False Hope for the Alliance of Hope?


Partyforumseasia: 

With the wild rumors swirling about an early date for the next general election in Malaysia, everybody wonders about the chances of the opposition to win in its third attempt. 2008 and 2013 saw important advances against the ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional or BN) coalition, but the gerrymandered election system, expensive gifts to certain voter groups, clever fear mongering, and insufficient co-ordination among the opposition parties kept UMNO and BN comfortably in power.

Prime minister Najib Razak, who is also president of UMNO, quite shrewdly managed to dismantle the People’s Pact (Pakatan Rakyat or PR) by eliminating its leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, probably the only politician who could unite the opposition. The seventy-year-old leading figure of the People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat), is still in jail with a controversial conviction for sodomy and banned from politics for five years. For the ruling BN coalition, the end of the Pakatan Rakyat in 2015 was a dream come true.

PM Najib, in the meantime, had other dangerous problems. The 1MDB financial scandal with billions disappeared from this state fund and hundreds of millions discovered in the prime minister’s private accounts would have led to his resignation or unseating in most other political systems. Not so in Malaysia. With remarkable cold blood and chutzpah, Najib has not only survived the storm so far but cemented his leadership in party and coalition as well.

But the opposition is reorganizing itself as well. And 91-year-old veteran politician and former long-term prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is playing an interesting role in this new game. He has left UMNO and started a new party, the United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia or PPBM) and just joined the new opposition coalition, the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan).
This new coalition unites now four opposition parties, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Chinese-dominated party with a socialist approach, the National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara), a splinter from Islamist PAS, and Mahathir’s PPBM as newest member since 20 March. The PH coalition is planning to optimize its forces by campaigning with a common logo and without competing against each other in any constituency.

With PAS keeping a hostile distance toward Pakatan Harapan because of the “anti-Malay” DAP and the “renegade” Amanah, the opposition has lost a former ally with a stable number of seats in the national parliament. The BN coalition of UMNO and twelve component parties holds 132 of the 222 seats. To oust BN and PM Najib, the opposition would need at least 112 seats. This looks like a tall order at the moment, up from 75 in the sitting parliament.

The next general election is formally only due by August 2018, but in the British tradition, the prime minister can call it earlier at his discretion and sense of opportunity. Najib is obviously playing the guessing game for all, has started the BN campaign machinery, and, most importantly, has survived the financial scandal so far with gaining more strength and power in his own party and coalition. His power to fire any internal critic and any civil servant or legal office bearer, and his grip on the government’s and the party’s cash flows, make him look more or less unbeatable. Large parts of the population, especially his Malay vote banks, seem to be relatively unfazed by the financial scandal, and the new proximity with PAS and its Islamist hudud (Muslim criminal punishments) project makes it even more difficult for the opposition.

But no election victory is ever guaranteed. With all the instruments in his hand, from the Election Commission to the money supply and distribution, the prime minister may still be feel too sure about winning. If the Pakatan Harapan coalition manages to unite and avoid all three cornered fights, and, of course, find the appropriate central message to the voters, nothing can be excluded.

Malaysia: Politics for God, for the People, or for the Party?


Partyforumseasia: During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Christian Democrats have been strong in several Western European countries. With over 40% they are still the dominant force in Germany, though the Christian element (the “C”) in its name does not play a big role in practical politics because under a secular constitution religion is considered to be private.
Hadi 2PAS president Hadi Awang has some reason for concern

In predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia religion plays a bigger role, and at least for the Friday prayers mosque attendance is much more subject to peer-group control, in rural communities more than in bigger cities. Religious credentials are important factors for political careers and open support for Islam is a must for Malay candidates in election campaigns. The competition for Malay Muslim votes between two big mainstream parties, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has triggered even more importance on religious issues for a couple of decades. Both are targeting the same Malay constituencies, especially in the rural areas, because of the relatively small number of voters per precinct and the better chances to get elected.
With the “holier than thou”- competition the nation has changed from a more relaxed religious atmosphere only two or three decades ago to much more peer-group pressure on the Muslims with elements spilling over to the minority religions. Restaurants have to be halal, alcohol is no longer flowing so freely, and gender relations are getting more difficult. The world-wide Muslim resurgence including fundamentalist currents are finding a lot of open doors in the country.
In the last few months, but festering for much longer in the background, the introduction of Muslim criminal law elements (or hudud), especially corporal punishment, has highlighted the fault lines in Malaysia’s society, though the constitution is giving equal rights to the strong minorities and their religions, and the British-inherited legal system is basically secular.
The PAS-controlled federal state of Kelantan has passed a law on the implementation of HUDUD in the local parliament on 18 March, and UMNO had no choice but to support the motion. For its final implementation the law needs approval from the national parliament, and many politicians and lawyers think it is unconstitutional.
Though the requirements for male (!) witnesses are high, the punishments are harsh in the 21st century. For theft (2 witnesses) a hand or both have to be amputated. For extramarital sex (4 witnesses!!!??) it is 100 lashes for unmarried and stoning to death for married persons. Drinking of intoxication substances (2 witnesses) costs 40 to 80 lashes. If this sounds archaic for modern Muslims already, the reaction of non-Muslims is also strong, though hudud is supposed to apply only to Muslims. In a multi-religious society like the Malaysian there a many mixed families and many non-Muslims can be affected.

Strategy-wise:   In this complex situation there a rather different outcomes for the Malaysian political parties:

1. PAS is proud of higher religious standards than UMNO anyway. Stating it again is not providing much additional mileage. But they have a leadership problem after their spiritual leader Nik Aziz passed away. Party chairman Hadi Awang, also a Muslim scholar, is not uncontested internally. His dogmatic attitude and his alleged openness for cooperation with UMNO are criticized by the so called “Erdogan faction”. Hadi is heading the more conservative “ulama faction” and may face a grassroots revolt. More than half of the party’s committee in its Batu branch has resigned in protest a few days ago.

2. UMNO has been leading a coalition of 18 parties, maximizing its votes with the help of the Chinese, Indian and indigenous ethnic component parties. These allies are against the hudud implementation, though they know that UMNO cannot be seen to be against it in the Malay constituencies in more conservative rural areas on whose support UMNO’s survival depends. But the threat of being voted out is only there as long as the opposition coalition is united and strong. Its leader Anwar Ibrahim neutralized in prison for the next five years, dividing the opposition and maybe even splitting PAS would mean practically ending the threat. But strategies often backfire, and the hudud dilemma could add to the pressure on Prime Minister Najib by Dr. Mahathir and his friends.

3. Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition composed of PAS, Chinese dominated DAP, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is actually close to breaking up. All non-Muslim members are against hudud and have suspected PAS of secretly dealing with UMNO for quite some time already. With Anwar in prison the “coalition of strange bedfellows”, united only by its fight against the government, is more unstable than ever.

4. The greater public: Non-Muslims anyway, but also Muslims with doubts about the more than creeping religious intolerance in the country are not fully convinced that the hudud policies are only religiously motivated. Leadership struggles in PAS and UMNO make it rather obvious that the hudud drive is not totally for God or the people but all too visibly party politics. Like in countries like Iran, where the clerics in power are detrimental to the acceptance of Islam, the turmoil created by PAS may turn out to be negative for the political development and the religion alike.

5. The social climate: A presenter at business radio station BFM 89.9 who discussed the question whether the hudud implementation would help to fill the country’s rice bowls in a video published on YouTube received death and rape threats and is under police investigation. She has apologized publicly saying that she regretted her tone and demeanor in the video and that she would never mock or insult any religion, let alone her own. The incident shows the raw nerves in the domestic debate and cast doubts on Malaysia’s  image as a moderate Muslim country.

