The Same Jinn in Two Bottles?


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

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Can Malaysia’s Ruling Party Survive Without Donations From Abroad?


Partyforumseasia:  Cleaning up Malaysia’s Wild East – style political finances? 

The National Consultative Committee on Political Financing, established in August 2015 after the 1MDB-Scandal had come to light, has proposed 32 recommendations last Friday, 30 September. Its chairman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and former Transparency International Malaysia head, Paul Low, stated that “The good governance of the nation cannot be resolved unless we have political integrity and as such we need regulations for political funding”. Nobody would deny that, but what can be expected if the recommendations will be implemented?

The background: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has come under pressure since The Wall Street Journal revealed in June 2015 that the unbelievable sum of nearly 700 million US$ had been found in his personal accounts. So far, he surprisingly got Corruption 2away with the unbelievable explanation that it was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family for his support of Islam. The international pressure is not yet over. Several countries, including the USA, are investigating the obscure money flows, because at the same time billions are missing from 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund deep in debt, whose chairman of the board of advisers happens to be PM Najib Razak.

What the commission recommends: The media headlines are all highlighting the proposed ban on foreign donations. Surprise, surprise, should Saudi largesse no longer be accepted? Of course, it won’t come again so handily, so better ban it… A new law, the Political Donations and Expenditure Act, will regulate the patronage and money politics heaven the country has been so far, clean it up and control it ever after. According to Mr. Low donations to political parties and individuals will be “robustly regulated” with all donations deposited into a specific designated bank account set up at the federal, state and divisional level. Donations in cash or in kind above MYR 3,000 (725 US$) per annum must be declared to the Controller.

What can be expected in real life: Committee chairman Paul Low carries the Transparency International label, but as Minister in the Prime Minister’s office his neutrality may be questioned. The recommendations will be vetted by the cabinet which decides which to implement and which to drop. The legislative process will take time so that full implementation cannot be expected for the next general election due by 2018 but anticipated much sooner to take advantage of the divided and weak opposition.
On the background of UMNO’s patronage system, e.g. the 50.000 MYR (12,100 US$) which go monthly to the 190 branch leaders for expenses, the cash flows can hardly be changed overnight. In a regional and world wide comparison, political parties have always found their way to cut corners and find the money they felt were needed to win.

bersih-1The increasingly turbulent domestic scene: With the festering 1MDB corruption scandal, criticism of the ruling coalition has reached new hights. Prime Minister Najib has weathered the storms with remarkable cold-bloodedness, firing internal dissidents and installing cronies wherever needed, but calls for his resignation are multiplying. Since 1 October, a broad reform movement bersih-2called Bersih (Malay for clean) prepares rallies against Najib. While Bersih supporters wear yellow shirts, an organized counter movement of UMNO supporters wear red shirts and provoke clashes. The development reminds of the infamous street fights in Bangkok which led to the military coup in 2014.

Useful related articles:
Channelnewsasia, 
Malaysian political financing body recommends new laws, ban on foreign donations (LINK)
Intelligent Money,
Political Donations Here & Other Countries: Where Does Malaysia Stand? (Link)
International Idea,
Political Finance Data for Malaysia (LINK)
Sachsenröder, Wolfgang,
 Political Party Finances in Southeast Asia (LINK)