stay that way.”

Clean Elections in Southeast Asia?


Partyforumseasia: Political parties, when in power, make vital decisions on behalf of their countries and populations. But not surprisingly, they also keep an eye on their own interests, especially regarding their re-election. “Free and fair elections” is a nice promise, but many political parties are not too keen on creating or maintaining the level playing field which could make it more difficult for themselves and more fair for their competitors. From grey areas in the electoral legislation to more or less visible gerrymandering and hundreds of other  tricks to manipulate the outcome of elections, nothing is unknown to Southeast Asia.

The Electoral Integrity Project at the University of Sydney, Australia, (www.electoralintegrityproject.org) has published a very relevant report called “The Year in Elections, 2014“, subtitle “The World’s Flawed and Failed Contests” (Link here).

Electoral Integrity 2014 map

Similar to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International, the project has compiled a database which allows to measure the level of fairness in elections, the Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index.
The list covers 127 countries, led by, no surprise, the usual champions in Northern Europe with Norway on top (PEI 86.6). The criteria applied are: electoral laws, electoral procedures, district boundaries, voter registration, party and candidate registration, media coverage, campaign finance, voting process, vote count, results, and electoral authorities.
Where does Southeast Asia fare with the last elections? Here are the results for 2013 and 2014:

Nr.                                       election date                    PEI index
____________________________________________________

51  Indonesia                        9.7.2014                          68.1
82  Indonesia                        9.4.2014                          62.3
88  Thailand                          2.2.2014                          60.6
91  Phillipines                      13.5.2013                          58.8
114  Malaysia                         5.5.2013                         48.4
120  Cambodia                     28.7.2013                         45.6

Surprise? Not really, but chances for improvement…

Malaysia: Anwar finally neutralized? Probably Not.


Partyforumseasia has argued since the 2013 election that UMNO and its crony coalition, called Barisan Nasional (BN) or National Front, cannot afford to lose and simply and honestly hand over to the opposition if it should win the next election. Too much money sits in its political and business networks, and the public has long started to believe that the many known corruption scandals are only the tip of an iceberg.
Knowing well that everybody knows that, and that self-cleansing is impossible in such a system, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition, as disparate as it may be, is a deadly challenge for the BN. So the only logical way out is a strategy to destroy the opposition, and first of all its charismatic leader Anwar Ibrahim who seems to be the only one able to hold it together.
MachiavelliWho can help here? Right, good old Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) the expert on ruthless politics has enough recipes how to crush an enemy. Here is one suitable quotation:

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”

And jailing 67 year-old Anwar for another five years is so severe an injury that his vengeance, at least, cannot be expected in the parliamentary arena. But the question is whether it is severe enough to neutralize him completely.
The sodomy saga about Anwar and the legal procedures around it are so unappetizing that few people outside Malaysia can take is as serious, thus effectively denting the image of the country: “Malaysia is once again in the international doghouse” says the DAP opposition (The Malaysian Insider, Link here)
The history of Anwar’s political destruction since Mahathir fired him in 1998 has already backfired against the UMNO government by the formation of a reform movement and growing strength of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition as a result.

The new imprisonment may unify the shaky PR coalition and give new energy and hope to many Malaysian voters that Barisan Nasional can be finally defeated. Prime Minister Najib is alraedy under heavy internal pressure in his own party and “Anwar the martyr” may be as dangerous from inside the prison or even more so.

From Cambodian People’s Party to Hun Sen Party ?


Partyforumseasia: The three day (30 Jan – 1 Feb) party congress of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been described as dominated by self-criticism by The Cambodia Daily (Link here). A “classified” 26-page self-critical report, seemingly obtained by the newspaper from a participant, lists the shortcomings of party and government which led to the massive setback in the 2013 general election. As main culprit it pinpoints the bad implementation of ‘what the CPP says were “very good policies for every sector.”
The report continues: “Secondly, misconduct such as corruption, nepotism, the abuse of power, big gaps between upper and lower-level officials, between government officials and the people, between rich and poor, the lack of confidence in the judicial system, inequality, the effectiveness of the implementation of laws which remains so limited, the issue of public services, land and forest issues…made people lose trust in our leadership.”
Hun Sen Clan
The Hun Sen dynasty is growing

But self-criticism of nepotism has not prevented strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen to promote his three sons to higher party ranks:

“CAMBODIA’S ruling party named three sons of long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen to its upper ranks on Sunday as part of a bid to rejuvenate its leadership and claw back support lost at the last general election.
The elevation of Hun Sen’s sons within the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has fuelled speculation the 62-year-old strongman is positioning his dynasty to succeed him after 30 years in power and triggered at least one accusation of nepotism.
The Brunei Times (Link here) is taking this up from Reuters.

Embedded in a huge increase of central committee members, PM Hun Sen is obviously preparing his own succession after 30 years in power though he is only 62 years old: “The additional 306 members more than doubled the committee’s size to 545.
The new committee members include not just Hun Sen’s sons and son-in-law, but also the commander of his personal bodyguard unit, Phnom Penh’s police chief, the military police chief and the naval commander — all powerful loyalists.
Hun Manet, 37, the oldest son and heir apparent, graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1999. Now a three-star general, he leads Cambodia’s national counterterrorism task force and is deputy commander of his father’s much-feared Bodyguards Unit.
The second son, Hun Manith, 34, is a brigadier general, while the youngest, Hun Many, 31, is a lawmaker and head of the CPP youth movement.
“Hun Sen has been planning and plotting the succession plan for a long time,” said independent political analyst Ou Virak.
“The real power will be with the eldest son.” (The Brunei Times)

Whether these results of the party congress will convince the opposition CNRP and its voters remains to be seen.

