The Law As Political Weapon In Southeast Asia


Cambodia Compromise

From handshake to kicking out…

Partyforumseasia: World wide, there is a certain connectivity between law and justice, but the law, in most cases a result of politics anyway, is rather often a sharp political instrument as well. Some argue that the laws are just petrified political power to preserve the established structures of elite domination.
The newest twist of a long rivalry between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy is unfolding these days with the announcement of Hun Sen that he will introduce legislation to ban dual citizenship. Sam Rainsy’s French passport, which is helpful for his newest self-exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home (for a rather obviously politically motivated conviction) would neutralize him as challenger to Hun Sen’s hold on power. Under the headline “PM’s pledge: ‘No pardon’ for Rainsy” the Phnom Penh Post (Link here) on 29 December is quite blunt about the move:

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to create a new law barring political party leaders from holding dual nationalities, an apparent move to further incapacitate beleaguered CNRP president Sam Rainsy.In his latest tirade against his long-time political rival, the premier also vowed to never again request a royal pardon for Rainsy, who in November entered his third stint of self-imposed exile to avoid prison on charges widely perceived as politically motivated.”

Other countries in the region might have inspired the Cambodian Prime Minister:

In Malaysia the only dangerous opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison once again after a dubious conviction for sodomy. Without him the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance has fallen apart, and Prime Minister Najib Razak survives a string of scandals.

In Myanmar election winner Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for president because her sons have British passports.

In the Philippines a citizenship drama is still unfolding. The Election Commission tries to disqualify the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe because she is a foundling without sufficient proof of being a real born Phillipina, plus her former US citizenship. The Supreme Court has challenged the decision, so she may eventually run in the upcoming presidential election in 2016.

In Thailand former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing a law suit for negligence with the rice purchasing program of her government. The move is widely seen as a last and decisive attempt to exclude her brother Thaksin from any chance of coming back to the political scene.

Who says that politics is fair? At the moment all these legal battles show the ugly face of Southeast Asian hardball politics.
See also the chapter “Hardball: Power and Party Politics in Southeast Asia” in:

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Malaysia’s UMNO Convention: What Keeps Najib In Power?


Partyforumseasia:One important advantage of democracy  over all other systems is the possibility to exchange an unsuccessful  government against a new team and new hope for the voters. Sometimes it happens after internal power struggles like the recent transfer from Abbot to Turnbull in Australia, sometimes it is growing unhappiness among the voters and defeat in elections. With a more open and less gerrymandered electoral system PM Najib would have lost his job already in 2013. But even under

Determined to prevail

Determined to prevail

unprecedented pressure from voters, many of whom have lost trust in him, and internal opposition in his own party, Najib seems unassailable. In this week’s ongoing party convention with 2,654 delegates from 191 divisions he shrugs off all the attacks and calmly pretends to be in fighting spirit. An admirable level of self-confidence.
His long career as a politician has been a jump-start but accompanied by a series of scandals. At the age of 23 he took over the parliamentary seat of his father, a prime minister like an uncle, and moved into the cabinet as deputy minister only two years later. Prime Minister since 2009, his former mentor and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad has now turned into his most prominent critic. Mahathir’s constant call for him to step down seems unsuccessful by now, and the UMNO-internal challenge looks neutralized. As incredible as it sounds for Malaysians and outsiders, the scandalous mismanagement of 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund with billions of debt, and the more than dubious campaign “donation” of 700 million US$ from undisclosed Middle Eastern sources into Najib’s private account (!), seem to be swallowed by most leaders of the 3.4 million strong government party. His enemies never imagined that he got get away with that.

There are four main reasons for the strong position of Najib:

1. There is no competitor who could replace him at short notice. All party comrades who speak up are being sacked, like former deputy prime minister and deputy party president Muhyiddin Yassin,  and replaced by yes-men. Najib even declares that it is a Muslim religious duty to support the leader.

2. With the  imprisonment and effective elimination of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the ambivalent stand of Islamist opposition party PAS, the threat by a strong opposition coalition has more or less vanished.

