PAS Malaysia – No Cooperation With The Infidels


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

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

False Hope for the Alliance of Hope?


Partyforumseasia: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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…

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


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

Malaysia’s DAP: Successful Convention 2014


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

Background: GE13

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

How Stable is the Opposition Coalition in Malaysia?


Partyforum has always seen the opposition coalition as lacking cohesion apart from the charisma of its leader Anwar Ibrahim and the groundswell among Malaysia’s voters against the eternal rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO. In the special context of the country’s racial divide and the dominance of the Malays as raison d’état, the opposition trio of PAS, PKR and DAP is rather improbable as “bedfellows”. There is a lot of speculation about their common future if Anwar’s increasingly bizarre sodomy conviction should be confirmed by the Federal Court this week. Homosexuality not being considered a crime in most advanced countries anymore, the whole legal procedure against the most prominent opposition figure looks for many like Anwar himself and many Malaysians see it: as a means to crush him politically. The saga is highly detrimental for the country’s international reputation.

Lim Guan EngBut instead of highlighting this, the internal communication between the Pakatan Rakyat coalition members is not as coordinated and strategically skillful as the fragile situation would require. After the Selangor-Chief Minister-replacement-crisis has been solved with great damage to the opposition, the coalition partners continue bickering against each other. The Malaysian Insider ( Link here ) published on 4 November how DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng attacked the supremo of partner party PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang,  for his authoritarian leadership style:

HadiDAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said the coalition found it difficult to continue operating when PAS had a leader who could “override everything”, including decisions made in his absence during the PR presidential council meetings. (…) He can overrule (his party). If that is the system, he must attend PR leadership council meetings so that we can make decisions, we can keep promises, and we can fulfil our commitment.
“So long as he stays away from the PR leadership council meeting, then it will be very difficult for PR to function as a whole,” said Lim in his speech during last night’s DAP fund-raising dinner at the MBPJ Civic Hall in Petaling Jaya.”

Lim’s criticism is certainly justified, but it is not the best moment to say it in public or say it in public at all. All over the world controversial political debates are not appreciated by the voters, open quarrels even less, and they are certainly not conducive for the image of a coalition which is not very stable anyway.

Will Malaysia Follow the Path of Taiwan and Mexico?


Partyforumseasia: The question may sound surprising in the regional discussion in Southeast Asia, not to mention Malaysia itself. It is the headline of an analysis by Joan M. Nelson, a Malaysia expert at the American University’s School of International Service, and published in the latest Journal of Democracy, July 2014, Volume 25, Number 3, pp 105 – 119.
Roller 2Too small to create a level playing field???

By comparing Malaysia’s UMNO with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), Nelson’s list of the main similarities is as follows: “The hegemonic party controls the legislature by a majority sufficient to change the constitution at will; penetrates the bureaucracy; constrains the judiciary and the media; and controls the institutions that organize, monitor, and adjudicate elections. The party is largely sustained by the distribution of government spoils and patronage.” (p.105)

The central points of the comparison are the gradual weakening of PRI and KMT and their loss of domination, opening Mexico and Taiwan to a more open and more democratic development and a more level political playing field with chances for the opposition to take over.

Sure, the Barisan Nasional coalition has lost the important two-thirds majority in parliament and in 2013 even the popular vote. But in contrast to Mexico and Taiwan, where party elites started leveling the playing field, UMNO elites remain dedicated to maintain the status quo. The central analysis in this article is bluntly describing the attitudes of the leadership: “Politicians and cadres long accustomed to electoral advantage and pervasive reliance on patronage (to advance within the party as well as to win inter party elections) predictably resist changing the system.”

This is underlining Partyforumseasia’s pessimistic outlook for a possible sea change in Malaysia, at least in the short and medium perspective. The ruthless judicial persecution of Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition figures show that the Barisan coalition has been digging in more than their heels to stem the tide and defend their domination. Too many of them see politics as business and not as a vocation, they simply cannot afford to lose. And the “Bersih fatigue“, observed by some, as well as the somewhat suicidal handling of the chief minister saga in Selangor by the Pakatan Rakyat contribute to a pessimistic outlook.