The Golden Rule of Money Politics


Partyforumseasia: Political scientists as well as poor political parties tend to criticize money politics and its growing impact on election outcomes. Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have been blamed for ever increasing campaign costs due to vote buying, candidate buying or expensive programs in favor of  special voter groups. Whether they are in good company is certainly debatable, but the international trend is not going towards cheaper campaigns and level playing fields.
Corruption 2As one political leader from the Philippines once defined the golden rule:   Who has the gold rules.
The United States of America are probably far ahead in this development. According to the Washington Post of 26 January 2015 (Link here), Republicans and Democrats are expected to spend one billion $ (1.000.000.000 $) each in the 2016 election:

January 26 at 4:00 PM
A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.

The massive financial goal was revealed to donors during an annual winter meeting here hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and cements the network’s role as one of the country’s most potent political forces.”

Vietnamese Water Puppets or Really More Transparency?


Partyforumseasia: Invisibly for the audience, the famous Vietnamese water puppets are manipulated from behind the scene and under the water surface on which they perform. water puppetsIn good old Southeast Asian tradition, like the typical shadow play, invisible manipulation has long been typical for communist and other authoritarian regimes like the one in Vietnam. But more or less dark secrets like the infamous “arcana imperii” of the old Romans have been part of politics world wide. So, smiles on the stage and ferocious infighting behind the scene have been all too normal for the one party rule. The big question for analysts and observers is now whether the Communist Party of Vietnam is really opening up to more transparency in an era of rather uncontrollable social media and public demand. In view of the serious political shortcomings which have hampered the potential dynamism of Vietnam’s economy (see the recent post on this website) , the party may open up in order to win back some of the trust it has lost among the voters.
Under the headline “Vietnam: Open Secrets on the Road to Succession” (Link) cogitAsia has published an article by Vietnam expert Prof. Jonathan D. London from the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong. London is focusing on the coming leadership succession in 2016 and the preparations for it within the Central Committee:
“As in most one-party states, the politics of succession in Vietnam is meant to take place back stage. Evidence of what is actually occurring is systematically concealed. It is Vietnam’s present deviation from this pattern that has observers taking notice. Indeed, the manner in which events are playing out is lifting a curtain on Vietnam’s elite politics in a way that is without historical precedent. There have been several sets of surprises.
The first set has sprung from the process and alleged but non-verifiable outcomes of an unusual and nominally secretive round of confidence voting, in which 197 members of the Central Committee rated individual members of the Politburo according to their degree of confidence in members’ performance. That the Politburo would subject itself to a round of confidence voting by its formally supervisory Central Committee reminds us that, when it comes to politics, Vietnam’s party has cut its own cloth. China this is not.

The most interesting new development is the public scrutiny of top officials and party leaders which is going on for some time already by showing parliamentary sessions on TV.
“Though most Vietnamese do not follow party politics closely, Vietnam has in recent years developed an increasingly dynamic political culture, thanks to the rapid spread of the internet and the opportunities it has presented Vietnamese to read about and comment about virtually anything that strikes them, including politics.
This leads to a third intriguing development, the appearance of mysterious and heavily visited website, Profiles in Power, which has within the past several weeks published scandalous but seemingly well-documented accounts of several Politburo members’ alleged bad-behavior, including at least two members who were regarded as likely shoe-ins for 2016. The appearance of the website and discussion it has sparked has clearly had an impact, and prompted government calls to steer clear of it.

Though it may well be some sort of water puppet manipulation, Prof. London comes to the cautious conclusion that “recent events evidence greater transparency in Vietnam’s politics. Though not by design, this is nonetheless a significant development. It’s a pinhole view into Vietnam’s increasingly dynamic political scene.”

From MMM to MMP: Thailand Changing The Electoral System


Partyforumseasia: Changing the electoral boundaries (gerrymandering)  is the most common and most unnoticed manipulation of election systems, whereas the impact of tweaks and changes in the electoral system may be the most controversially discussed in political science. But even when the outcome for a certain party is difficult to predict, the committees changing the system have effects and outcomes on their minds.

The Bangkok Pundit, Jan 16, 2015 (Link) gives an interesting introduction of what is in the pipeline:
“The CDC (=Constitutional Drafting Committee) is proposing a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, modeled after the system in Germany. Like Thailand’s previous Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM) electoral system MMP gives voters two votes: one for a constituency MP in a single seat electoral constituency, and one for a party list. However, rather than simply adding the party list seats to a party’s constituency seat total, as is done under MMM, the party list vote is used to determine the total number of seats a party receives. The goal of MMP is to make the number of seats each party obtains as proportional as possible to the percentage of party list votes the party receives.”

