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.

The Presidential Systems in Indonesia and the Philippines Work Differently


Partyforumseasia: President Joko Widodo of Indonesia is not yet in full control of the political machinery 19 months after assuming office in October 2014. If the election of Setya Novanto as new chairman of Golkar, the second largest party, will end the

Indo Parl

The newest figures by Wikipedia

internal rivalries and the party joins the presidential coalition, the President will control over 60 % of the parliament. But control may be exaggerated as description, as the coalition, see the colorful chart on the left, consists of seven parties,with Golkar already included by Wikipedia after the party convention in Bali last weekend. Running a country as diverse as Indonesia without a majority in parliament is certainly extremely difficult but maybe facilitated by the flexible nature of Indonesians and the very wide range of gray tones between black and white compared to the normal confrontations in Western democracies. The support of Golkar will help President Widodo to push more forcefully for stalled but necessary reforms. But it will remain a daunting task to balance the government coalition and satisfy all party leaders and dignitaries with sufficiently powerful (and profitable) posts and positions in government and public service.

In the Philippines the post-election political situation looks very different. The country of over 100 million citizens, with a median age of 24.4 years, and still a high poverty rate of 26%, has not developed a strong party system. During the political developments after the fall of Marcos and the “People Power or Edsa Revolution” in 1986, the Philippines have in many ways managed to strengthen their democratic institutions albeit with a weakness of enforcement in important details. With 70 % of legislators coming from political clans and thriving on oligarchic and partially even violent patron-client relationships, the 55 million voters were tired of elite politics and provided maverick candidate Rodrigo Duterte with a handsome majority of 38.6% over the runner up establishment candidate Mar Roxas with 23.45%. The latter’s running mate, Leni Robredo, is still waiting for the final and official results because her lead over “Bongbong” Ferdinand Marcos, eldest son of the late dictator, is paper thin. In case her victory is confirmed, Duterte will give her a cabinet post.

President-elect Duterte has pushed his campaign with a very tough image after two decades as mayor of Davao and plenty of tough talking and promises to clean up with corruption and crime. Elite candidate Mar Roxas, whose grandfather was a president, has graciously conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, but establishment and intellectuals are anything but happy with the outcome. Duterte may manage to cut painfully into their privileges and redistribute the benefits of the country’s economic growth under the Aquino administration to the poorer parts of the society.
As usual in the Philippines, after the president is elected politicians move into his or her camp irrespective of party affiliation. Duterte is holding court in his Davao home and the friends, old and new, queue up to get appointed for positions from minister to ambassador.
Expectations among Duterte’s voters are sky high, but there is also a herculean task ahead. Despite economic progress under Aquino the poverty level is still the second highest in Southeast Asia.
Poverty levels in SEA

The organization of the elections on 9 May has worked remarkably well given the geographical challenges of the 7000 islands nation. On top of the election of president  and vice president, the voters had to decide on12 Senate seats, all 297 seats to the House of Representatives, all governors, vice governors, and 772 seats to the boards of the 81 provinces, all mayors and vice mayors for 145 cities and 1,489 municipalities, all members of the city councils and 11,924 seats on municipal councils, as well as the governor, vice governor and all 24 seats in the regional assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

vote machine

The electronic voting machines are supposed to be hack- and cheat-proof

As the largest electronic vote counting exercise in history with 92,509 vote counting machines being used to digitize voter-marked ballots and transmit the results to the Municipal Board of Canvassers, the 2016 election is an incredible achievement which is not adequately appreciated by the international media, probably too much overshadowed by the victory of Rodrigo Duterte.

“Silverbacks” or Orang Utans – The Leadership Enigma in Southeast Asia


Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.

Partyforumseasia: The latest Economist (September 27th, p. 67) compares leadership “qualities” in the corporate world with dominant behavior among gorillas: Gorilla“IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body.”
OK, so much for the corporate world. Is it very different on the political stage? We had taken up the issue some time ago with the good looks of Yingluck Shinawatra, which certainly helped her to get accepted as Prime Minister of Thailand but didn’t protect her against being toppled as perceived proxy of her brother Thaksin.
Political leadership is probably related to a certain degree to “silverback” features from the gorilla world, but there are many exceptions to the list. From Napoleon to Sarkozy and many others, short politicians have been successful. The touch of grey in thick, lustrous hair? Not necessarily, Putin is nearly bald. Handsome or beautiful faces? Perhaps an asset but not necessarily. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao or Nixon were far from impressing by their features but mesmerizing men and many women alike.
There are research results in political psychology looking into why some politicians seem to be more trustworthy than others at first glance. The test persons (mostly students) had just one or two seconds to watch the picture and rate it.
The spoken word is another powerful tool to impress voters and citizens, and, obviously much more based on the way it is expressed than dependent on the content. On that background the astounding catching-up-campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia and the final victory of least gorilla-style politician Joko Widodo are remarkable. Was it the aura of credibility against strongman posturing?

