Myanmar Election: How Free and How Fair?


Partyforumseasia:  Myanmar’s democratic opening has received regional and world-wide attention and praise, and subsequently attracted the interest of all shades of businesses, from the well-known fast-buck-entrepreneurs to long-term investment interests. Especially the latter are vital for the country if it wants to catch up with the neighbors in Southeast Asia. ASSK and Thein
The recent purge within the military dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party and the sacking of rather popular speaker of parliament Shwe Mann are widely interpreted as a step back from the reform drive promised by President Thein Sein.
Now speculations for the upcoming election on 8 November start to get more heated. Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is sure that her party will win “if polls can be free and fair” (Agence France Press). And the country’s army chief, senior general Min Aung Hlaing recently declared:
“We wouldn’t mind even if the National League for Democracy won in the next general election, as long as it is free and fair. The Tatmadaw’s (Army) desire is to see the upcoming elections be held free and fair.” (Straits Times, 26/08/2015)

On the background of heavy-handed interference since the 1990 elections when the military had underestimated the NLD and simply ignored the results, such a statement sounds a bit too good to be true. At least the generals have learned to speak to the international media and the investors who want to see stability. The 2010 ballot was widely seen as rigged and a quarter of the parliamentary seats is reserved for unelected army officers anyway.
But to be fair with struggling Myanmar, organizing free and fair elections with a level playing field is certainly not as easy as in Denmark or Sweden. Ongoing problems with 135 (!!!!) distinct ethnic groups officially recognized by the government, festering and nearly intractable pockets of civil war with some of the minorities, the Rohingya question unsolved, rural underdevelopment and lack of infrastructure wide-spread, all that makes national elections more than a challenge. The definition of free and fair certainly has to be adapted to the local circumstances.
If the NLD wins a decisive majority, we have to take into account that its uncontested leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still full of fighting spirit but already 70 years old. The constitution does not allow her to be president and the president is head of the government. Details of the constitutional set-up are sobering:   “The Commander-in-Chief appoints the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, selecting candidates from within the Defence Services (Tatmadaw), while the President appoints the remainder. The President also appoints the Deputy Ministers of the respective ministries, following the same qualifications as those of Union Ministers, with the exception of age (35 years, instead of 40).” Source:Wikipedia, Cabinet of Myanmar.
On this background it may be easy for the military to look good with free-and-fair statements and that they don’t mind if the NLD wins…

Golkar caught red-handed again


Partyforumseasia: Jon S.T.Quah has chosen a very telling title for his new book, published by ISEAS, Singapore, this year: Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries. An Impossible Dream?The latest political corruption scandal in Indonesia seems to underline the impossibility of the dream. Too much money is at stake, too costly are the election campaigns, too greedy the political players, and too toothless the anti-corruption programs of the government.Banten 3
The Golkar Party seems to be especially vulnerable after rolling in money for decades as the main political instrument of president Suharto who was more than well known for the corrupt practices of his extended family. Indonesia expert Marcus Mietzner* from Sidney University reports that Suharto withheld 100 million US$ from Golkar party funds after his fall in 1998. This gives an idea of the financial dimensions the party was used to.
But Suharto also urged his cronies not to show their wealth with too flashy villas. This advice has obviously been forgotten by Banten governor Ms Ratu Atut and her billionaire family empire. If being known for their collection of Maseratis and Lamborghinis alone was incautious, a direct involvement of the clan in the bribery scandal around the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is a graver political mistake. Madam governor’s youngest brother is accused of offering 1 b Rupiah (about 92,000 US$) to the judge for a favorable decision in an election dispute. A number of Ms Ratu Atut’s close relatives are mayors or district chiefs in Banten province close to Jakarta…And Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, himself one of the richest businessmen in Indonesia, is being quoted as saying that the problem is not the political dynasty!

*Mietzner, Marcus (2007), Party Financing in Post-Soeharto Indonesia: Between State Subsidies and Political Corruption, in: Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2:241

 

Malaysia: UMNO Polls Without Surprise


Partyforumseasia:The internal party polls are over, UMNO president Najib and his deputy were confirmed uncontested. As The Star Online (click for the link) summarises today, 20 October 2013, “Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s call for status quo resounded within the party.”

All incumbents for the top party posts have been re-elected, and the probably most anticipated possible win of “rising son” Mukhriz Mahathir was narrowly avoided with 91 votes for Mukhriz and 100 for the incumbent. Mukhriz 1
Speculations that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s position as party president had been weakened after the May general election were obviously exaggerated, if even the women wing’s leader Sharizat, tainted

by her “cowgate”- corruption scandal, made it easily with a 90% majority.