3.  Starting from Mahathir’s time, the powers of party president and prime minister have been strengthened continuously. On 3 December, Malaysia’s parliament has approved the National Security Council Bill which gives the prime minister quasi unlimited discretion to detain people and declare a state of emergency. The criticism of Mahathir sounds somewhat hollow, though, because he used the former internal security act against his challengers during his term rather extensively.Najib 1

4. The main reason, however, is the pervasiveness of money politics. Widely the norm in Southeast Asia, it has been developed and fine-tuned in Malaysia, ironically again since Mahathir’s premiership. Najib, born with the famous silver spoon in his mouth, has made full use of the UMNO patronage system. As Partyforumseasia has argued earlier, UMNO cannot afford to lose an election because the whole enormous scheme would collapse and leave hundreds of thousands of party officials and supporters in the cold. And Najib cannot afford to step down because more dirty linen suspected by critical Malaysians might surface and destroy party and patronage.
The system, described as “the patronage networks that flow downward through UMNO, and that ensure the loyalty of party cadres” (Council on Foreign Relations, Link here) is a tool for which many parties worldwide may envy UMNO. But its refinancing comes from state funds and corrupt government-business links at the expense of tax payers.
As aptly as ruthlessly playing racist and religious cards, party and prime minister seem to get away with this cancerous system among the profiteers and voters. And far from being as scandalous as it sounds for most observers, the 700 million “donation” might even strengthen Najib’s position by boosting his financial discretion even more. As the saying in the Philippines goes, the Golden Rule simply means that he who has the gold will rule…

He won't go

He won’t go

John Stewart Mill in his Considerations on Representative Government published in 1861 had warned already against money politics: “Of what avail is the most broadly popular representative system if the electors do not care to choose the best member of Parliament, but choose him who will spend most money to be elected?”

 

Sam Rainsy: PM Hun Sen Increases Pressure


Cambodia Compromise

Honeymoon definitely over

Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia is known to be a strongman with a very sharp sense of power and how to preserve it. His move to let opposition leader Sam Rainsy return from his exile in Paris in July 2013 was signalling that he felt safe and in complete control of his party, the army and the government. His idea of an arrangement with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) seems to have underestimated  the continuing popularity of the main opposition party. In return for the arrangement the CNRP gave up its boycott of the election results and took up its seats in parliament. But the honeymoon was not really meant to last for long because there is a groundswell against the everlasting CPP and Hun Sen rule on one hand, and maybe even more annoying for the prime minister, the ambitions of Sam Rainsy as “Prime Minister in waiting” and his deputy Kem Sokha successfully working the grassroots all over Cambodia to maximize the groundswell.

At least some alarm bells must have been heard by Mr. Hun Sen. The idea of seeing the opposition taking over seems to be more than bewildering an idea for a politician who is used to being in power for more than three decades and probably grooming his son for succession. The Cambodia Daily stated in its October 26th edition rather bluntly “Hun Sen, Pondering Defeat, Has War on Mind”. At that time, the PM was sketching a bleak scenario with possible civil war in case the opposition should win in the 2018 (!!!) election.
Since then a series of calamities is hitting the CNRP:
October 26th: Two of their lawmakers are severely beaten up upon leaving the parliament. Concurrently, there is a CPP demonstrations demanding that Kem Sokha be ousted as deputy speaker of parliament which has been achieved since then.
November 13th: Citing a seven-year-old defamation case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issues an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, who is abroad at that time and prefers to stay abroad. He actually has enough experience with self exile.
November 16th: Sam Rainsy is ousted from parliament. “His Excellency Sam Rainsy has lost the rights, parliamentary privileges and membership as a member of the National Assembly for the Kampong Cham constituency” (Assembly President Heng Samrin)
November 18th: Sam Rainsy calls his ouster and arrest warrant a “constitutional coup”, but an unofficial intermediary suggests that there could be a deal if he returns.
November 27th: Sam Rainsy attends a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where MEPs pass a resolution condemning the ruling CPP government’s recent persecution of the opposition.
The whole legal battle saga can be found in an interactive timeline by the Phnom Penh Post in the following LINK

Strategywise: Like Anwar Ibrahim in Malysia, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar and other political leaders in Southeast Asia, Sam Rainsy is facing constant pressure by legal and political maneuvers from the powers that be. Many have tried to garner at least moral support from more democratic governments or the United Nations. That may help morally but is often simply ignored by their opponents in power.