Coalition Strategies in Malaysia: Barisan Component Parties No Longer Needed?


Partyforumseasia: The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) 150px-Flag_of_the_Malaysian_Chinese_Association.svghas been thriving for decades as appendix of UMNO, helping to secure its absolute majority by bringing in substantial numbers of Chinese votes as a regular dowry and a counterbalance to the Chinese opposition DAP. Formation and success of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition and the multi-racial approach of its Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as well as the growing attractiveness of the DAP for Chinese voters have undermined MCA’s traditional role. Factional infighting has crippled the party for some time already and the extremely narrow results in the recent internal elections may herald the further decline of what was once Malaysia’s second biggest political party. In 2008 it still won 15 parliamentary and 31 state seats, in May 2013 only 7 and 11 seats respectively. But, as it was pampered by big brother UMNO with ministerial portfolios and business opportunities during its heydays, MCA is still very rich. According to a Straits Times article on 22 December the party assets are estimated at nearly 3 billion RM, which comes to over 900 million US$. These assets, land, buildings, companies (Huaren Holdings) and a 42% stake in the Star daily may keep the leadership posts embattled. 2,325 delegates elected president and deputy president, four vice-presidents and 25 central committee members, and Mr. Liow Tiong Lai has won the presidency by just 26 votes.
MCA results

Strategic Lessons: Piggy rides are dangerous coalition strategies. Junior partners have to maintain their usefulness for big brother or risk decline. Assets may keep them alive for some time but not for long.

Difficult to compare but interesting:
The German Free Democratic Party (FDP), a long term successful piggy rider in various coalitions, has lost all seats in the federal parliament in September this year. Its survival may be more difficult than for MCA because it has no assets…

Political “Dynasties” in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Political families are not uncommon in party politics, take for example the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush and his son, the 43d President, George W. In Europe it happens less on the top level, but often enough in regional and local politics. The corruption and enrichment scandal in Indonesia’s Banten province and the remarkable career of Mukhriz Mahathir in Malaysia have brought the issue back into the media. MukhrizIn the Mukhriz case two narrowly lost elections, his candidacy for one of UMNO’s vice-presidential posts and the recent by-election in the federal state of Kedah, where he supported the local party candidate, are interpreted as defeat and the campaign support by his father Mahathir Mohamad, 88, a liability, signalling the end of father Mahathir’s overpowering influence in Malaysia’s and UMNO’s politics.
RatuThe Banten case (already posted by Partyforumseasia) has much broader ramifications with family members of the governor Ms Ratu Atut holding seats in the national parliament, mayors, deputy regents and numerous business positions close to politics and administration. Continuing practices of money politics remind many Indonesians too much of Suharto’s family clan and the enrichment of his sons.
If the Banten-related corruption case involving the chief justice of the Constitutional Court should turn out as the tip of the iceberg, as it looks like, it will be more than difficult to fight family dynasties and money politics throughout the huge Indonesian archipelago.
By the way: Partyforumseasia has other (possible) family dynasties on its radar:
Thailand: Not only sister Yingluck, but also son Panthongtae Shinawatra
Malaysia: Mukhriz Mahathir from UMNO and Nik Abduh from PAS
Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a successful succession with a long break after his father resigned.

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

UMNO’s Party Elections- Another Rising Son?


Mukhriz 2Partyforumseasia: Fierce competition inside a political party is the best time for observers and researchers to get a better picture of what is going on inside. The preparations for the internal elections which should have taken place already in 2012 but were postponed because of the May 2013 general election reveal a few things about UMNO after the extremely narrow victory which keeps it in power.
One interesting detail is that six candidates compete for three vice-presidential posts whereas PM Najib Razak und his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin remain unchallenged.
Among the six vice-presidential hopefuls one is more interesting than most of the others because he happens to be the son of former party president and long serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. This son, Mukhriz Mahathir, newly appointed chief minister of the federal state of Kedah immediately after the May election, is on the way up and would be a possible successor of PM Najib if elected as vice-president.

