Party Theory


1. Are there common types of political parties in Southeast Asia?

Many, maybe too many, Southeast Asianists have been looking into the party systems of the region for semblances with the established patterns which have been developed on Western or better European paradigms, building on Duverger’s seminal party book from 1954. One of the newest publications in this line is
Choi, Jungug, Votes, Party Systems, and Democracy in Asia, 2012
where Choi is trying to propose a common pattern for the whole of Asia (East, Southeast, South!), speaking often in “Duvergerian” categories.
Wang, Gungwu, Party and Nation in Southeast Asia, in: Millennial Asia, Vol.1, Nr. 1, Jan-June 2010, pp 41-57, represents the opposite end of the possible positions. In this interesting historical perspective of party formation in Southeast Asia, Wang argues that the quasi absence of nation states in 1945 and the following necessity of nation building has created parties that had to improvise for survival and of which “none resembles the classic parties of the West.” (p.54)
The possible classification according to Wang is:
1. Communist parties in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and early Myanmar, which survived with support from Russia and China and shaped the new nations to their needs of securing power.
2. Military or Military controlled parties, in Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand
3. Parties “who have sought to operate under more or less democratic conditions” in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore.
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2. Reducing the number of parties: A danger for the diversity of Indonesia?

Partyforumseasia:   Conventional political science wisdom is rather unanimous that too many competing parties are more of a nuisance than a blessing to any party system. Consequently, Indonesia has been commended for the effort to keep a lid on the mushrooming party scene in the earlier part of the democratic era (Benjamin Reilly and others). But the question is, whether what is good for “normal” countries can be applied to the huge archipelago state of Indonesia and its regional diversity.

In an article for the Link: Straits Times of Singapore (22.1.2013), John Mcbeth looks into the negative side effects of the new move by the the General Election Commission (KPU)’s screening process for the 2014 election:
“Only 10 parties passed the General Election Commission (KPU) verification, in a screening process that has seen the overall field drop from the 48 parties which took part in the first democratic elections in 1999 to 24 in 2004, and then back to 38 in 2009. (…) Among the victims of the KPU paring knife were the Crescent Star Party (PBB), which had contested all three past elections, and the United National Party, founded by the leaders of 12 minor parties who failed to win representation in 2009.
Quite apart from denying the country’s 187 million potential voters a wider choice, the onerous qualification obstacles the big parties embedded in last year’s amendment to the 2008 electoral law will also make the electorate more Java-centric than ever. The PBB, for example, failed to win a seat in 2009. But most of its 1.8 million supporters were concentrated along Sumatra’s central spine and in West Nusa Tenggara – not on populous Java.”
The criteria of the electoral law, amended in April 2008, are certainly not easy to meet by small and new parties unless they have access to very comfortable funds:
– The minimum threshold to enter parliament has been increased to 3.5% – still low in the international comparison
– A regional chapter in all 34 provinces
– Branches in 75 per cent of the 398 districts and 98 municipalities, and in 50 per cent of about 5,400 sub-districts.

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4 thoughts on “Party Theory

  1. Pingback: What type of parties are there in Southeast Asia? | Political Party Forum Southeast Asia

  2. John McBeth is right to point out the inequities created by Indonesia’s party registration law, which are amongst the most stringent in the world. party formation rules appear to have been much more consequential. I have argued previously that political party engineering in Indonesia, of which the party registation laws are a central part, has helped to consolidate the party systems and provided incentives for aggregation, but in doing so have also assisted larger incumbent parties at the expense of minority interests. These incentives are now so strong that they appear to have become a means for the major parties to block new entrants and possible competitors, which is clearly a backwards step for Indonesia.

    However, the genesis of the laws lies in Indonesian elites concerns about not just party fragmentation, but also means to deny ethno-regional parties a platform to pursue sectarian or even secessionist policies. It is in this conflict management role that the laws have been notably successful. The one exception to the law – which allows the Free Aceh Party to compete in Aceh – was a crucial bargaining chip in helping end the secessionist struggle there. More broadly the decision to disallow local political parties has meant that ethnicity cannot be a viable vehicle for party-building. As a result, Indonesia’s national political parties have proven surprisingly adept at making cross-ethnic appeals and downplaying the role of ethnicity in politics. This is a major achievement in a country as diverse as Indonesia, and not one to take lightly given the other possible avenues Indonesia’s democratic transition could have taken.

    • At the end the question is whether you want democracies to be stable or free. From my point of view it is totally legitimate for voters to favour one party over another on ethnic, religious or regionalstic reasons. What would happen to the nationalist parties in the Basque area of Spain if they had been forced to have branches everywhere in Spain and her islands, even where no person of Basque origin lives? What would happen to the the Partei Quebecois in Canada if it could only run for elections when it has branches in most hamlets of British Columbia?
      At the end it is my freedom as a voter to decide over which party presents best what is dear to me – and not having to bow to clever constitutional designs created at the green desk by political scientist, established politicians and legal experts for the sake of “stability”.
      And finaylly: soveral of the rejected new parties did not even have an explicit or implicit ethnic or regional bias. They follow the country’s cross-cutting Pancasila state ideology. But the amount of ressources required from a new challenger to enter the political arena just gives chances to old incumbents and people with lots of money – and often both are identical. But can political renewal be expected from these people?

  3. Pingback: How many parties for Indonesia? | Political Party Forum Southeast Asia

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