Thai

“The total number of seats in the House of Representatives will be a minimum of 450 and a maximum of 480 seats, at least 20 fewer seats than the previous parliament. The number of constituency seats has been dramatically reduced, from 375 in the 2011 elections to a proposed 250, with about 250,000 people per MP. The number of seats set aside for the party list increases from 125 to 200. At 44 percent of total seats this represents the largest percentage of seats set-aside for the party list since Thailand adopted a two-tier system 2001. Finally, as in 2007 the party list seats are to be divided across 8 electoral regions.”

Testing the difference between MMM and MMP on the 2007 and 2011 elections, the analysis shows that the new system will be an advantage for the Democrat Party. The impeachment process against former PM Yingluck Shinawatra and her forseeible banning from the political scene show anyway the general intention of the changes: Keeping the Shinawatras and the Puea Thai party out.

Vietnam’s Central Party Committee Meeting: How to Read the Results


Partyforumseasia: According to today’s (13.01.2015) Viet Nam News (Link) “the committee nominated more officials to strategic positions, cast confidence votes for members of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat and elected more officials to the Central Committee’s Inspection Commission.(…) The Party Central Committee (CPC) wrapped up its 10th meeting in Ha Noi yesterday with a review of the leadership and direction of the Politburo and the Party Secretariat in 2014.”

Viet NamThe Viet Nam News – report is interesting reading  in so far as it is obviously not formulated as a flattering success story. Problems for which the ruling party is responsible are made more visible than hidden between the lines, as is usual among Communist and other authoritarian regimes. Partyforumseasia suggests a few translations (original from the article in italics) into more outspoken plain English, alternative and improved “translations” are welcome!

“The CPC emphasised the need for Party building, especially in efforts to prevent and curb the degradation of political ideology, ethics and lifestyle among Party members.”
= Many party members are corrupt and don’t care about the Communist ideology.

“In terms of civil service reforms, the Committee said it was important to improve existing staff and attract talented people to work for Party and State agencies, organisations and public units.”
= There are too many underperforming civil servants, it is difficult to compete with the private sector.

“It said the press should be developed professionally and effectively to meet public demand for information, while uniting society and contributing to the development of the country and its people.”
= Our controlled press is too boring and the people don’t reed it.

“National defence and security should also be strengthened with social progress and fairness ensured, making it easier for the country to pursue its path in global integration, he said.”
= We have problems with the armed forces, draft and pay are not fair enough.

“He asked for more studies on important issues, especially the settlement of bad debts and macro-economic stabilization plans.”
= After decades of reform we are still struggling with economic and financial problems.

“Delving into a proposal related to a more synchronous political and economic overhaul, the leader said that it involved stronger efforts to accelerate Party building and stop political and moral degradation to create a consensus within the Party and society at large.”
= Our party suffers from a lack of consensus, internally and with the society.

As Ferdinand Lasalle (1825-64, one of the godfathers of early Socialism in Germany) said, “All great political action starts with the definition of the problems. Covering them up is petty political brinkmanship.”
Vietnam’s Central Party Committee
is definitely correct in naming the shortcomings. May their correction be fast and successful in the interest of this great nation and her people.

No Freedom To Lead: Aung San Suu Kyi Not Running for President


Partyforumseasia: Allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president in the elections later this year would have changed the whole set up of parliament and government in Myanmar and ended the military control. From their standpoint it is only logical not to change the constitution which bars her from a candidacy. As far fetched as this clause may look, it is preventing a more than likely sweeping victory of the opposition.

Aung San Suu KyiMyanmar’s opposition leader and democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged she will be unable to become her country’s next president after elections later this year, a decision that will disappoint millions of her supporters.
The 69 year-old Nobel laureate will instead seek to chair Myanmar’s parliament where one-third of seats are allocated to the military, according to Aung Shin, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Ms Suu Kyi has conceded that despite intense lobbying Myanmar’s quasi civilian government will refuse to abolish a constitutional clause barring her from the presidency before the elections that are seen as a crucial test of the country’s move towards a freer and open society after almost 50 years of often-brutal military rule.
The clause specifically directed at Ms Suu Kyi bars anyone from becoming president who has a spouse or child who is a citizen of a foreign country.
Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and their two children hold British passports. Taking the chair in parliament would boost Ms Suu Kyi’s power and likely increase unity among opposition parties.”
See the whole article in The Sidney Morning Herald, LINK here

Cambodia: Resurrection of Funcinpec to stop growth of CNRP Opposition?


Partyforumseasia: Among the many long-term dominant parties in the region, Malaysia’s UMNO, Singapore’s PAP, Vietnam’s VCP, Laos’ LPRP, and Cambodia’s CPP, only the first and the last have sufficient reason to fear being voted out of power. Ranariddh 1The planned return of prince Norodom Ranariddh (71) to the helm of the more than half dead Funcinpec party opens the arena for many speculations. One possible interpretation is that the move is a strategic masterpiece of Prime Minister Hun Sen to limit further growth of Sam Rainsy’s CNRP by absorbing the royalist vote and secure his own and the CPP’s grip on power.
Foto: Prince Ranariddh announcing his return during a press conference in his villa in Phnom Penh on January 5th.

