Malaysia: PAS Party Election Shock Waves Spreading


Partyforumseasia: The overwhelming victory in the internal party elections (see our comment last week, link here) for the conservative, Muslim scholar or ulama faction PAS arabmay not be such a triumph as the winners seem to believe. The aftershocks continue, on Monday 15 June with the resignation of Mazlan Aliman, the last “surviving” progressive in the 23 member Central Working Committee. In a press conference in the PAS headquarters he underlined his disappointment with the “cai paper” strategy, a list of ulama endorsed candidates.What is cai paper or cai list all about? Ironically, the pro-Malay PAS has adopted the word from the expression for menue in Chinese coffee shops. Lists with candidates recommended by the leadership are common in all parties world-wide. But for this convention the internal preparations were obviously much more carefully orchestrated than normally, the president challenged for the first time in decades and opinions split about the introduction of the Islamic penal code or hudud and the co-operation with the Chinese dominated DAP and the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. Normally the recommended candidate list game is played in the background, this time it was visible for friends and foes alike:
The “Cai Tan” or menu for electing the office bearers for the 2015-2017 term that was posted on the Dewan Ulama official Facebook account not long after the acting head of the wing, Datuk Mahfoz Mohamed asked members to reject leaders whose loyalty is not with party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang but Pakatan Rakyat allies, had raised eyebrows. While “Cai Tan” is important to ensure a working team is voted in, many did not expect the Dewan Ulama to endorse a complete list of line-up and make it public, too.” writes The Rakyat Post on 3 June (Link here).
Religious, strategic, ideological or loyalty considerations may not be the only driving force to influence the outcome so massively. A round table discussion on Islam and human rights in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June highlighted the material aspect of Islamic bureaucratization in Malaysia:
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is budgeted to receive more than RM783 million for its spending this year under the Prime Minister’s Department.
And there is also criticism of exaggerated enforcement of alleged religious prescriptions:
Here in Malaysia, they have even added things which are not even in the traditional interpretation of Shariah, especially when it comes to moral policing, intrusion of private space of Muslims.” Source: The Malay Mail Online, 14 June, Link here)

While President Jokowi emphasizes the specific peaceful characteristics of Islam in Indonesia, PAS seems to go for an even more Middle Eastern style. A friend of the author once told him “Here in Indonesia we are Muslims despite the Middle East”… Malaysia cultivates a supposedly more authentic and Arab style of Islam and honors sometimes dubious theological qualifications with cushy positions. This may alienate not only non-Muslims, especially in the fast growing urban population, but also many more moderate Muslims.

At the end the sweeping victory of the ulama faction may turn into a sort of Pyrric victory. The progressive faction is licking its wounds with some considering to split from PAS and start a new party. Meanwhile the 40,000 non-Muslim supporters in the “PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP)” who were anyway asking for more say before the convention are certainly not encouraged.

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…

Strategy-wise: First-Time Voters for Change?


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: All over the democratic world consistent vote patterns are more and more disappearing. While the “polling industry” has become more professional, the long term prediction of election outcomes is increasingly difficult. Competing poll results and their interpretation by politicians are useful in campaigns, but the only reliable figures come from exit polls, that is when the race has been decided already. 43690-20140522
For the parties and their campaign design it is therefore most important to focus on target groups which can be reached and influenced to vote for them. Data collection of vote patterns in residential areas are so easily available nowadays that campaigning in a wrong suburb comes close to wasted time and effort.
In Southeast Asia, where political fossils like Mahathir of UMNO or Lim Kit Siang of the DAP are still influential, “safe vote banks” like Thailand’s North East or Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak still work but come under more pressure as well. So the campaign efforts are focusing more on one big group which is open to be influenced: the first- time voters and the young. In Malaysia first-timers and under 30 year-old voters represent 20 percent of the 13 million electorate and their preferences are more volatile than in any generation before. Especially in the urban areas they tend to prefer the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, but they are also open to switch to the ruling Barisan Nasional if any special issue comes up. The eternal Islamic Law (hudud) discussion is one of these issues which deters non-Muslim voters from PAS as the biggest component in the opposition coalition.
It is interesting how the Malaysian parties try to woo the young voters. They have started to get them engaged and work for the party instead of just harvesting their votes in one election. As one of the key tasks of a political party in democratic systems is the recruitment of political personnel and prepare “new blood” for leadership posts, the implementation of internships and volunteer movements is an important new instrument. PKR and DAP were the first to offer internships with their MP’s and that creates in many cases new activists. The two parties carefully select interested young voters for a ten-week internship, but the ruling BN coalition followed suit since 2013 with a fellowship program for 70 internships in government offices, quite attractive for further career ambitions.
The DAP, in a long term bid to break the BN strongholds in East Malaysia, sends young volunteers for development internships to Sabah and Sarawak. It is understood that all these programs are yielding dedicated party activists and future leadership material.