His father, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, like many other elder statesmen, continues to comment on everything political in the country, but still wields more real influence than most of his peers. His direct support for his rising son and his vice-presidential ambitions may help a lot in this special area of political culture. (In most European countries this open support would be counterproductive).
Mukhriz 1

Source: Straits Times (Singapore) today, 26-9-2013.

But there is a nice irony involved which seems to go unnoticed by father Mahathir when he says:
“Eventually people get bored of these outdated leaders who refuse to accept the reality.”
A European proverb is saying that you should not throw stones if you sit in a glass house…

Another interesting detail is the contest for chairing the women’s wing. Incumbent Shahrizat, who was involved in a massive corruption scandal under the headline “Cowgate” seems to enjoy endorsement for another term by PM Najib. But her challenger, senator Mazlah Maznan has good chances to replace Shahrizat exactly because of Cowgate.
UMNO is the biggest Malaysian party with 3.4 million members and the results of next month’s convention promise to be interesting!

Respect: UMNO’s Internal Election Reform


VitalsratistixPartyforumseasia: UMNO is getting serious in renewing the less than perfect internal election procedures. After 26 years of pre-democratically choosing the party president and his deputy without voting and by acclamation, this method described and  ridiculed in Asterix’s old Gaul, comes to an end. In the upcoming party elections, probably between mid July and mid August, UMNO will come back to a proper election of the two top leaders. It will remain to be seen whether the election will be competitive or not, and if yes, who will have the courage to openly challenge Prime Minister Najib.
Whether he will like it or not, the voting might show his support level in the party, at least by abstentions, spoiled or no votes.

The other part of the reform will expand the number of delegates with voting rights from 2,500 to 146,500, probably enough to make vote buying too expensive even for the richest UMNO members with ambitions for local leadership posts.
See also the short overview on the reform compiled by Singapore’s Straits Times of 29 June:
UMNO new voting system

Malaysia: Competition for UMNO’s Top Job?


VitalstatistixPartyforumseasia: This is “Vitalstatistix”, chief of Asterix’s and Obelix’s village in old Gaul. He is waiting on his shield to be uplifted and reconfirmed as chief…

The extended UMNO leadership seems to be divided over how party chairman Prime Minister Najib Razak should be confirmed this time: uncontested like all UMNO top leaders in the last 26 years…or elected. Competitive party elections can be divisive, sure, and each contender has his or her own enemies and supporters. But such is party politics and competition is normal.

For the next party election later this year, PM Najib seems to have already a potential challenger, UMNO senior statesman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, once called ” the best Prime Minister Malaysia never had”. Because (or despite his age, born in 1937) he might be the right leader to reconcile the UMNO factions and maybe even UMNO and PAS…
RazaleighNajib

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting result of the new competitiveness in Malaysia’s politics are the attempts of UMNO to reduce its internal money politics by enlarging the voter base for the party elections. Increasing the number of members with voting right from 2,500 to 140,000 may indeed make vote buying too expensive and unaffordable even for the richest leaders. But the patronage and pork barrel system will be difficult to eradicate.

Malaysia’s GE13: Of Frogs and Princes


Partyforumseasia: The ugly frog turned out to be a handsome prince, at least in the fairy tale. In a country where party switching has a long tradition (see national cartoonist Lat’s 1992 cartoon), turncoat politicians are not unknown, even welcome by other parties if they seem to be winnable candidates. But this universal feature, often accompanied by cash handouts, seems to be less acceptable with the Malaysian voters this time. The turncoats are now called katak = frog…

Lat 1
Partyforumseasia: One of the frogs has been nominated by PM Najib to the surprise of many. This rather controversial politician was with PAS first, then with PKR, and is now running as religious and Malay supremacy wild card for BN against a moderate from PAS… This pairing could hardly be more ironical.

Zulkifli

Source / Link: Straits Times 24.4.13