Partyforumseasia would very much appreciate comments and contributions to the leadership enigma in Southeast Asia. It is a region with gentle orang utans, not chest thumping gorillas.

Indonesia and Beyond: More Dirty Campaigning to Come?


Partyforumseasia: Joko Widodo’s victory in the recent presidential election in Indonesia has been praised for many reasons. Jokowi as ordinary citizen against Indo Jokowiestablishment and big money, boost of the country’s fledgling democratic culture against vested financial interests, and most important, a clean politician against the more dubious figure of contender Prabowo. As one prominent observer in the Jakarta Post wrote: A checkered shirt against a checkered past, meaning the doubts on ex-general Prabowo’s human rights record.
The Prabowo campaign nearly performed miracles in Prabowo 2catching up with the poll figures which showed Jokowi miles ahead in the beginning. The two campaigns were indeed very different. The Jokowi – PDIP campaign looked widely amateurish, whereas the deep pockets of the Prabowo camp made a professional performance possible.
After the “dirtiest campaign ever” (Marcus Mietzner), one “professional” feature to be watched more closely is negative campaigning, also known as smear campaign. We had taken up the tasteless “obituary” and the allegations that Jokowi was a Christian of Chinese descent in earlier posts. The final election results among Muslim parties suggest that this poisonous rumor played a role in pulling devout voters into the Prabowo camp.
It would be a bit easier if the dirty campaigning had been home-grown in Indonesia. But it is widely ascribed to American advisers hired into the Prabowo team, namely experts from the US Republicans. Looking into the development of opposition research (“oppo” in the short form) as a thriving new industry is not very reassuring. In an article “Digging dirt, digitally”, The Economist (July 12, 2014 p.30) provides a glimpse into the possible future of negative campaigning. Two big oppo-companies, “America Rising” and “American Bridge 21st Century” are employing so called “trackers” to collect anything which could be used against a candidate. The dilemma for the candidates is, according to The Economist, that “more or less every word a candidate says now lives online somewhere”.
Apart from the smear campaign against Jokowi, Indonesia seems to be relatively innocent so far. But after building a professional polling industry in a few years time, they certainly have the capacity to develop “oppo” mechanisms as fast. There is some hope, though, that President Jokowi will help to create more transparency and cleaner governance in the country.

Campaign Booster Religion


Partyforumseasia: State religions” have played important and decisive roles in European politics for centuries. Rulers have used religion as a powerful political tool. And churches have shown a great propensity to be close to the power holders, often in a cozy and successful symbiosis.
Only a few decades ago, Christian parties in Italy and Germany could rely on campaign support from their alliance with the church, especially on Sunday services before elections. Without necessarily naming the party, the priests would just say that a true believer should know where to mark the ballot paper. With urbanization and secularization the influence of churches and Christian parties has decreased. But the parties were also punished for relying too much on conservative and more religious rural constituencies and giving them more political weight than the cities.

Prayer 2In several Southeast Asian countries we witness developments in the opposite direction. In Malaysia and Indonesia where Islam is dominant anyway, religion is often used as a campaign tool. In a negative way by casting doubts on the religious credentials of candidates, in the worst case by alleging that they are covert Christians like in the case of presidential front runner Joko Widodo. But last week Muhammdiyah leader Din Syamsuddin revealed that he had “tested” Jokowi by asking him to lead a Friday prayer. Result: “It was all correct”. So the members of this Muslim mass organization can trust that Jokowi is a sufficiently pious Muslim. Muhammadiyah (30 million members) and Nahdlatul Ulama (40 million members) have declared that they won’t officially support any of the candidates, but in a country which is seeing a split between pious (santri) and possibly more lukewarm (abangan) Muslims, 70 million potential voters cannot be neglected.