The speculation is not new. Based on Agence France Press, the South China Morning Post ( Link ) raised it on March 17th, 2014 already, when the prince announced his return to politics: “Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced his return to politics yesterday amid speculation that he is being brought back by the strongman leader, Hun Sen, to bolster support for his government.”
Prince Ranariddh is the second son of the late and still revered king Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of the current king. Given his image as being not totally immune against corruption, Hun Sen might well have arranged a deal with him. The prince’s denial, “My goal is not to break up any political party. My single goal is to gather voices of royalists and Sihanoukists”, does not exclude the deal, though.
The royalist camp, not least through Ranariddh’s own political activities, is split and ailing despite a sizable amount of traditional popular support for the monarchy. Being the clear winner of the first democratic election in 1993 with 45.5 %, Funcinpec lost its last two seats from 2008 in the 2013 election. Ranariddh, Prime Minister from1993 was ousted in 1997 by his deputy Hun Sen. But nevertheless he served as President of the National Assembly from 1998 to 2006 and as President of the Supreme Privy Council since 2010.After his ouster from Funcinpec in 2006 he founded the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) which won two seats in 2008 but was dissolved in April 2014 and later replaced by the Community of Royalist People’s Party.
The acronym CRPP, by the way, sounds dangerously close to CPP. Rallying the royalist voters and co-operating with the ruling CPP may indeed weaken the strong CNRP opposition which is described as “republican” by Ranariddh now, citing the “bad example” of France after the revolution of 1789…
But Prince Ranariddh is not yet president of a new Funcinpec, he has to be formally  elected in a party convention. One of his critics from his own family, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, called the return already “a sad day for Funcinpec” (The Cambodia Daily, Link ).

Malaysia’s Competing Coalitions: War of Attrition Going “MAD”?


Partyforumseasia: Sometimes the epic struggle between the ruling Barisan Nasional and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalitions reminds of the cold war nuclear strategy called “mutually assured destruction” or “MAD” in short. But in reality it isn’t about deterrence, it is about the destruction of one or the other. The Non-Malay coalition partner of UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association ( MCA ) lost more than half of its mandates in 2013 with 7 seats in Parliament left. The other predominantly Chinese Barisan-party, Gerakan, is nearly annihilated since 2008, and both were losing despite generous financial support from UMNO.
Now the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), equally pampered by UMNO, and down to four seats, risks its own future by major infighting. What happens within the MIC? Strategic director S Vell Paari and former Youth chief T Mohan, rivals of  party leader G Palanivel triggered an order by the Registrar of Societies to hold fresh elections for three vice-presidents and 23 members of the central MIC fracas 2working committee after the convention in November 2013 was found to have breached the Societies Act 1966. Two weeks ago about 500 disgruntled members demanded Palanivels resignation and came into a scuffle with his loyalists, watched by 100 policemen. Leadership competition is normal in any party but in a declining party it easily gets out of control.
Altogether, the apparent weakness of UMNO’s traditional vote “absorbers” among the ethic minorities plus inroads of the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak must ring the alarm bells quite clearly.
Strategy-wise:
UMNO has reason enough to fear a further erosion of its “majority-formula” which guaranteed its domination for decades by getting enough support from the Non-Malay minority groups in the Barisan Nasional or National Front coalition. Internal warnings were saying that a further two per cent drop in the next election would cost them the government.
To compensate this weakness on their own side, the answer is of course a strategy to create problems for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and use their apparent cleavages and lack of stable cohesion. The most visible cleavage at the moment is the hudud (Islamic criminal law and punishments)-debate between coalition partners PAS and DAP. If the PAS-dominated Kelantan State Legislative Assembly paves the way for hudud after trying to do so for more than two decades, a split of Pakatan may be imminent. The secular DAP can hardly cooperate in that matter with the Islam-driven PAS. And for political gain and its own survival UMNO can hardly afford to prevent Kelantan from introducing hudud. In this type of impasse UMNO will most probably opt for survival and not for the best interest and unity of the nation it leads. The decision of a a special state assembly sitting on December 29th to pass the amendments has been postponed because of the heavy flooding, but the climax of the drama can be expected any time soon.

Malaysia’s DAP: Successful Convention 2014


Partyforumseasia: The DAP party convention on 14 December 2014 has sharpened the profile of Malaysia’s biggest opposition party in the Federal Parliament.
DAPHelped by the next financial mega scandal with the billion $$ 1MDB sovereign wealth fund and the festering long term controversy over the introduction of Islamic criminal law (hudud), the convention tried to show the party as a credible and reliable alternative to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Headlines of reports on the convention range from “The rise of DAP” (Malaysia Chronicle, LINK) to  “As DAP makes history, members worry over ties with PAS” (The Malaysian Insider, LINK) or “DAP shows ‘Malay face’ as party targets Umno” (Malaysiakini, LINK).
The main results of the meeting, namely a new women’s quota of 30 per cent, increased involvement in Sabah and Sarawak to weaken East Malaysia as UMNO’s “vote Bank”, as well as the clear stand on hudud are certainly clever strategic moves which may help to broaden the voter base of the party. But the DAP also goes visibly an extra mile to shed its image of an ethnic Chinese party and open up to the Malay majority:  DAP convention
Urgings for DAP to shed its Chinese-centric image and embrace more Malay members have been a staple message since the party’s rise in 2008 but something was visibly different at the party’s convention today.The difference was probably most felt among some of the Chinese-speaking elderly DAP members who had complained they could not understand “90 percent” of the speeches.The apparent gulf between the party’s elderly members and its mostly young speakers who spoke at the convention in Subang Jaya was perhaps symbolic of the transition the party was undergoing.Speeches at the DAP convention in Subang Jaya were predominantly in the national language, peppered with Chinese, English, compared to its previous more Mandarin-oriented tone.” (Malaysiakini)
According to the party’s homepage the four rocket boosters in the logo symbolize the main ethnic groups in the country, Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others….

