Transparency and Disclosure for Political Finance? Don’t Dream!

Partyforumseasia: The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance,  (IDEA) in Stockholm, Sweden, is doing a very good job with its research and publications on a wide range of topics to strengthen democratic developments all over the world. One of the new handbooks, published in November 2017, focuses on the often opaque funding sources for party activities and election campaigns.
“One of the major challenges related to money in politics is the lack of transparency surrounding political party and electoral finance.” (LINK)

That is especially true for Southeast Asia, where too many scandals around the finances of political parties are regularly blowing up. They not only tarnish the leadership but the image of the fledgling democratic systems altogether and leave citizens and voters cynical.
The booklet aims at helping to create more control and transparency by providing information on the possible instruments.

“The open and transparent funding of political parties and candidates is desirable because it helps ensure that everyone is playing by the rules, which in turn strengthens the integrity of, and trust in, politics, among both the general public and political parties.”

Everyone playing by the rules? For many countries, but especially for Southeast Asia, this sounds too good to become true in the near future. Many party treasurers and leaders may support the idea theoretically… when it is to be applied to the other parties. The reality on the ground looks different and the exponentially growing expenses for election campaigns might keep it this way for the medium term anyway. The legal regulations, so far, look good on paper, but the enforcement remains more than weak.
Under the title “Power Broking in the Shade”, Partyforumseasia has finalized a background study on political finance in nine of the ten ASEAN members. We will inform our readers when it is available.

Not Only in Malaysia: “Buy or bye- or by-elections”

Partyforumseasia: The word game is too nice to be only used for the two bye-elections scheduled for coming Saturday, June 18th, in two constituencies in Malaysia. Both are Bye electionnecessary because their MPs died in a helicopter crash in Sarawak during campaigning beginning of May. in the last election Sungai Besar was won by Umno with a wafer-thin margin of 399 votes (or 49.6% of votes cast) while Kuala Kangsar was won also by Umno with 1,082 votes (50.4% of votes cast). The numbers show already that both constituencies are quite marginal on the national level, but the upcoming bye-election is of utmost importance for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Najib to show that he is unassailable despite all the scandals he is involved in. With the recent triumph in Sarawak which he did not really earn himself, Najib is in dream situation vis-a-vis a splintered opposition. But taking no risks, Umno spends big in its campaign.

For readers with a special interest in Malaysian politics, we recommend the FREEMALAYSIATODAY-article (LINK), with the wonderful word game headline. But all interested in elections in Southeast Asia and beyond should remember the “Buy Election” as a wide-spread and successful campaign concept. And in the cases where the incumbent is too sure that he will win and forgets to buy the victory, it can be a bye-bye-election as well…

Partyforumseasia will collect the newest examples and highlight them here!



Establishment In Panic: Will “President” Duterte End The Golden Rule?

Partiforumseasia: According to traditional political wisdom and experience in the Philippines, the real meaning of the Golden Rule is the rule of those who have the gold.
In this presidential election, however, there are candidates outside the plutocratic establishment. And if the polls are sufficiently reliable, one anti-establishment candidate has a good chance of being elected: DuterteRodrigo Duterte (nickname “Digong“) is so popular because of his cleaner but more brutal law and order policies as mayor of Davao city, including a huge number of extrajudicial killings of criminals. The contrast to the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate, Mar Roxas, could not be bigger. Roxas is a cultivated, well traveled intellectual politician from the quasi aristocratic upper class and successful minister in Aquino’s outgoing cabinet. In the latest polls Roxas stands at 20 % behind Grace Poe with 22% and Duterte with 33%! Duterte seems to be totally eligible for the poor masses and big parts of the middle class as well, who are already soul searching before the election on 9th May. Imelda Deinla from the Australian National University sees the failure of the elites to establish a minimum level of the rule of law and to reduce the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the civil service. See her comment “Rule of law deficit behind voter dismay in Philippines” (LINK) in the East Asia Forum. Narciso Reyes Jr., a former journalist and diplomat, has a deeper psychological analysis of the voters and the darker side of their hopes and aspirations. Here is short passage of his article in the 4th May Inquirer (LINK):

“Duterte’s incredible popularity, despite his crude blunders (…) is evidently being fueled by an atavistic, primal instinct among our people who crave order and a better life under the strong arm of a man with a seeming license to kill.”

The elite is in panic mode! The latest move, supported by President Aquino, is warning against a Duterte dictatorship and urging the candidates Mar Roxas and Grace Poe to join forces in order to prevent Duterte…

On a different level, but rather interesting is a comparison with the US presidential campaign. A frightened elite is exploring ways to prevent Donald Trump, who has money himself and will attract more donations now. Duterte is probably not that rich but will not be short of funding either. According to media estimations presidential campaigns in the Philippines cost between 2,5 and 3 billion pesos (or 53 to 65 m US$), and 80% of it going into political ads. Nielsen Media reported that even before the official campaign period started on 9 February, 7.5 billion pesos (nearly 160 m US$) had already been spent for ads of all kinds. But the media campaign is being dwarfed by the carnival atmosphere in the streets when the candidates show up in person. Being the most important crossroads decision in the country’s politics, the 55 million voters in the Philippines are politicized on a high voltage level. When the counting works well, the country is running the elections technically quite professionally, we will see the result within a few days.

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 $ ( $) 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.”