In Malaysia, probably more than in Indonesia, the Islamic agenda in politics is frightening non-Muslim minorities. The introduction of Hudud laws is one of the most controversial issues in the ongoing political debates, fueled recently by their introduction in Brunei. Hindu, Christian and other minorities are concerned that amputations and stoning might be applied to them as well, though they are certainly hard to apply within a predominantly secular legal system. See details in an essay by Mohammad Alami Musa, “Hudud and Inter-Religious Relations” from the Rajaratnam School of International Sudies.( Link )
Playing the religious card in politics can be dangerous. If overdone it opens the Pandora’s box of fanaticism and intolerance. Both, unfortunately, are not unknown in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia’s Election Marathon: Who Will Win the Presidency?


Partyforumseasia:  The final results of the parliamentary election, published by the Election Commission last week, don’t come as a surprise any more. Indonesia’s polling industry has done a good job with rather accurate exit polls. For an overview of results and party descriptions go to: https://partyforumseasia.org/last-election-results-indonesia/

Indo presidentThe final decision on who will rule the country for the next five years will depend on who wins the presidency. So far, only PDI-P front runner Joko Widodo has enough support for the nomination according to the elaborate rules of the game. Runner-up Prabowo from Gerindra, a former general and projecting the image of a strong leader, will certainly find the necessary support of 25% of the national vote by May 20th, the nomination deadline.
But the strategic or tactical choice of Mr. Widodo’s vice presidential candidate is now at the centre of all guesses. Since Golkar candidate Aburizal Bakrie lags far behind the two top candidates in all polls, rumours about a PDI-P – Golkar – arrangement may not be far-fetched. If tycoon Bakrie is realistic enough to avoid a tree-cornered fight which he can only lose and swallow his pride, Widodo may make it in the first round with over 50%.
The alternatives, Prabowo the strongman and Widodo the approachable new style politician, make the decision of Indonesia’s voters psychologically interesting.

 

Too Many Islamic Parties in Indonesia?


Partyforumseasia: 169 out of 560 seats in the outgoing Indonesian Parliament or 30.1% for four of the five Islamic parties  are not a bad result at first glance. Under a different angle, in relation to more than 200 million Muslims among the 237 million Indonesians, they might have done better. PKSFor the upcoming elections, though, the polls predict not more than 22 %. Why are they so (relatively) weak?
The biggest factor may be that they are competing against each other and don’t get direct support from the two huge religious mass organizations Muhammdiyah (founded in 1912) and Nahdlatul Ulama (founded in 1926). Together these Muslim movements have 70 million members but decided to stay out of party politics this time.
Other factors are corruptPANion scandals which demolished the pretended moral superiority. Politicians with religious credentials turned out to be as vulnerable to money politics as all the others and didn’t perform better when they held public office. And last but not least, the mainstream parties are promising enough bread and butter improvements which the splintered Islamic parties can’t guarantee even if some of them should make it into a government coalition as junior partners.
But religion is still playing a rather important role in the public sphere of the Republic of Indonesia. Hope bearer Joko Widodo is carefully integrating it into his campaign.
For more details see Straits Times, Singapore, 28 March 2014 (boxes)
PPP                         PKBPBB

Mega – Strategy – Pro Jokowi?


MegaThe coincidence of parliamentary and presidential elections in April makes the next months exciting for Indonesian voters and outside observers alike. Journalists and political analysts are rolling the Jokowicrystal ball back and forth, but getting reliable information about the strategic debates inside the political parties and their inner circles is more difficult than ever. With outgoing President Yudhoyono the popularity of his Democratic Party being in free fall, opposition PDI-P leader and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri (67) might be tempted to run again herself. But for many the high poll results for Joko Widodo (52, also known as Jokowi), the most popular governor of Jakarta, seem to make his candidacy a much better bet. Megawati, who still commands high respect and loyalty in the party, would probably squander the party’s chance to victory.
Merdeka.com 17.2.14
At least a growing part of the membership see it this way and try to urge an early nomination with a group called “PDI-P Pro-Jokowi”. A decision against Megawati may remain unthinkable, but intense debates within the PDI-P leadership and among the rank and file members are completely normal. There is no need to dramatize a supposed split in the party. Keeping media, voters and political competitors in the dark and guessing can be a cheap campaign tool in a country with exponentially increasing campaign costs for the parties.
Source of poll results: Merdeka.com 17.2.2104

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…