Background: GE13

The DAP is Malaysia’s second biggest political party and gains additional strength from a number of helpful developments: Number one is probably the fiasco of arch-rival Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in the last parliamentary election in 2013. MCA lost eight seats and DAP won ten. MCA, supposed to be the Chinese vote collector of the ruling BN coalition under UMNO, has lost this role and the trust of the Chinese Malaysians. But DAP is also successful in attracting more liberal-minded Malay voters who see the growing probability of the introduction of Muslim criminal law or hudud in the country. “Hudud” and the ambivalence of its backers whether it will apply only to Muslims or not is a growing concern and divisive issue. Among the members of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (DAP, PKR,PAS) DAP is the clear leader in the popular demand to uphold the secular character of the state and declare the broad based introduction of hudud unconstitutional. Coalition partner PAS derives much of its success and identity from its Muslim credentials and has to support hudud, which can possibly weaken or even break up the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

Vietnam’s Communist Party and the Media


Partyforumseasia: In authoritarian systems people are used to read between the lines, ignoring more or less the propaganda packaging of the news. The attached recent article from Vietnam News allows a glimpse into a way of informing the public which looks touchingly old fashioned in the age of internet and social media. The powerful secretary general of the all powerful single party has a nice discussion with a group of  undefined voters informing them about the good progress in the work of party and government.
But the list of shortcomings in this report is long and comprehensive. The voters are concerned about corruption, low quality and hazardous fake products, the high public debt, slow law enforcement, public service (or probably bureaucracy) reduction and the organization of the People’s Council. Rectifying all these is really a tall order for government and party, but at least the voters know that they are working on it. And “Ho Chi Minh’s moral example” will help.

Trung and voters                          Secretary General Nguyễn Phú Trọng in the middle
                                     Party leader meets Ha Noi voters.

Vietnam News 8.12.2014 Link here:
Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong met with voters in Ha Noi’s Ba Dinh, Hoan Kiem and Tay Ho districts on Saturday to inform them of the outcomes of the National Assembly’s eighth session and listen to their opinions. Most voters praised the outcomes of the session, especially the vote of confidence and responses cabinet members gave during question-and-answer sessions. Many voiced concerns about issues related to corruption and low-quality and fake commodities that seriously affected people’s health. Regarding foreign investment attraction, they emphasised the need to carefully consider socio-economic and defence interests, ensuring that investment did not affect national security. Voters also worried about high public debts and Government bond debts, slow enforcement of laws, and emerging problems in education and training. Acknowledging voters’ opinions, the Party chief said that during the NA’s eighth session, 30 laws were debated, 18 laws were passed and many important resolutions were approved. Deputies passed a resolution to conduct a vote of confidence on officials holding positions elected or approved by the NA and People’s Councils, he said. He also agreed with voters on the need to promote the role and responsibilities of deputies to ensure the quality and efficiency of the NA.
Regarding anti-corruption efforts, Trong said the Party was determined to fight corruption and wastefulness without compromise while maintaining political stability. In the coming time, the Party would continue speeding up implementation of the Party Central Committee’s resolution on party building as well as the Politburo’s resolution on studying and following President Ho Chi Minh’s moral example, he said. Regarding the East Sea issue, General Secretary Trong underscored that a series of measures had been rolled out to protect national independence and sovereignty while maintaining an environment of peace and stability for development and friendship with other countries, and not allowing external forces to cause disturbances. “We are determined to follow a foreign policy of peace, independence, self-reliance and friendship with all countries,” he said. He also mentioned a number of issues raised by voters, including public servant reduction, wage reform, the organisation of the People’s Council and ensuring law enforcement. Trong said he hoped to hear more from voters to help the Party and National Assembly improve their performance. (…)”

TrungNguyễn Phú Trọng (born 14 April 1944) is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, elected at the party’s 11th National Congress on 19 January 2011.Trong heads the party’s Secretariat, as well as the Central Military Commission,the country’s two most powerful policy making bodies. (Wikipedia)

For more information see: Le, Kim: The Communist Party of Vietnam: A Party in B&N bookTransition. In: Wolfgang Sachsenröder (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014, pp. 346-410 (available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other internet bookstores)

Indonesia’s Golkar Party: Suicide by Power Struggle?


