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.”

Philippines: Is Re-election Without Pork Barrelling Possible?


PorkPartyforumseasia: A recent scandal involving 23 suspects including members of parliament and senators as well as former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may give new momentum to the fight against political corruption and the endemic pork barrelling in the Philippines, which President Aquino has declared a priority for his term of office. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles is under investigation for setting up bogus NGOs and embezzling nearly $ 290 million from disaster relief and development funds. Up to half of the funds paid out to the NGOs seem to have gone to the accused legislators.
Pork Barrelling is a common political tool in the country and based, like in other countries in the region, on traditional patron-client relations between voters and their MP or senator. According to the political science analysis legislators get kickbacks from development projects (e.g. the Countryside Development Fund – CDF) at a rate of 30%. One full term in office was supposed to yield about $ 200,000 for a House member and $ 600,000 for a senator (estimated 2009 figures). This has been called “Standard Operation Procedures (SOP)” but growing public protest and President Aquino’s determination to fight corruption might end the SOP – probably later than sooner. Lawmakers so far need this additional income to pay for their party and campaign expenses.

New Overview Paper: Party Financing in Southeast Asia


GlasbergenPartyforumseasia’s editor, Wolfgang Sachsenröder, has presented a comparative paper on party finances at the ICIRD Conference (22-23 August 2013) at Chulalongkorn University Bangkok.

Below you find an abstract.
If you are interested in the topic see the whole paper here:
Political Party Finances in Southeast Asia 1

Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia(Abstract)
by Wolfgang Sachsenröder, visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and editor of www.partyforumseasia.org

Southeast Asia, riding on a wave of economic and asset growth in the last few decades, has developed an exaggerated level of money politics and enrichment opportunities for all sorts of political entrepreneurs. The part of political parties in this game and the different methods of securing enough funding for the management of the party machineries and the increasingly costly election campaigns vary from country to country. But the basic pattern can be described as a skilful move to blur the distinction between big business, state funds, and political parties in order to control and manipulate cash flows as the main instrument for coming to power and secure it.

Based on traditional patron-client relationships and the remaining big income gap between mostly rural poor and limited mostly urban middle classes, “pluto-populism” and “pork-barrelling” have become prominent features of party politics everywhere. The overrepresentation of businessmen and bankers in parliaments and governments reflects the interdependence of party politics and business sectors, once dubbed as “incestuous relationship” by veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang in Malaysia. And the rising cost of being selected as a candidate or branch leader as well as the goodies to be showered on potential voter groups and party supporters are only a logical consequence of these developments which have hardly been affected by progress in democratic and institutional development. Frustration with the level of corruption is high in Southeast Asia, but the vicious cycle of political cash flows and party politics remains below the necessary domestic debate threshold to lead to radical reforms.
As the Malaysian election campaign for the 5 May 2013 “GE13” has shown, anti-corruption rhetoric strikes a strong chord with large sectors of the electorate, but the well-oiled machinery of the incumbent government coalition could not be defeated. In Indonesia, and certainly similarly in other parts of the region, the anti-corruption sentiments seem to be superseded by resignation. Since all parties are more or less involved, and people are so used to the daily petty corruption, the argument is losing appeal in campaigns, also because even the most corrupt parties use it strategically.

State funding for political parties, not to speak of the generous levels in many European countries (e.g. 154 million Euros in Germany in 2013) is widely unknown in Southeast Asia. An exception is Thailand, which has introduced – after long debates since the mid-1990s – a quite generous party funding system.
Membership fees are more or less symbolic in the region (e.g.Democrat Party, Thailand 20,- THB, PAP, Singapore S$ 18 / year) if collected at all. These contributions to the party funding are practically negligible and certainly no serious part of the parties’ income.

The elections in Malaysia (May 2013) and Cambodia (July 2013) suggest that the electorates are increasingly aware and sick of political corruption and vote for the opposition which they expect to be cleaner.

Will Political Corruption in Southeast Asia Come to an End?