The real balance of power between the different factions in the party remains mostly behind the wayang kulit screen, though. But according to analyst Bridget Welsh from Singapore’s Management University, the Mahathir Mohamad camp is angry and expected to hit back (Malaysiakini, 20.10.)

What is interesting beyond the incumbents is how the new internal polling system worked and whether it changed the dynamics within the party. It is difficult to believe vice president Muhyddin’s statement that the new system is “not only a mission to eliminate money politics but more importantly, to strengthen the party by empowering the grassroots” (The Star Online, 20.10.) For the first time, not the traditional 2,500, but 230,000 delegates could vote, but only within one of the 191 branches. This gives the rural branches which are easier to control much more weight than the urban ones with more members. According to Bridget Welsh (Malaysiakini) there is also evidence of vote-buying and the usual top-down pattern in the new system.

PAS (Malaysia): Dirty Campaign Tactics Ahead of Party Polls?


Mat SabuPartyforumseasia: While complaining about dirty and “worst-ever” campaigning tactics ahead of the party polls in November, PAS vice-president Mohamad (Mat) Sabu notes that open campaigning was not permitted in the party but has become the trend among members now. For Partyforumseasia the “new trend” (?) is less surprising than the alleged ban on open campaigning. Competition is or should be normal in a political party and is rather common. If you have ambitions on party posts you must be known by the members and this is hardly possible without some sort of internal campaigning.
Civility, courtesy, calumny, comeradery, friendship, blackmailing, bribery, brutality, even violence and all the shades between them are common in political parties since ancient times. Former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer was quoted as saying about the relations between competing party members: enemy – mortal enemy – party comrade…
It would be close to a miracle if PAS had managed to avoid it. But they may have a moral chip on their shoulder by claiming that they are better Malays than the UMNO members.
See: Straits Times, Singapore, 27.9.2013, page 17A
PAS 1

Cambodia: A Surprise in the Pipeline???


Partyforumseasia does not like fortune-telling but the political timeline for the last few weeks looks a bit like indicating a surprise solution:

Mid July
Royal Pardon for Sam Rainsy at the request of PM Hun Senin a spirit of reconciliation

19th July
Triumphant return of Sam Rainsy after four years in exile to avoid imprisonment after a dubious sentence he calls politically motivated

28th July
Election results with heavy losses for the ruling CPP and significant gains for the opposition under Sam Rainsy: 68 seats CPP – 55 seats CNRP

29th July
Press conference of Sam Rainsy: “We are asking for this (investigation into alleged massive irregularities) not to bargain for positions in the government
(Source: Straits times Indochina Bureau Chief Nirmal Gosh, who continues: “He (Sam Rainsy) said it was “premature” to talk about power sharing in the new government.”)

31st July
PM Hun Sen: “The Cambodian People’s Party has an open heart to talk to the CNRP” Background: The CPP has not enough seats to convene parliament and needs the CNRP’s cooperation…

Soon???
– A grand coalition between CPP and CNRP in the national interest of the country?
Sam Rainsy finance minister? or better Foreign Minister?
Partyforumseasia: Probably not a bad solution for Cambodia!

Hun Sam

Malaysia After the Election: No Smooth Sailing for the Winner


UMNOPartyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak is still more popular than his victorious National Front (BN) coalition. But the opposition, harping on their popular vote advantage of 51% (which is not decisive in a first-past-the-vote system), seems to touch the nerve of hundreds of thousands of citizens who understand the unfairness of the electoral system. And they feel outraged by Najib’s and the Election Commission’s calls for  reconciliation and calm acceptance of the results. The protest rallies may go on, now that the official and final results are out, which is the start for formal complaints about election fraud and legal battles to come. The opposition is planning to challenge in court the election outcome for 41 seats won by BN at a narrow margin. Fraud is not easy to prove and rarely leads to reversed seat allocations. But the legal procedures may take many months and keep the hostile climate at the level of a war of accusations and counter accusations. This, in turn, will not help PM Najib to renew his party mandate as chairman later this year. Serious challengers are not yet visible but party politics sometimes has few choices except “support or topple”. Malaysia’s political climate remains volatile.