Partyforumseasia: Indonesia’s traditional shadow play (wayang kulit) has often been used to describe the political scene. The public can only see what happens on the Wayang 1screen and everything behind the scene remains hidden. The art of party politics tries to hide all the backroom deals and unpopular internal quarrels in order to entertain the target groups with clean-cut but often enough illusory pictures.
What happens these days with the Golkar party seems to be a sort of reverse wayang kulit. The power struggle and factional fight is all too visible in front of the screen and its ambitious chairman Abrizal Bakrie (ARB) can no longer hold the party together.
Golkar (or Functional Groups), formed as an instrument of president Suharto’s infamous guided democracy, was the ruling party since 1973 and coalition partner under president Yudhoyono in the democratic era. This long participation in government also means that many members have enjoyed the spoils of power and are not very amused that their chairman is keeping them now in the opposition.
Bakrie 2Aburizal Bakrie is a rather controversial leader. Part of a family business conglomerate, he was considered the richest Indonesian in 2007 by Forbes, but does not appear on the Forbes Asia List any more. His brother was a big sponsor of presidential candidate Prabowo whose defeat spoiled Bakrie’s ambition for the vice presidency after he could not get the presidential nomination of his own party. Golkar is still the second biggest party but many blame its vote plunge from 22 to 14 per cent on the chairman.
Bakrie has probably punched above his real weight by calling a convention ahead of schedule in Bali, outmaneuvering possible rivals by sacking them, and changing the party rules to be re-elected by acclamation instead of the usual secret ballots. This authoritarian and undemocratic style may well fan the discontent of party members further.
Meantime, only a week after the Bali convention and with endorsement of former chairman and now vice president Jusuf Kalla, Bakrie’s critics have organized an alternative party congress and elected former deputy chairman Agung Laksono, who Agungis also leader of the so-called “Presidium of the Golkar Party’s Saviors” as Golkar Chairman. Since two competing chairmen are not foreseen in the party’s constitution, both camps have submitted their election results to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights for confirmation.
Whether the ministry finds a Solomonic solution or not, the party split is too obvious and Golkar dangerously at the crossroads.

Singapore’s “Men in White”: Can They Lose the Next Election?


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) has elected its Central Executive Committee (CEC) last Sunday, 7th December. About 2000 cadres in the white party dress came together in this biannual ritual. They are supposed to be the most reliable party members but apart from electing the CEC they have no other privileges.
The results were no surprise. Among the twelve elected members there is only one newcomer, manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin. He replaced defense minister Ng Eng Hen, who came out as number thirteen and was automatically co-opted together with speaker of Parliament Madam Halimah, number fourteen.   PAP rally
Secretary-general Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong used the opportunity to introduce changes to the party constitution with updated objectives. Upholding the multiracial and multi-religious, fair and just society and the vibrant economy are not that new to Singaporeans. “Serving all Singaporeans responsively and responsibly, attentive to immediate concerns” is certainly a  good objective for any party, but the “focus on long-term challenges and opportunities” is a strong point for the PAP, which other parties in the region ruling as long as the PAP cannot claim.
“To strengthen an open and compassionate meritocracy” and “To develop a democracy of deeds” sound somewhat vague and will have to be clarified in practice.

The Real Surprise of the Rally:
The idea that the opposition could win the next election, due by January 2017 at the latest, or that the country is heading toward a two party system with PAP and Workers’Party (WP), may sound rather unrealistic for most Singaporeans, the “men in white” included. But the election could be called earlier as well, maybe closer to the 50th anniversary of the Republic, and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) announced already that it is starting its preparations. So the Prime Minister’s battle cry can be understood as a signal to the party and the opposition at the same time. Ruling since 1959 and entrenched in all sorts of administrations and organizations, the party could take too many things for granted. The 2011 loss of a group representation constituency with six mandates to the Workers’ Party and the following by-election loss
(one seat) in 2013 were alarming enough for the leadership. And in 2014 Roy Ngerng, a young blogger, attacked the Prime Minister on alleged mismanagement of the compulsory retirement fund CPF. Lee reacted by suing Ngerng, but donations from the public for his fine and legal fees revealed the surprising extent of support for the issue and the latent mistrust in the CPF scheme at large. As all long ruling parties the PAP has to face adverse undercurrents among the voters and their extent is not easy to assess. The 60.1% in 2011 are still a dream result for most parties in the world but a reason for concern in a party used to super-majorities.
The message to the opposition, of course, is clear: Don’t feel safe in your supposed strongholds in the East of the island, we will go all out to win back these constituencies.

Party and Campaign Funding: Is Malaysia Already a Plutocracy?