One difference compared to older democracies is that the political youth organizations in Europe often cultivate their critical distance to the mother parties. They feel like the vanguards of their party and are sometimes much more progressive than their elders would like them to be…

Malaysia: A Lady’s Gambit against Desperate Ruling Coalition


Partyforumseasia: In 2012, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been acquitted of a rather dubious sodomy indictment. Just two weeks before probably winning a Azizahby-election (scheduled for March 23) enabling him to eventually become chief minister of Selangor, last Friday, March 8, a court of appeal reverses the acquittal and sentences him to five years in jail. A more desperate move of preventing Anwar from being elected is difficult to imagine, since the shooting of political rivals, fortunately, is out of fashion in this part of Asia. Unless the court can prove that the coincidence of by-election and new conviction is based on correct legal procedures and internal court timing , the public can only see it as a desperate move of the BN-Government to politically kill Anwar off with the help of a judiciary widely seen as pliant.
The opposition coalition PKR’s strategic director Rafizi Ramli is said to be the mastermind of fielding Anwar Ibrahim in the Kajang by-election and create an even stronger power base in Selangor.  The government’s reaction is proving this by-election strategy right and dangerous for them. Obviously they are so frightened that they use the old sodomy weapon again, and against growing public disgust.
The opposition’s reaction to the appeal court intervention comes swift and smart. Instead of Anwar they will nominate tomorrow, 11 March, his wife Dr. Wan Azizah who is also president of the People’s Justice Party, PKR.
Partyforumseasia has argued already in 2013 that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition cannot afford to lose because of the tens of thousands of party cronies and the billions at stake. Hard ball and money politics once again show their resilience in Southeast Asia.

Politics and Religion in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Groups and organizations as well as political entities like nation states need similar mechanisms to keep their members together and loyal. They have to be different from others and hostile others are especially useful to strengthen the cohesion. Religious groups cannot avoid these mechanisms either. If they don’t need enemies they have to feel at least better than others, more pious or closer to God. One of the charming internal Vatican jokes goes like this: ChurchSaint Peters shows around a newcomer and explains the different groups on the clouds sailing by. These are the Hindus, these are the Buddhists, etc. When a big cloud comes closer, the newcomer asks in a sort of excited tone: Saint Peter, so many, who are these? Peters answer with a finger over his lips: Ssh, not so loud, these are the Catholics. Don’t disturb them, they think they are the only ones in heaven…
Reli

See the full article at: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/commentaries.html

If religious harmony is traditionally a delicate issue in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Southeast Asia (but becoming more and more delicate in Europe as well by massive immigration) the responsibility of the political leadership in handling latent or violent tensions is growing considerably. In this light, the Allah-privilege debate in Malaysia looks like being underestimated by its proponents. Middle Eastern Muslims don’t have too much to laugh about Malaysia, but denying Christians as people of the book the use of God’s name in Arabic makes even the Muslim Brotherhood frown in surprise.

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…