A “GE13-Autopsy” with Four Preliminary Conclusions


Popular vote

Source: http://malaysiasdilemma.wordpress.com 10 May 2013

Partyforumseasia:

  1. Majority of mandates and minority of the popular vote
    Barisan Nasional had to win this election at any cost and it did so, never mind the further eroding simple majority. It had to win it in order to keep its grip on the political power, its control of the administration, and the connected business networks which have oiled its machinery for decades. A victorious opposition with a probably cleaner and more transparent government style and consequently cutting the cronies off the pork barrels would have meant much too radical losses for the beneficiaries of the established system. And a losing Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition will certainly face problems to keep its ranks closed.Eventually, PM Najib’s strategy of an all-out campaign with a mix of threats and goodies, neglecting the short and long term costs for the taxpayer, was successful against the groundswell of opposition sentiment in the population. The much discussed popular vote majority for the opposition (50.9 against 47.4 % for BN) is rather irrelevant in terms of power politics as long as Malaysia does not change the British-heritage first-past-the-post system, though it affects the legitimacy and credibility of the continued BN-rule. So, for the next five years don’t expect changes to the electoral system. As Lee Kuan Yew from neighbouring Singapore once said, a ruling party cannot be expected to make it easier for the opposition.
  2. A stolen victory?
    If an incumbent ruling party or coalition has to win at any cost, at least some preparations for manipulation must be expected. And many Malaysians did expect it. What came up during election night and triggered the complaints of the opposition is probably haunting the BN as well and will continue to do so for a while. The congratulations from president Obama and the EU were urging PM Najib to carefully address the alleged fraud cases. That is a quite unusual diplomatic formulation which affects the international image of Malaysia. But in the face of a critical Bersih (Malay for clean) movement monitoring the elections with tens of thousands of local observers specially trained to detect attempts of fraud, the BN strategists and campaigners may have been prepared for very cautious procedures and for mudding the water after the end of the vote counting as well. More than a week after the election now, the EC chairman urges the opposition to accept being defeated. Opposition and Bersih, on the other hand, seem to be slow with presenting proof of fraud, saying they are still compiling evidence. But the EC by-laws give them ample time for that. Much material published online has disappeared from the internet, but as of 13 May the PKR Election Fraud Investigative Team is looking into 237 complaints, especially in cases with a winning margin under 5%. Future investigation by Election Commission (EC) and courts may bring up more evidence than we have so far. Nevertheless, the anger of hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters clad in black show the public sentiment and the lack of trust in government and EC.  That is a difficult and dangerous situation showing quite brutally the cleavages in Malaysia’s society.
  3. Reconciliation despite bitterness and mistrust?
    Fortunately, Malaysia has enjoyed many years of peaceful development without open conflicts. But unfortunately, political interference, like preferential treatment for Malays, housing and settlement policies, the crony-networks, and the religious undertones in the UMNO-PAS competition about who has the better Muslim credentials, have created and intensified resentment and critical opposition to the decades of BN-rule in growing sectors of the population, nota bene including urban Malays. This is why PM Najib’s first reaction in disappointment and anger, holding a “Chinese tsunami” responsible for his lacklustre victory was a serious mistake. All his calls for reconciliation and unity sound hollow after this, and may cost him the leadership of UMNO eventually.
    On the other hand, the world political history of the last few years is full of narrow and dubious election outcomes with opposition protests fizzling out sooner or later. In the Malaysian case, the final price for the May 5th narrow victory may turn out to be costly for UMNO. Much depends on Anwar’s and Bersih’s perseverance in questioning the results. But even if their protest dies down sooner or later, the BN administration will have to continue to pamper its supporters with material goodies or risk being let down even further. This type of indirect and thus not illegal vote buying will turn out to be more and more costly, after the outrageously costly campaign we have seen already.

4.    Toward a two-party system?
During the last few weeks many commentators were talking about an upcoming two-party system. We can safely assume that the heavy losses of BN’s component parties are gradually pushing UMNO into admitting that it is more or less alone in charge. MCA and Gerakan have been kept alive with the financial and logistic support of UMNO and both have relied too much on this relationship. This political miscalculation has been punished on May 5th and may lead to their dissolution sooner or later.
On the opposition side it is rather difficult to see any tendency toward a merger. As long as Anwar Ibrahim does not retire from politics and joins academia, as he had announced (or threatened?) for the case of losing the election, PKR will remain a strong player. Whether PKR or DAP is the more stable and stronger party is not clear despite the better results of DAP. Merger tendencies or even merger talks between the two have not been published so far, and a merger of any of them with PAS is even more improbable. Racial issues, the urban-rural divide and its gerrymandering advantages, as well as religious preferences will continue to create high barriers against the formation of a united opposition party. But in the longer perspective it may be possible with a new leader even more charismatic than Anwar and who can galvanise the resistance against the prolonged BN rule even more successfully. With the popular vote already on the side of the opposition, the BN strategists cannot lean back and rule as usual. They will try to divide the PR parties as much as possible, but this may backfire with the growing number of voters who suspect UMNO of working more for their own survival than for the progress of the country.