Partyforumseasia: International IDEA is very clear about the trend world-wide: Big money is taking over:
“…unequal access to political finance contributes to an unequal political playing field. The rapid growth of campaign expenditure in many countries has exacerbated this problem. The huge amounts of money involved in some election campaigns make it impossible for those without access to large private funds to compete on the same level as those who are well funded.” (See IDEA’s Handbook on Political Finance, freely downloadable from their website. (Link here)
The fact as such is not really new, Julius Caesar used enormous sums for his political maneuvers and was never reluctant to go into debt for their funding. But the proliferation of vested business interests in elections from local to national levels threatens to damage the rationality of policies and a balanced accommodation of the broader interests of a society.
Election-FlagsFor a case study of Malaysia see the following article in Malaysia Today, 18 September 2014 (Link here):                                                       by Rita Jong, The Ant Daily
In the mid-1990s, a young politician from a Barisan Nasional component party was picked as a candidate for a state assembly seat. Being a newbie, he naively expected that all component parties in the constituency would campaign for him in the spirit of brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, he asked his party elders and found out that he had to first make “contributions” to the branch chairmen of all the parties to help “pay for expenses like petrol and food and beverages”. His rude awakening to the realities of politics came when he found out the going rate then was RM10,000 to RM20,000 per branch, depending on the number of volunteers involved. “I had to dig deep into my own pockets to pay for their help.” The politician learnt fast that there were big companies he could approach for political donations, and he made use of this channel in later campaigns that even involved throwing expensive dinners underwritten by these companies. It seems such a practice is not confined to elected representatives from the ruling coalition, especially after the watershed 2008 general election. A businessman, who declined to be named, told The Heat that in the last general election, he was instrumental in arranging several opposition candidates in Selangor to meet property development companies for donations to fund campaigns. “The sums were not large; between RM10,000 and RM20,000 each. Some donors asked for help to ease approvals for their projects, while others said they didn’t need anything at that time. This meant they would call in a favour if the need arose,” he said, adding that because Selangor is administered by Pakatan Rakyat, it was easier to seek funding. Election candidates do get funds from their parties, but the amount is usually token. Candidates, especially those in “hot” seats and those with a track record to maintain, will go all out for a win, and often have to spend the maximum that is legally allowed, although it is known that many exceed the cap. Just how much is needed? A 2008 court case gives an idea. In that high-profile case, Elegant Advisory Sdn Bhd claimed RM218 million from Umno for the supply of bottled drinking water, mineral water cartons, posters, buntings, and other election paraphernalia for the Barisan Nasional’s 2004 general election campaign. The company lost the suit on the grounds that there was no written agreement. The Election Offences Act (1954) sets the allowed campaign expenses per candidate at RM100,000 for state seats and RM200,000 for federal seats. Going by such figures alone, and the fact there were 505 state seats and 222 parliamentary seats in the 2013 general election, the BN’s maximum allowance expenses would have been about RM95 million. Using the claim by Elegant Advisory as a guide, it is safe to say the BN would have spent much more than RM95 million in GE13. Dr Wolfgang Sachsenroeder, an associate fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, in a new academic paper published recently, claimed that Umno spent RM1.5 billion in the 2004 election. “Knowing how close the GE13 was expected to be, the estimations of between RM2 billion and RM3 billion don’t seem to be far-fetched,” he wrote. On a request from The Heat, he said the estimations were based on a long list of items like transfers from parties to candidates, transportation, ceramah and concerts, millions of flags and posters, events sponsored by local branches, food and salaries of campaign helpers, cash handouts to the poor, T-shirts and other paraphernalia, and the pay rise for civil servants. He said a big portion of expenses came from state coffers, but there were also a lot of donations from companies. In a paper published in the International Institute’s The Journal in 2003, Linda Lim said political parties in Malaysia “solved this problem by going into business themselves – Umno, MCA and MIC all run some of the biggest business conglomerates in the country, using their political position to earn large profits, part of which are plowed back into electoral campaigns to maintain their political position”. Pakatan Rakyat’s fund-raising is also shrouded in secrecy. Sachsenröder said the component parties of PR had obviously found their own ways to attract funding for their development in the years since 2008 when they managed to challenge the BN dominance for the first time. He said the DAP was probably getting more donations from Chinese businessmen unhappy with the MCA and Umno, while PKR may have received donations from non-Umno-linked businesses and middle-class Malaysians. “PAS has cultivated its image of clean politics for decades and thrifty party management based on volunteer contributions by members.” Despite all this, and considering that all political parties stand to gain from maintaining the status quo, it is unlikely there will be any move to create laws that compel disclosure of campaign funds. It is precisely because of this that the public would not know how such funding affects them later in the form of public policies and enforcement of rules. As American political journalist Theodore H. White once said: “The flood of money that gushes into politics today is a pollution of democracy.”Sources told The Heat tycoons and industry captains are willing to make huge donations to government leaders and heads of political parties for their campaigns, with the hope that they would be favourably treated when these people were appointed to powerful positions.When these candidates get elected, it would be payback time. The projects that are carried out by the candidates’ beneficiaries may get the nod, despite protests by the people. It is, however, difficult to prove such interference without disclosure of the names of campaign fund donors.Although most contributions given to candidates come mostly in the form of cash, there are different forms of favours they can pledge. Fund-raising dinners where everything is paid for by benefactors is one of them.Former MCA member and five-term Subang Jaya assemblyman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng tells The Heat that political funds can come from individuals as well as companies, mostly developers.“This is because developers are the ones who would be most affected by the outcome of an election. Hence, developers would usually give both sides of the political divide though the amount may vary,” says Lee, who lost in the 2008 general election.The retired politician says these ‘contributions’ would sometimes be offered voluntarily, or they would be approached at times by the political parties.“Businessmen with no self-interest would also give to the political party they support. Besides that, friends of the candidates would also lend their support,” says Lee.“These contributions would normally be given in cash, so that it would not be traced back to them. The money would be given directly to the candidate alone and not through a political party’s bank account.”Lee admits that based on his experience, most candidates from both sides of the political divide could actually make money from campaigning. The problem is, he says, no one keeps a check on the amount spent and if there is any money left, no one would be the wiser.“In the 2008 general election when the then state government gave us an allocation to contest, I actually had money left over and I returned it after I lost the election.“I do feel it is time we look into regulating this like how they do it in the United States. There is nothing wrong with people donating or contributing to election campaign funds, but the money must be declared. This would then be submitted to the Election Commission to show how the money is spent,” he says.PKR’s Yusmadi Yusoff and former one-term Balik Pulau member of parliament (MP) says that during the 2008 general election, he was given RM15,000 by the central party to campaign and that was all he used to win the election.“I did not source money from any individual, except that a businessman donated two boxes of mineral water for my supporters,” Yusmadi saysHe says sourcing of funds for election campaigns actually makes democracy more expensive. “I know parties like PAS and DAP are quite active in raising their funds during ceramah. They can raise quite a lot, particularly in the urban areas,” says Yusmadi.He says since the 2013 general election, his party’s treasurer at the central level appointed a campaign director for each constituency to monitor campaign donations.“The nexus between political finance, dynamics or leadership can be interpreted based on the local development of the area. For example in Balik Pulau, some development projects are still being carried out despite complaints by locals who claimed they were victimised through forced eviction,” he says.According to the Malaysian Corruption Barometer 2014 released by Transparency-International Malaysia (TI-M) recently, Malaysians ranked political parties as the most corrupt among six key institutions. The police scored second place, followed by public officials or civil servants, the judiciary, parliament or legislature, and business or private sector.TI-M called for more transparency in political financing expenditure for campaigning to curb corruption and stop money politics. It urged the government to regulate financing for all political parties where all forms of contributions and funding must be channelled to an official party account and not into political candidates’ personal bank accounts.DAP election strategist Dr Ong Kian Ming, who is also Serdang MP, says the proposal to regulate political finances would only be viable if there is a genuinely level playing field.“My fear is that this may be used as a tool to ‘scare’ people off from contributing to opposition parties, without controlling the flow of funds to the BN parties through official and non-official channels,” he says.“For example, legislation may be introduced to make it compulsory for political parties to disclose the identity of supporters who make donations above a certain amount but does not stop companies or individuals from giving to BN parties through non-official channels.”Ong says as far as DAP is concerned, the party’s election funds are obtained from supporters who attend ceramah and those who contribute to the party’s bank account.He says candidates also get donations directly from friends, family members and their supporters. He adds that he was not aware of donations from companies.“Some funds are given to the party through its official bank accounts while other funds are channelled to the party branch account to be used for individual candidates. The decision on which account to bank the contributions into is up to the individual supporter,” says Ong.The interdependence of party politics and business sectors – once dubbed as an “incestuous relationship” by veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang – is prevalent in low-income and developing nations, more so in Southeast Asia.In reality, political parties and their candidates need the political funds to reach out to voters and to ensure governance. To ban such donations to parties would leave them high and dry, incapable of running an effective campaign.The acceptable compromise would be for clear rules to be created to usher in an era of transparency, so that the “dark money” may be brought into the light. Big companies should donate because they support the party they think will do a good job of governing the country, not because they would get favours from it.