Myanmar’s NLD: Much Needed Grace Period After Landslide Victory


Partyforumseasia: The victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD was widely anticipated, sometimes cautiously though, in view of the deficits in the not completely free and fair voting system. But the peaceful voting process won international approval and the final triumph is probably beyond the expectations of the party itself, if not even its charismatic leader. ASSKThe Lady’s more than two decades long role as martyr, democracy icon and symbol of hope has triggered this exceptional landslide victory, securing 57.95 % of the seats in the House of Representatives and 60.27 % in the House of Nationalities, the upper house. See the detailed charts below.
This gives the NLD an absolute majority even with the junta’s safeguard of 25% of the seats reserved for the army. The long rule of the generals which lasted half a century may come to an end if Aung San Suu Kyi resists any temptation of “landslide-hubris” and finds a modus vivendi with the still powerful army. But the leading generals conceding defeat and promising a smooth transfer are very positive signals.

With the huge expectations of her voters and the broader public, the emerging leadership of The Lady (“above the new President” as she declared already before the election) will be confronted with enormous political challenges. These range from the minority problems aggravated by the dismal election results for their ethnic parties to the huge deficits in infrastructure, legal framework for foreign investment, smuggling and drug trafficking black markets to possible obstruction by the civil service so far controlled by the army.

But there is another immediate and enormous challenge: The victorious NLD as a political party is hardly prepared to take over all the responsibilities of ruling the complex country in a more than complex period of her history. Switching from decades of opposition to government roles is not easy, especially for those who have suffered imprisonment and feel entitled to rule. It will be a most urgent task to select and prepare future government officials for their role, including the next president who will be coming from the NLD. Many commentators seem to deplore the long transition period and the Thein Sein administration staying on until the presidential election next spring. Partyforumseasia sees it more as a blessing and a grace period for Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD to get better prepared for their government role.

The final election results as of November 15th, 2015 (Wikipedia)

Myanmar election results

 

House of Nationalities

Myanmar’s Hour of Truth or the Lady’s Last Gamble


Partyforumseasia: Well, the hour of truth and the final results of Sunday’s election will take some time to be announced. Logistically this election is a formidable challenge given the size of the country, the diversity of ethnic groups and ongoing violence, and the deficits in transport and communication infrastructure. What the New York Times called “the country’s first relatively free elections in 25 years” (Link here), will certainly be a milestone in the development of the political and economic latecomer among the ten ASEAN countries. Since last year, though, the military dominance is no longer such an exception. Neighboring Thailand, which used to look down on Myanmar and her military rule, is under a military junta herself. The example of the chaos in Bangkok may be on voters’ minds on Sunday, even if many are tired of the generals and dream of a more open democratic era under Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi
The democracy icon has been pulling huge crowds during her campaign with charisma and her personal history as victim of the generals. The military, sure, has not honored her victory in 1990, but the house arrest in her villa in Rangoon was not as cruel as incarceration could have been, and audiences with her followers over the garden gate were tolerated for many years.
What might psychologically happen to Aung San Suu Kyi is not easy to guess, but there are some telling facts:

1. Aung San Suu Kyi is getting old(er). With 70 most politicians are closer to the end of their service for the country than to the beginning. Exceptions are possible: Konrad Adenauer was 73 when he was elected as first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, and he ruled until 1963. At the ripe age of 87 then, he unsuccessfully tried to become president…

2. Aung San Suu Kyi dominates her National League for Democracy in a way that some see as more authoritarian than liberal democratic. Tactical campaign moves like snubbing the Muslim minority and courting the radical Buddhists of Ma Ba Tha, betray her urge to make it this time even at the price of ignoring the democratic values she embodies for many Myanmar citizens and maybe even more for international observers.

3. The actual gamble of Aung San Suu Kyi to get the votes out for her party and herself is being reported by Reuters and AFP after an interview yesterday, 5th November:
“If we win, and the NLD forms a government, I will be above the president. It’s a very simple message. I will run the government and we will have a president who will work in accordance with the policies of the NLD.”
That would be difficult in a presidential system and is against the constitution which can’t be changed against the will of the generals. So the message for her followers and supporters is: Make sure that we win, then I will take care of the formal questions when I’m in power. But it could produce a backlash from the supporters of the military and their USDP as well because of the potential chaos which may follow an open power struggle. Myanmar voters want stability and economic recovery, the ethnic conflicts going on for much too long already.

4. Coming back to the political psychology: Many victims of oppression and violence against opposition, many in prison for long years, have developed a sense of entitlement to high office. Shih Ming-Teh of Taiwan (25 years in prison) could not even convince his own party that he should be the president. Only Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison) made it to the presidency of South Africa. Partyforumseasia hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi will  approach the election results as sober and level-headed as possible!