Gerrymandering in Malaysia…and Elsewhere


Partyforumseasia: In its August 9th -15th 2014 issue, The Economist, a British weekly, is taking up the gerrymandering issue which a majority of Malaysian voters may have forgotten already after the last election in May 2013. That is the normal all over the world because manipulation of the electoral boundaries happens outside media attention and looks nearly legally correct. GerrymanderingThe ruling Barisan Nasional won 60% of the seats with only 47% of the vote, whereas the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition garnered 51% of the popular vote but was left with only 40% of the seats in Parliament. Malaysia, as a former British colony, adopted the British first-past-the-post electoral system which is designed to create strong majorities, irrespective of the distribution of the popular vote. To make the system even more “efficient”, the commissions in charge of delineating the constituency boundaries may carve them in a partisan way if they are close to one of the competing parties or coalitions. This is called gerrymandering and started in 1812, when the governor Elbridge Garry of Masschusetts created an electoral district which looked like a salamander on the map and was clearly favorable for his Democratic Republican Party. Until today, according to the ACE Project or Electoral Knowledge Network (aceproject.org), the USA is still at the extreme end of the spectrum between independent and partisan election commissions: “At one end of the spectrum is the United States, where the redistricting process is very political and decentralised. The responsibility for drawing districts for the United States Congress rests individually with the fifty states. There are few limitations on the states, and the boundary authorities are almost always political entities, i.e., state legislatures.
At the other end of the spectrum are many of the Commonwealth countries, where politicians have opted out of the redistricting process and granted the authority to redistrict to neutral or independent commissions.GB ConstituenciesLink here

Britain has done and is doing a lot to adjust the electoral boundaries to the demographic changes and create fair chances for the competing parties. The average number of voters per district is around 75,000 with few exceptions like East Ham (London) at 91,531 and Orkney and Shetland at 33,755 (2010).

The crux in Malaysia is that a defined maximum variation (normally 10-15%) has been taken out of the constitution and that it can reach several hundred percent. Sure, the rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawk are difficult to administer, but Indonesia is geographically even more difficult and has managed the parliamentary and presidential elections this year much better.The Malaysian Election Commission is handpicked by the government anyway, but it does not look good that its former chairman has joined the Barisan National’s right-wing support group Perkasa.

Malaysia: Is the UMNO/BN Dream Coming True?


Partyforumseasia Strategy-wise: Is the UMNO/BN dream (= seeing the PR opposition coalition committing suicide) coming true… or is it that their strategies are working? Knowing the systemic vulnerability of the UMNO/BN system by changing vote patterns and facing the extraordinary challenge by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, held together by the charisma of Anwar Ibrahim, one might guess at least some of the defense strategies of the Barisan Nasional. The most important one in 2013 was winning the election at all cost – or, in financial terms, at a price tag of an estimated more than two billion RM. Gerrymandering as the most innocent looking tool worked as planned and the popular vote, won by the opposition, was more than neutralized. Having won the 2013 election, time would help to consolidate the shaken dominance again. And so it does, the second Malaysia Airlines (MH 17) tragedy in July even giving the Prime Minister and his government a chance to make good on perceived weaknesses after the first tragedy (MH 370). And both tragedies divert the public from domestic political issues.  Khalid Ibrahim
However, the Selangor shadow play about the replacement of chief minister (menteri besar) Abdul Khalid Ibrahim (picture with Anwar) at the hands of his own party can only be observed with glee and schadenfreude by the ruling camp. Since Khalid Ibrahim wants to stay on, a leadership drama is unfolding and develops into an operation on the open heart of the Pakatan coalition, which is anyway difficult enough to hold together . If Anwar still manages to convince most of his PKR leaders so far, the cacophony of statements by coalition partners in DAP and PAS will definitely harm the public image of the Pakatan Rakyat and spread doubts about their ability to take over the government in future. Internal squabble in any party world wide damages its public image. Even authoritarian party leadership is more acceptable for the broader public. But with the airline disasters already rallying the nation, the Selangor squabble might be close to suicidal for the opposition.

Strategy-wise: First-Time Voters for Change?