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

Malaysia’s GE13: Cleaner Election With Indelible Ink?


Partyforumseasia: After decades of extremely predictable election results with more than two-thirds majorities for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, 2008 has changed the game. In the 5 May election BN is fighting for survival and continuing access to the huge spoils of power, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition feels that victory is possible. Election campaigns in Malaysia have always been intense and costly with visible party propaganda like flags and posters all over the country. But this time the population is more divided and politicized than ever before. To calm down widespread suspicions after a long history of election anomalies, the Election Commission (EC) is introducing indelible ink for the first time. And the very first test run when 230.000 Army and Navy personnel came for advance voting on 30 April, immediately produced doubts about the durability of the ink – seven days according to the EC.
GE13ink

Source / Link: Straits Times 1 May 2013

Malaysia GE 13: Less than 1% overseas voters registered


Partyforumseasia:  The most interesting changes to the organization of the voting process world wide are related to overseas and postal voting. With more citizens living abroad their participation in elections has become more important in several ways. The extremely narrow victory of George W. Bush in 2000 with 537 postal votes in Florida is unforgotten. If Malaysia’s Election Commission is disappointed with the low registration rate of the 700.000 Malaysians overseas, there may be, as in many other countries, the hope that this is a conservative voter group probably supporting the ruling coalition.

The opposition does not exclude fraud and manipulation with the postal voting. See: The Malaysian Bar, 6 April 2013, reprinting an interview in the Sun of 27 March 2009 in which Anwar Ibrahim speaks about fraud with postal votes.

Find some comparative international information at the end of this post:

Overseas voters

See the full article in The Straits Times 6 April 2013
________________________________________________
International comparison:

Italy:
Nearly 3 million Italians abroad (.5 m in Germany) vote for 12 MPs in the National Parliament. Right of overseas voting since 2006.
Spain: 1.5 million Spanish citizens abroad, 870.000 in Latin America, 60% of them eligible. In the 2008 election PM Zapatero campaigned there for his Socialist Party.

Turkey: 2.5 million Turkish voters abroad, 1.5 m in Germany alone. Postal voting since 2008.

Germany: Postal voting since 1957, percentage in 2009: 21,4%. Overseas voting since 1985, 55.000 (approx. 10%) registered and voted in 2009.

World wide: E-voting in its infancy and still rather costly. With e-identification on its way for banking and business, e-voting may develop soon and result in tremendous savings for the organization of elections.

 

 

Malaysia: “Anything But UMNO” (ABU) serious about poll watching


Partyforumseasia: Election fever is on the rise since Prime Minister Najib Razak was expected to dissolve the Malaysian Parliament nearly two years ago but hesitated to do so. Now that the election date is near, the temperature is rising even higher. For outsiders the wording of ABU leader Haris Ibrahim may sound exaggerated, but knowing how much is at stake for supporters and cronies if UMNO should lose this election, fears of manipulation don’t seem to be baseless. The Malaysian Insider (link) reports:
5 April 2013
ABU 5.4.13

Election manipulation: Is Southeast Asia average or world class?


Manipulation

Partyforumseasia:
Election manipulation and fraud are not unknown in Southeast Asia.
This (Link)new book  by Alberto Simpser looks already so interesting in the publisher’s advertisement that we are looking forward to have it. Here are some snippings from the introduction:
Three interesting findings:
“First, electoral manipulation is often utilized when it is patently unnecessary for victory. Second, even when electoral manipulation is needed to win, it is frequently perpetrated far beyond the victory threshold and in excess of any plausible safety margin. Third, electoral manipulation is often perpetrated blatantly, a practice that does not directly contribute to victory and goes against the intuition that, as with any cheating, the perpetrator stands only to lose if his or her activities become known. These three observations constitute what I shall call the puzzle of excessive and blatant electoral manipulation.” (p.1-2)
On the indirect effects of electoral manipulation: “…the consequences to individual citizens, politicians, bureaucrats, and organizations of their political choices and actions today depend strongly on which party ends up holding power tomorrow, and on how powerful such a party turns out to be. (p.6)
The book provides “a systematic, global picture of electoral manipulation”, based on “more than 800 multiparty, country-level elections around the world from 1990 through 2007” (p.8)

Among the empirical findings: “For example, of all executive elections that were substantially manipulated in roughly the past two decades, more than two in five were won by the manipulating party by a margin of victory exceeding 40 percent of the vote, suggesting that excessive electoral manipulation is quite common.” (p.8)