Pork1Partyforumseasia: The funding of party activities and election campaigns is closely related to corruption in many countries in the region. This is why many businessmen are in politics or close to politicians and vice versa. But the enormous cash flows in the political arena are more and more tarnishing their image and creating a public outcry and demonstrations. Demonstrations alone would not bother the beneficiaries of this “incestuous relationship” too much, if there were not a backlash against corrupt parties in elections. Malaysia’s GE 13 in May and Cambodia’s July election ended as a very close shave for the ruling parties perceived as very corrupt.
These days it is in the Philippines that citizens demand an end to the infamous pork projects and President Aquino will have to show some results in the second half of his term.
Partiforumseasia will soon publish a comparative assessment of party financing and corruption in Southeastasia which was first presented in the ICIRD Conference in Bangkok last week.
Pork2

Source: Straits Times, Singapore, 27 August 2013

Beginning of the End of Indonesian Money Politics?


WidodoPartyforumseasia: Will this man change the endemic political corruption in Indonesia? Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, seems to meet the expectations of a growing number of Indonesians fed up ad nauseam with big style money politics in their country. President SBY turning out more and more as a lame duck at the end of his term, popular darling “Jokowi”, as the former mayor of Solo is affectionately known, may be the early front runner in the presidential race for next year.
In a recent poll by think tank CSIS Widodo leads with 28.6% in front of former general Prabowo from the Gerindra Party with 15.6 %. Golkar chairman and business tycoon Abdurizal Bakrie, in strong headwind after scandals, comes third with 7%, and PDI-P long term leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is nearly written off at 5.4%.

The humble style of Widodo, e.g. using the office driver but in his private car, obviously meets the dreams of many voters of an approachable politician who is not showing the usual priority of lining his own and his party’s pockets. One of the leading experts on Indonesian money politics, Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University, estimates the campaign cost for the governorship of an average Indonesian province at a staggering 10 million US$. The popular dream of cleaner politics may pick up with Jokowi. So more parties than his own PDI-P are eying him as their own presidential candidate…

Political Party Funding Regulations in Southeast Asia


Best congress 001

Partyforumseasia: The International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm has published a very detailed database on legal regulations encompassing practically all aspects of party and campaign funding, see
(http://www.idea.int/political-finance/).
To reduce the complexity of the provided data, here’s a selection of the most basic information for Southeast Asia:

IDEA

The table shows “only” the legal situation and certainly not the whole reality of party and campaign related financial activities in Southeast Asia. Looking at the ‘ban on vote buying’ column alone reminds more of the “perfect” theoretical human rights protection in the constitution of the late USSR –  both a far cry from what happened on the ground…

Malaysia’s GE 13: “Best Election Ever” and Sulking Dropped Candidates


GE13Partyforumseasia:   Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, chairman of the Election Commission (EC), announced 5 May as polling day and 15 days for the official campaign yesterday. Dismissing claims that it could be one of the dirtiest, he said: “We hope that this would be the best general election.” (Link: New Straits Times) Whether the 15 days are a sign of “healthy democracy”, as PM Najib says, may not be so important after nearly two years of unofficial campaigning. But the procedures organized by the EC have certainly improved, from indelible ink (colour still kept secret…) to more attention to the voter list and the possibility for voters to check it online.

Another feature, obviously less controversial in Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia, but at least questionable for a “healthy democracy” is the selection of candidates. As if elections inside the parties were not an option, party leaders decide among themselves on the most winnable candidates – under the risk of being sabotaged by the dropped hopefuls. For the Barisan Nasional this must be a tricky procedure given their attempt to renew the party with 40% fresh candidates. See also Straits Times, 11 April:
Candidate list

Singapore: Candidates’ election expenses made transparent


Partyforumseasia: Democracy comes at a price, campaigns are costly, and in most countries in the region, the campaign expenses of candidates are far from being disclosed to the public.The Punggol East (a suburb in the north of Singapore) by-election on 26 January 2013 made big waves because of the clear opposition win (Workers’Party’s Lee Li Lian with 54.52%) over the PAP candidate Dr. Koh Poh Koon with 43.71%.
Two months later, the Straits Times publishes today in detail the expenses of the four candidates. All of them spent much less than the regulations had allowed, i.e. S$ 3.50 per registered voter. At the end it was only a by-election, but one which has an impact on the public perception of the balance between ruling party and opposition.
Interesting: Some candidates hired helpers and assistants, and only the PAP funded its candidate’s expenses fully. The opposition candidates declared that they did not receive any donations.                                                                   Link: Straits Times, 28.3.13
Punggol East final