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: All over the democratic world consistent vote patterns are more and more disappearing. While the “polling industry” has become more professional, the long term prediction of election outcomes is increasingly difficult. Competing poll results and their interpretation by politicians are useful in campaigns, but the only reliable figures come from exit polls, that is when the race has been decided already. 43690-20140522
For the parties and their campaign design it is therefore most important to focus on target groups which can be reached and influenced to vote for them. Data collection of vote patterns in residential areas are so easily available nowadays that campaigning in a wrong suburb comes close to wasted time and effort.
In Southeast Asia, where political fossils like Mahathir of UMNO or Lim Kit Siang of the DAP are still influential, “safe vote banks” like Thailand’s North East or Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak still work but come under more pressure as well. So the campaign efforts are focusing more on one big group which is open to be influenced: the first- time voters and the young. In Malaysia first-timers and under 30 year-old voters represent 20 percent of the 13 million electorate and their preferences are more volatile than in any generation before. Especially in the urban areas they tend to prefer the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, but they are also open to switch to the ruling Barisan Nasional if any special issue comes up. The eternal Islamic Law (hudud) discussion is one of these issues which deters non-Muslim voters from PAS as the biggest component in the opposition coalition.
It is interesting how the Malaysian parties try to woo the young voters. They have started to get them engaged and work for the party instead of just harvesting their votes in one election. As one of the key tasks of a political party in democratic systems is the recruitment of political personnel and prepare “new blood” for leadership posts, the implementation of internships and volunteer movements is an important new instrument. PKR and DAP were the first to offer internships with their MP’s and that creates in many cases new activists. The two parties carefully select interested young voters for a ten-week internship, but the ruling BN coalition followed suit since 2013 with a fellowship program for 70 internships in government offices, quite attractive for further career ambitions.
The DAP, in a long term bid to break the BN strongholds in East Malaysia, sends young volunteers for development internships to Sabah and Sarawak. It is understood that all these programs are yielding dedicated party activists and future leadership material.

One difference compared to older democracies is that the political youth organizations in Europe often cultivate their critical distance to the mother parties. They feel like the vanguards of their party and are sometimes much more progressive than their elders would like them to be…

Malaysia: A Lady’s Gambit against Desperate Ruling Coalition


Partyforumseasia: In 2012, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been acquitted of a rather dubious sodomy indictment. Just two weeks before probably winning a Azizahby-election (scheduled for March 23) enabling him to eventually become chief minister of Selangor, last Friday, March 8, a court of appeal reverses the acquittal and sentences him to five years in jail. A more desperate move of preventing Anwar from being elected is difficult to imagine, since the shooting of political rivals, fortunately, is out of fashion in this part of Asia. Unless the court can prove that the coincidence of by-election and new conviction is based on correct legal procedures and internal court timing , the public can only see it as a desperate move of the BN-Government to politically kill Anwar off with the help of a judiciary widely seen as pliant.
The opposition coalition PKR’s strategic director Rafizi Ramli is said to be the mastermind of fielding Anwar Ibrahim in the Kajang by-election and create an even stronger power base in Selangor.  The government’s reaction is proving this by-election strategy right and dangerous for them. Obviously they are so frightened that they use the old sodomy weapon again, and against growing public disgust.
The opposition’s reaction to the appeal court intervention comes swift and smart. Instead of Anwar they will nominate tomorrow, 11 March, his wife Dr. Wan Azizah who is also president of the People’s Justice Party, PKR.
Partyforumseasia has argued already in 2013 that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition cannot afford to lose because of the tens of thousands of party cronies and the billions at stake. Hard ball and money politics once again show their resilience in Southeast Asia.

One of Southeast Asia’s Most “Successful” Political Godfathers?!


Partyforumseasia: Transition of power is not a particularly characteristic political feature in Southeast Asia, and even less so for Malaysia. TaibThe continuing influence of former long-term Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the “culling” (by a another dubious sodomy conviction) of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim before he threatened to win the governorship of the country’s most important federal state in March are two examples. The third scandalous case in point is located in Sarawak, the huge East Malaysian federal state on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo).
After thirty-three (33!) years as Chief Minister in this resource rich state with a poor population, Tan Sri (a Malaysian title) Taib Mahmud steps down at the age of 77 on Friday 28 February, only to be sworn in as governor of the same federal state a day later, on 1 March. The succession is “very orderly” and also safe for the retiree, the new Chief Minister being a loyalist of the old one and a former brother in law. And it is nearly close to bringing in new blood, the successor is 70 years young…