This article was first published in the June 21, 2014 issue of The Heat

For further reading see also:  Aboo Talib, Kartini: The Political Parties in Malaysia, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.): Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other internet book distributors.

Malaysia: “Fortress” UMNO threatened by Own Supporters?


Partyforumseasia: As the saying goes, with certain friends you don’t need enemies. One possibly dangerous ally of Malaysia’s ruling party UMNO is the support group Perkasa, founded in 2008. It is supposed to have a membership of over 400.000, but probably a majority among them are also UMNO members. Perkasa has been established to defend the leading role of the country’s Malay population and their special rights, enshrined in Article 153 of the constitution. Privileges for the Malays and other indigenous groups (called together “Bumiputera” or sons of the soil) go back to colonial times. The British had imported Chinese and Indian labor in big numbers, but later the decisive division became more economic and social with predominantly rural Malays and more affluent city dwellers from the immigrant minorities. Unfortunately, the imbalance is persisting until today despite all quotas and support programs of successive UMNO-led governments.
Najib Nov.   The big strategic challenge for Prime Minister Najib is the necessity to reform certain outdated provisions like the sedition act and others to win over more votes from the minorities on one hand, and at the same time convince the Malay clientele that he will not touch their privileges. After winning the last election with only 48% of the popular vote with the help of a lopsided election law, Najib faces  challenges now from both sides. And on top of that his pre-predecessor Mahathir, who has already toppled his own direct successor, is increasingly critical vis-a-vis Najib. Dr. M
In this difficult situation Perkasa is not exactly a helpful support group but pours constantly oil in the fire. Their initiatives against perceived and alleged Chinese, Indian, or Christian threats against the Malay and Muslim majority increase all the latent tensions. The minorities are frightened of Muslim criminal law (hudud) for all, hairsplitting controversies about who may use the word Allah and the distribution of bibles in Malay as well as many other gross exaggerations coming from Perkasa.
Strategy-wise the organization threatens to be much more of a liability than a support group and undermines the Prime Minister’s efforts to reduce the tensions and deep divisions after the 2013 election. Asking him now before the UMNO convention to drop most of the so-called “liberal” reforms amounts to stabbing him in the back. And Perkasa adviser Mahathir should carefully weigh the doses of vitriol he pours on Najib.