Golkar Reconciliation: Compromise Indonesian-Style


Golkar reconciliation

All smiles, the bitter feud is over. Agung Laksono, coordinating minister Luhut Pandjaitan, confirmed chairman Aburizal Bakrie, and former leader Jusuf Kalla (from left)

Partyforumseasia: On December 10, 2014, we were asking whether Golkar was close to a suicide by internal power struggle (Link here). Party leader Aburizal Bakrie was more than disappointed with the result of the presidential election on July 9, 2014. After he could not be the top candidate himself or promote another Golkar candidate, his political gamble to support Gerindra leader  Prabowo Subianto failed. Neither his Golkar party nor many million $$ from his family business could prevent the victory of Joko Widodo.

Against instinct and inclination of the Golkar leadership, Bakrie managed to prevent the party from switching from the losing Prabowo camp to the winners around the new president. This was splitting the party, leading to rival factions, competing party conventions in 2014 and the election of two party leaders, Bakrie being supported by the Prabowo camp and Agung Laksono by the faction open to president Jokowi. The rivalry was brought to the courts, producing different rulings, until on October 20th, 2015 the Supreme Court finally decided that Bakrie is the rightful chairman, one day after the 51st anniversary of Golkar.
Factional strife is absolutely normal in political parties but the visibility of this one has certainly affected the image of Golkar among Indonesia’s voters on top of their image problem after decades of being the political vehicle for president Suharto‘s authoritarian rule. Compromise, though, is the essence of democracy, and it was high time to give up the sulking attitude of the election loser. Indonesia has enough problems to solve and supporting the Jokowi administration is certainly more patriotic than obstructing him in parliament. Golkar’s 91 seats will make it much easier for the president to speed up legislation.

Affiliation of the parties in the Parliament so far(Wikipedia):
Indoparliament
The Golkar factions and their leaders will now have to organize the practical part of their reconciliation and bring the party back to unity. But one may wonder whether the urge to save the party from suicide has been boosted by more concrete advantages. So far it is not clear that calls for a cabinet reshuffle will result in any ministerial posts for the party leaders. But it is not necessary to be a political cynic to expect that in due course…

No Velvet Gloves in Phnom Penh


Partyforumseasia:  With huge amounts of development aid and investments flowing into Cambodia, relatively low paid jobs and industries have been created, giving at least to the capital Phnom Penh a veneer of success and normality compared to the other big cities in the region. But underemployment and poverty are still too visible and contrast with posh villas and the big SUVs of the rich.  Belated trials against Khmer Rouge criminals in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are bringing back memories but the younger generation is not very interested. The country has gone through so unspeakably cruel times and experiences that the older generation of survivors probably prefer to forget as much as possible. But the deadly memories may still linger in the social fabric of the country.  Hun Sen
Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, is certainly not known for a soft style with political opponents. With his survival instinct he rules Cambodia since 1985 and ranks now as no. 7 on the “List of current longest ruling non-royal national leaders” world wide (Wikipedia). Two very recent news items, both dated 26 October and concerning Mr. Hun Sen are remarkable:

1. “Opposition lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were beaten and severely injured by protesters outside the National Assembly on Monday morning during a demonstration demanding that CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha step down as the parliament’s vice president.”  According to the Cambodia Daily (Link here) the demonstration was supervised by heavy police presence, but the traffic police closer to the cars of the victims did not interfere. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself confronted with protests in Paris, signaled from there that he respects the right to demonstrate, and an official of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party CPP denied that the demonstration was organized by them. Party spokesman Sok Eysan regretted that the demonstration got out of control but has doubts that the perpetrators can be found.

2. Under the headline “Hun Sen, Pondering Defeat, Has War on Mind”, the Cambodia Daily (Link here) reports a series of threats the Prime Minister is publishing for the case that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) should win the next election in 2018. Though CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has already announced that he would not remove the CPP supporters in the army and the public service, Hun Sen seems to feel that he has to dramatize the possibility of losing power already three years before the election. His horror scenario goes from civil war to the return of the Khmer Rouge. Probably one can trust his power and survival instinct. If he feels that early intervention is necessary to nip an opposition victory in the bud he must have sufficient evidence and background as well as secret service information. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will take it as an encouragement, but the attacks on the two MPs should be a warning. There are no velvet gloves in Phnom Penh.