It looks more than probable that Taib Mahmood had a lot of good reasons to protect his “retirement” so carefully. He has been attacked as one of the most corrupt politicians in the region, his personal assets being openly estimated at 15 billion $, that of his extended family at over 21! After his three decades at the helm and being responsible for all logging and land related issues, only 5% of Sarawak’s original rain forests are still untouched, but threatened by Taib’s blueprint for the next level of “development”.
See more details in Luke Hunt’s analysis in the (link here) The Diplomat
Godfather Taib’s role on the federal level was also important and has contributed to his long-term hold on power: He practically guaranteed Sarawak’s usefulness as a fixed deposit vote bank for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). Without his contribution of 25 federal parliamentary seats in 2013 the BN had lost an election which it won with a minority of the popular vote, heavy gerrymandering and … Sarawak. But increasing accusations for corruption have made Taib a growing liability as well, so an “orderly transition of power” had become necessary.

Coalition Strategies in Malaysia: Barisan Component Parties No Longer Needed?


Partyforumseasia: The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) 150px-Flag_of_the_Malaysian_Chinese_Association.svghas been thriving for decades as appendix of UMNO, helping to secure its absolute majority by bringing in substantial numbers of Chinese votes as a regular dowry and a counterbalance to the Chinese opposition DAP. Formation and success of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition and the multi-racial approach of its Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as well as the growing attractiveness of the DAP for Chinese voters have undermined MCA’s traditional role. Factional infighting has crippled the party for some time already and the extremely narrow results in the recent internal elections may herald the further decline of what was once Malaysia’s second biggest political party. In 2008 it still won 15 parliamentary and 31 state seats, in May 2013 only 7 and 11 seats respectively. But, as it was pampered by big brother UMNO with ministerial portfolios and business opportunities during its heydays, MCA is still very rich. According to a Straits Times article on 22 December the party assets are estimated at nearly 3 billion RM, which comes to over 900 million US$. These assets, land, buildings, companies (Huaren Holdings) and a 42% stake in the Star daily may keep the leadership posts embattled. 2,325 delegates elected president and deputy president, four vice-presidents and 25 central committee members, and Mr. Liow Tiong Lai has won the presidency by just 26 votes.
MCA results

Strategic Lessons: Piggy rides are dangerous coalition strategies. Junior partners have to maintain their usefulness for big brother or risk decline. Assets may keep them alive for some time but not for long.

Difficult to compare but interesting:
The German Free Democratic Party (FDP), a long term successful piggy rider in various coalitions, has lost all seats in the federal parliament in September this year. Its survival may be more difficult than for MCA because it has no assets…

Malaysia: A Good Question Concerning the Pakatan Rakyat Opposition Coalition


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership of UMNO has been strenghthened and confirmed by the recent internal party polls. Najib 6.12.13For the time being there are no visible challengers around and Najib feels more than confident in promising the 3000 party leaders attending the annual meeting a continuation of the “Malays First Policy”. This is seen as race based by the roughly 40% Non-Malay Malaysians and has contributed to a surge in the popular vote for the opposition in the general election in May.
In terms of election strategy this makes sense, though, since UMNO’s main support comes from carefully gerrymandered rural constituencies with huge Malay majorities. As long as the first-past-the-post electoral system remains UMNO can focus on these vote banks while the opposition coalition might win the urban votes but fail to win a majority in parliament.

An interesting question has been raised by Murray Hunter in the New Mandala: Whether Pakatan Rakyat deserves to be in government!!!!
See (link here) New Mandala

PRakyat Whether a party or coalition really deserves to be in government is a difficult question. But there are indeed some big question marks concerning the cohesion and stability of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Some see the three coalition partners as somewhat strange bed fellows, united only in their struggle against the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Malaysia’s GE13: Any Economic Risk if the Opposition Wins?


Partyforumseasia: A recommended background article from an economic and investor’s viewpoint. Not surprisingly, the BN campaign predicts economic decline and chaos if the opposition should win. That is a routine threat of incumbent governments world-wide if they feel that defeat is possible. The four opposition state governments since 2008 have not messed up the economy so far and the BN strategists know that the voters know that. But campaign strategists and party leaders always hope that threats can be as powerful as promises… And few Malaysians remember that nearly half of the federal budget comes from oil revenues and not from taxation.
Investor

Source / Link: Institutional Investor Magazine