Electing Robin Hoods? The Voting Power of the Left Behind


Partyforumseasia: The presidential election in the United States has shown new levels of campaign spending. While Jeb Bush burned “only”  130 million $ without getting anything back, Hillary Clinton spent more tan 700 million $ on her campaign robin_shoots_with_sir_guy_by_louis_rhead_1912(Bloomberg, LINK). Donald Trump managed to win with a much smaller budget. Is this signalling that money is getting less important than the right target group? That a sort of Robin Hood candidate has better chances than big money? And what could that mean for the widespread addiction to money politics in Southeast Asia?

Francis Fukuyama, in an analysis  in Foreign Affairs (LINK) on 9 November, summarizes Donald Trump‘s victory success as follows: “He has identified two very real problems in American politics: increasing inequality, which has hit the old working class very hard, and the capture of the political system by well-organized interest groups.”

Let us look into some examples from our region where inequality is the norm:

In Thailand, especially in the North and Northeast, the farming population is similarly left behind or much worse than the old working class in America. With generous Thaksinhandouts and promises they were easy to be nudged into securing billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s and his sister’s victories which eventually triggered military coupsAnd the country’s many other billionaires were not just looking on but actively manipulating the political market place as well.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised could be mobilized though Thaksin was not exactly a Robin Hood type, but old “Bangkok” elite and military managed to stem the tide.

In the Philippines, landed family dynasties with their private armies, coercion and patronage, have monopolized political power over most of the rural areas and remote islands since independence. The recent surprise election of maverick candidateDuterte Rodrigo Duterte who won against all the money of the traditional elites, is probably due to better information of the poor and an advanced election system run by the Commission on Elections.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised masses have made it against elites and oligarchs, President Duterte  is seen as their Robin Hood and champion . As a former American colony, the Philippines is more similar to the US than other countries in the region.

In Malaysia, due to a sophisticated patronage system controlled by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and a heavily gerrymandered election system, the left behind rural population provides the necessary majorities in the federal parliament.This vote bank, conservative Muslim Malays, as well as the public service, is being kept loyal by generous government handouts and the promise to safeguard theNajib Nov. Malay dominance against the Chinese and Indian minorities as it is enshrined in the constitution. The rural Malays’ loyalty seems rather  unshakeable despite  the rampant political corruption, culminating in the 1MDB scandal with billions disappearing from a sovereign wealth fund and hundreds of millions being found in the prime minister’s private accounts. Without radical changes in the electoral system the ruling party looks almost unassailable.
Conclusion: The ruling coalition has lost the popular vote but still enjoys decisive majorities in parliament, so it can be seen as a tactical and selective Robin Hood variety.

Indonesia has made remarkable progress in the development of her democratic procedures and institutions since the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998. But the huge Jokowiarchipelago has more than enough left behind rural areas and rural poor. The divided party landscape is characterized much more by rich and therefore winnable candidates and rich “party owners” than by programs and principles. Apart from ethnic and religious cleavages, money politics is a decisive factor in elections and governance.
Conclusion: President Joko Widodo was an outsider candidate who made it against the moneyed elites in the 2014 election. But the wannabe Robin Hoods are probably the Islamists.

Vietnam, one of the last communist one-party systems in the world, has developed quite interesting features of checks on party apparatchiks and performance of the party branches. But entrepreneurial space of maneuvering remains limited and the ruling party is still the best jumping board to get ahead. Competition for power positions and bribing in the widest sense are rampant. Whether daily corruption has been reduced by party policies is a question under debate.
Conclusion: The Robin Hoods by communist definition are in reality not helping the left behind.

The outlier in the regional comparison remains Singapore with very high ratings in rule of law, control of corruption, and good governance. As a city state there is no rural hinterland, but the economic development has of course left behind some groups which are targeted by social programs like housing and health care subsidies and many more. The political competition is not decided by money, but the ruling party, with support of its track record and the well organized administration, could increasingly contain protest votes and win elections.
Conclusion: The ruling party has skilfully institutionalized Robin Hood elements and shows its concern for the left behind in numerous support programs.

“Flamboyant” Presidential Candidates in the Philippines


The upcoming presidential campaigns in the Philippines and the USA

Partyforumseasia:
Self-confidence is certainly a prerequisite for candidates running for leadership posts. And as political psychologists have found out, even overblown self-confidence seems to signal competence and leadership qualities to the voters. In the USA the top job attracts surprising numbers of “wannabes” despite the grueling burden of responsibilities. C-Span website “Road to the White House 2016” (Link) lists 24 declared candidates, and Politics1 (Link) includes all sorts of hopefuls in the hundreds. Internationally in the media and quite high in the polls in the US is flamboyant candidate Bush TrumpDonald Trump who has at least highly developed skills in self marketing. Jeb Bush with his handicap of being son and brother of former presidents obviously comes across as too boring though he would probably be much more qualified for the job than Trump.

In comparison, the Philippines are even more open to colorful and flamboyant candidates than the US. Partyforumseasia has taken up the topic already on 24 September. But the pre-campaign is getting more colorful by the day. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 6th, (Link) “Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is going solo in his quest for the vice presidency.” Since the elections of president and vice president are held on the same day but separately (Article II Sec. 13 of the OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES) a president elect can be confronted with an unwanted vice president elect.   Bongbong support
Bongbong Marcos is a senator since 2010 and seems to be acceptable to the voters despite the shadow of his father. Support by political fossils like his 86 year old mother Imelda, former president and now mayor of Manila Joseph Estrada (78), and controversial “eternal politician” Juan Ponce Enrile (91) may not be very appealing to the young voters, bu help him at least to keep his campaign budget healthy. Playing down his privileged youth and education he says: “I humbly ask them (the voters) to judge whether or not I am worthy of their trust to be Vice President on the strength of my performance as a public servant in the last 26 years: first as former vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte, then as representative of the second district of Ilocos Norte and finally, as a senator of the country.”
Somewhat more disturbing for Non-Philippinos is the candidacy of another senator. Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II, better known as Gringo Honasan, participated in the EDSA revolution ousting president Marcos, but staged an unsuccessful coup in 1987 against democracy icon Cory Aquino. Imprisoned and escaped, he was pardoned by president Fidel Ramos in 1992. According to an interesting Wikipedia formulation, Honasan “utilized his rebel infamy to enter politics in 1995, becoming the first independent candidate in Philippine history to win a seat in the Senate”, and is serving his fourth term now.

Gringo-Enrile

Gringo Sen.Honasan before (1986) and after as senator (now).

During last week he declared that he is not teaming up with vice president Jejomar Binay because of unbridgeable differences in policies, but his flamboyant and somewhat adventurous image may give him a realistic chance.

Roxas RobredoWhereas the entertainment value of flamboyant candidates is evident, the Liberal Party candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas may be more presidentiable,  but at least at the moment he remains in the media shadow of the flamboyants, a bit like Jeb Bush with Trump and others in the US. But Roxas has found an attractive running mate with Leni Robredo, the widow of popular politician Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012. Their poll results are improving since the announcement of the team agreement.

If we ask whether flamboyant politicians can be good leaders, Partyforumseasia tends to be skeptical. From Mussolini, Hitler and Mao Tse Dong to Ceausescu, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and the Kim dynasty in North Korea, flamboyant leaders may be successful in a certain sense but for good governance the dependable and sober “paperclips” are certainly a much better choice.