The latest from Cambodia Daily:
Phnom Penh beating 26.10.15

Oust Kem Sokha

Thailand: Which Election System Under A New Constitution?


Partyforumseasia: Thailand is holding some dubious world records, namely the number of military coups and the number of constitutions. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the average life span of a constitution was about four years. The military government under general-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gave up on the Prayuthlast draft after nine months of gestation under rejection pressure from practically all political parties. The most controversial among the 285 articles was the creation of a so called National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee (NSRRC) with the commanders of all the military services and the police and sweeping powers to interfere even after successful elections and the establishment of civilian government. Abandoning the draft constitution extends the military rule through mid 2017.
Meanwhile, the discussions within the new drafting committee (CDC) may give some clues about what the generals want to avoid. Last week a panel of the CDC was discussing the future electoral system and the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system which was part of the rejected draft constitution. The proponents and supporters had studied the German system which works well for decades now. It gives two votes to the voters, one for a candidate and one for a party of his preference. One argument against its adoption  was that it would necessitate an electronic system not available so fast  in Thailand, which it does not have in Germany either, though. The system was seen as a safeguard against one-party rule and favoring coalition governments and smaller parties. For the generals, meanwhile, coalition governments with possibly a multitude of small parties may seem too weak to reconcile the country and push for consolidating necessary reforms.
A viable reform of Thailand’s democratic institutions hits the ceiling of decades of wrong developments. This was openly addressed by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, former chairman of the political reform committee under the now-defunct National Reform Council, by saying that the major challenge to the Thai system was that most of the MPs came to power through election fraud. Century-old patterns of leadership in the social structures have undermined the establishment of really free and fair elections and advanced the continuous proliferation of vote buying and violent intimidation of voters. THB donationsThe collusion between dubious local business elites („chao pho“) who enjoy profitable concessions and monopolies which often cover partially unlawful activities on one side and politicians, bureaucrats, police and military on the other side as well as more and more „chao pho“ in parliament themselves. The system has been “perfected” over the last few decades by a variety of vote canvassers („hua khanaen“) on local, provincial and regional level who sort of guarantee a mandate to the candidate who offers the best price. To be fair, it must be mentioned that Thailand is not the only country in the region with this problem, among others Indonesia can compete on that level.
The ongoing political uncertainty is aggravated by another major uncertainty, the pending royal succession. But it is not excluded that the military may have a better chance to control the transformation than any unstable coalition government.

For a detailed overview on Thailand’s party politics see: Dusadeeisariyakul, Pimrapaat, Stability and Performance of Political Parties in Thailand
in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014
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Singapore: Low Risk For Not Voting


Partyforumseasia: Like in a few countries in Southeast Asia and many more world wide, voting in Singapore’s parliamentary elections is compulsory. As the Elections Department (ELD) announced last week, 155,180 voters did not vote in the recent election. That is 6.3 % of the eligible voters, whereas the voter turnout was 93.7 % out of 2,462,926 voters, a dream turnout compared to most countries, even those with compulsory vote. But casting your vote is easy in a small city state where polling stations are normally well in walking distance from your home.
The non-voters are automatically struck from the registers, but have an easy way of being restored to the voters’ list by explaining their missed opportunity to the Election Department. Acceptable reasons are living overseas or traveling, illness or delivering a baby. Voters can do that online via http://www.eld.gov.sg.

But even if you don’t have an acceptable excuse you can still apply for being restored to the register by paying a fee of S$ 50 ( approx. US$ 36 ). It may be difficult to find out how many Singaporeans have completely dropped out because they did not apply for their restoration to the list, but the high turnout is an argument for the compulsory voting regime. For the tens of thousands of citizens living and working abroad the embassies offer local voting facilities, but only in places like London, Sidney etc. with a sizable number of eligible voters.
Regionally and internationally compulsory voting is not very common. Here is a world map from Wikipedia (Link)
Compulsory Vote Wiki

The enforcement is normally as lenient as in Singapore, though the list looks tough for countries like Egypt, Australia and Fidschi, where imprisonment is possible, and Bolivia where the non-voter risks to lose his or her identity card and closure of bank accounts. Doubts about the real enforcement  may be allowed, though.

