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…

“Southeast Asian Elections Worst in the World” ?


Partyforumseasia: Max Grömping, researcher and co-author of the Electoral Integrity Project (see our last post) has published an article on elections in our region in University of Sydney’s New Mandala (Link here). El. SEA 1

We take it up as an important follow-up, though the headline “Southeast Asian Elections Worst in the World” sounds a bit too bad to be completely true. The 2013-2014 survey is covering only 107 countries, so the worst performers in Africa and Latin America are not in and drag Southeast Asia to the bottom of the comparison.

El. SEA 2Even with this caveat the Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index for Southeast Asia is certainly disappointing enough and cries for reform and improvement in order to match the growing economic weight of the region.
Please read and evaluate Grömping’s assessments and conclusions yourself. Unfortunately, there is nothing much to add in favor of the five countries covered and the local electoral shortcomings. As Partyforumseasia repeatedly highlighted, the political finance or money politics issue is probably the most important Achilles’ heel, where even top rated Western Europe is not fully in the green area.

But Max Grömping offers some hope in his conclusions as well: “But if nothing else, the post-election protests in Malaysia and Cambodia, the small but continuous signs of discontent in Thailand, as well as the vibrant civil society efforts to strengthen electoral integrity in the Philippines and Indonesia show that citizens across the region are fiercely protective of their vote. This demand for democracy is currently met with an under-supply. But it does not need to stay that way.”

First Book Covering Eight ASEAN Countries Is Out


Partyforumseasia: Before the start of this blog there was a research project in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore. It tried to add a more hands-on approach to the often theory laden political science literature on political parties in Southeast Asia, to study and describe their organizational structures, the internal hierarchies and funding mechanisms, and especially to cover as many countries as possible. We managed to bring together a team of authors from eight of the ten ASEAN countries. Since Brunei Darussalam has no parties, only Laos is missing because we could not find a local scholar willing or allowed to join. ISEAS accepted our manuscript for publication already in 2012, but due to unexpected delays did not finalize copy-editing and printing in time. This is why we decided to publish the book with the super-efficient Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. The book is now available at http://www.amazon.com, a very affordable e-book version should be out shortly.

Amazon Party Politics SEA