Most countries impose a relatively small fine, but in Luxemburg it can reach up to 250 and in Turkey 130 Euros. Older voters over 70 or 75 are exempted, but all countries remove the non-voters from the registers.
In the overview Wikipedia lists 19 countries with sanctions and 13 with compulsory voting but no sanctions.
Since some countries have given up on compulsory voting one can assume that the decision depends on the expectations of the ruling parties or coalitions, whether they can count on better results with or without. Considerations about how to develop and improve democratic behavior might play a role in the debates but less so in the final decision of the parliaments.

For more details on Singapore’s political system see: Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014.
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“Flamboyant” Presidential Candidates in the Philippines


The upcoming presidential campaigns in the Philippines and the USA

Partyforumseasia:
Self-confidence is certainly a prerequisite for candidates running for leadership posts. And as political psychologists have found out, even overblown self-confidence seems to signal competence and leadership qualities to the voters. In the USA the top job attracts surprising numbers of “wannabes” despite the grueling burden of responsibilities. C-Span website “Road to the White House 2016” (Link) lists 24 declared candidates, and Politics1 (Link) includes all sorts of hopefuls in the hundreds. Internationally in the media and quite high in the polls in the US is flamboyant candidate Bush TrumpDonald Trump who has at least highly developed skills in self marketing. Jeb Bush with his handicap of being son and brother of former presidents obviously comes across as too boring though he would probably be much more qualified for the job than Trump.

In comparison, the Philippines are even more open to colorful and flamboyant candidates than the US. Partyforumseasia has taken up the topic already on 24 September. But the pre-campaign is getting more colorful by the day. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 6th, (Link) “Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is going solo in his quest for the vice presidency.” Since the elections of president and vice president are held on the same day but separately (Article II Sec. 13 of the OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES) a president elect can be confronted with an unwanted vice president elect.   Bongbong support
Bongbong Marcos is a senator since 2010 and seems to be acceptable to the voters despite the shadow of his father. Support by political fossils like his 86 year old mother Imelda, former president and now mayor of Manila Joseph Estrada (78), and controversial “eternal politician” Juan Ponce Enrile (91) may not be very appealing to the young voters, bu help him at least to keep his campaign budget healthy. Playing down his privileged youth and education he says: “I humbly ask them (the voters) to judge whether or not I am worthy of their trust to be Vice President on the strength of my performance as a public servant in the last 26 years: first as former vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte, then as representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte and finally, as a senator of the country.”
Somewhat more disturbing for Non-Philippinos is the candidacy of another senator. Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II, better known as Gringo Honasan, participated in the EDSA revolution ousting president Marcos, but staged an unsuccessful coup in 1987 against democracy icon Cory Aquino. Imprisoned and escaped, he was pardoned by president Fidel Ramos in 1992. According to an interesting Wikipedia formulation, Honasan “utilized his rebel infamy to enter politics in 1995, becoming the first independent candidate in Philippine history to win a seat in the Senate”, and is serving his fourth term now.

Gringo-Enrile

Gringo Sen.Honasan before (1986) and after as senator (now).

During last week he declared that he is not teaming up with vice president Jejomar Binay because of unbridgeable differences in policies, but his flamboyant and somewhat adventurous image may give him a realistic chance.

Roxas RobredoWhereas the entertainment value of flamboyant candidates is evident, the Liberal Party candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas may be more presidentiable,  but at least at the moment he remains in the media shadow of the flamboyants, a bit like Jeb Bush with Trump and others in the US. But Roxas has found an attractive running mate with Leni Robredo, the widow of popular politician Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012. Their poll results are improving since the announcement of the team agreement.

If we ask whether flamboyant politicians can be good leaders, Partyforumseasia tends to be skeptical. From Mussolini, Hitler and Mao Tse Dong to Ceausescu, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and the Kim dynasty in North Korea, flamboyant leaders may be successful in a certain sense but for good governance the dependable and sober “paperclips” are certainly a much better choice.

Myanmar’s Democracy Icon: Still up to Expectations?


Partyforumseasia: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is campaigning hard for the upcoming elections. But strategic shortcomings of the NLD campaign threaten to damage her aura as democracy icon. Like many politicians who have suffered under authoritarian governments for so long she feels entitled to lead the nation. But she might miss the right timing and see the political development bypass her. Without diminishing her merit and service to the nation by keeping up democratic hope against the military regime, a sad end to her political career is not excluded.
San Suu KyiSee the analysis by Nicholas Farrely in the Myanmar Times (Link)

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.”