Not Only in Malaysia: “Buy or bye- or by-elections”


Partyforumseasia: The word game is too nice to be only used for the two bye-elections scheduled for coming Saturday, June 18th, in two constituencies in Malaysia. Both are Bye electionnecessary because their MPs died in a helicopter crash in Sarawak during campaigning beginning of May. in the last election Sungai Besar was won by Umno with a wafer-thin margin of 399 votes (or 49.6% of votes cast) while Kuala Kangsar was won also by Umno with 1,082 votes (50.4% of votes cast). The numbers show already that both constituencies are quite marginal on the national level, but the upcoming bye-election is of utmost importance for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Najib to show that he is unassailable despite all the scandals he is involved in. With the recent triumph in Sarawak which he did not really earn himself, Najib is in dream situation vis-a-vis a splintered opposition. But taking no risks, Umno spends big in its campaign.

For readers with a special interest in Malaysian politics, we recommend the FREEMALAYSIATODAY-article (LINK), with the wonderful word game headline. But all interested in elections in Southeast Asia and beyond should remember the “Buy Election” as a wide-spread and successful campaign concept. And in the cases where the incumbent is too sure that he will win and forgets to buy the victory, it can be a bye-bye-election as well…

Partyforumseasia will collect the newest examples and highlight them here!

 

 

Political Hunting Season in Malaysia


Mukhriz

Former Chief Minister – since yesterday 3 February

Partyforumseasia: Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, has finally resigned from his post as chief minister of the federal state of Kedah after only 30 months. As the rumors go he was asked three times in a week to sign a prepared resignation letter. Claiming that he was forced out because of his (and his father’s) criticism of prime minister Najib Razak and the series of financial scandals he is alleged to be involved in, Mr. Mukhriz did not hesitate to counterattack:
“Sorry to say that as long as Najib is still there, Umno is at its weakest point right now. Scandal after scandal, I think we can’t take it all, it is too much for us. It is really traumatising to all of us. We can’t hold our heads high. Now I will have more opportunity to fight on and speak out for the people because this will not shut me up,” he is quoted as saying by Singapore’s Straits Times (Link).

Prime Minister  Najib’s control of their common party UMNO looks more than total at the moment, but with Swiss and Singaporean banks being involved in the 1MDB scandal the shells are landing ever closer. And never underestimate estranged and sidelined party members. The roles of hunted and hunters can change:
In the first German children’s book, first published in 1845, the hare steals the hunter’s rifle and starts to hunt the hunter…
jäger 1

 

 

PAS-UM-NO, PAS-UM-YES, PASUMNO-MAYBE?


Partyforumseasia:  MALYSIA’S CHANGING COALITION ARCHITECTURE

Najib-Hadi

PASUMNO maybe? Are the party leaders getting cosy?

UMNO  stands for UNITED MALAYS NATIONAL ORGANISATION, but the nation’s Malays are not as united as UMNO leaders like them to be. In fact they are divided since 1951 when Muslim clerics split from UMNO and founded Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) or Pan Malaysian Islamic Party. PAS developed into a leading opposition party with a cleaner public image than UMNO which is perceived as corrupt by many Malays, but also as the better defender of Islam. The decades of competition for the same voter pool of rural and pious Malays had a number of detrimental effects in a country with strong ethnic and religious minorities. Trying to harp on religious credentials in an era of growing international Salafism and Jihadism and the continuing attempts to introduce hudud, the harsh Muslim criminal law, had rather polarizing effects and undermined the multi-cultural concept of the country.

But as old as the PAS-UMNO rivalry are discussions about reunification:
There are weaknesses on both sides. The now defunct opposition coalition without imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim tries to resurrect as Pakatan Harapan  (or Hope Alliance, consisting of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democartic Action Party, and Parti Amanah Negara which last year splintered from PAS). The three parties just inked an agreement on ideology and dispute settlement on 9 January. And the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is losing the anaemic component parties of the Chinese and Indian minorities. This is why a rapprochement  between UMNO and PAS could be easier than ever before since the split in 1951.
The debate is on in the media and among party members. Here are some recent headlines:
(Deputy Prime Minister) “Zahid is confident of Umno-PAS compatibility” (December 26, 2015, The Malay Mail Online, Link here),
Despite decades of bad blood, PAS members ready to work with Umno“, (December 27, 2015, The Malaysian Insider, Link here),
“PAS advising BN to save Malaysia, says Hadi”, (the PAS president, December 26, 2015, The Malaysian Insider, Link here).
So far only mildly challenged by the break-away group Parti Amanah Negara in the renewed opposition coalition, the remaining more clerical “ulama faction” in PAS must nevertheless be concerned about the Malay dominance which they share as central concept with UMNO. To convince skeptics in his party, Hadi has packaged his insinuated co-operation in religious terms: “We start by advising the people in power to abandon what is wrong and do what is good, and if in the end they do not change their ways, we take over as saviours, without any rancour. (…) In defending PAS’s new advisory role, Hadi cited verses of the Quran and a few hadith, or prophetic traditions, on the importance of good counsel. “Advice is one of the words in the Quran (a miracle of knowledge) that has vast meaning, to the point that it encompasses all words and methods used to enjoin others to what is good and forbid what is bad.”
For UMNO the partnership with PAS would certainly be a safety belt of sorts, but difficult to get used to. As a Spanish proverb says, partners are also potential bosses, so PAS might be a rather uncomfortable partner for a party like UMNO that is used to rule more or less alone for 60 years.

 

The Law As Political Weapon In Southeast Asia


Cambodia Compromise

From handshake to kicking out…

Partyforumseasia: World wide, there is a certain connectivity between law and justice, but the law, in most cases a result of politics anyway, is rather often a sharp political instrument as well. Some argue that the laws are just petrified political power to preserve the established structures of elite domination.
The newest twist of a long rivalry between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy is unfolding these days with the announcement of Hun Sen that he will introduce legislation to ban dual citizenship. Sam Rainsy’s French passport, which is helpful for his newest self-exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home (for a rather obviously politically motivated conviction) would neutralize him as challenger to Hun Sen’s hold on power. Under the headline “PM’s pledge: ‘No pardon’ for Rainsy” the Phnom Penh Post (Link here) on 29 December is quite blunt about the move:

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to create a new law barring political party leaders from holding dual nationalities, an apparent move to further incapacitate beleaguered CNRP president Sam Rainsy.In his latest tirade against his long-time political rival, the premier also vowed to never again request a royal pardon for Rainsy, who in November entered his third stint of self-imposed exile to avoid prison on charges widely perceived as politically motivated.”

Other countries in the region might have inspired the Cambodian Prime Minister:

In Malaysia the only dangerous opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison once again after a dubious conviction for sodomy. Without him the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance has fallen apart, and Prime Minister Najib Razak survives a string of scandals.

In Myanmar election winner Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for president because her sons have British passports.

In the Philippines a citizenship drama is still unfolding. The Election Commission tries to disqualify the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe because she is a foundling without sufficient proof of being a real born Phillipina, plus her former US citizenship. The Supreme Court has challenged the decision, so she may eventually run in the upcoming presidential election in 2016.

In Thailand former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing a law suit for negligence with the rice purchasing program of her government. The move is widely seen as a last and decisive attempt to exclude her brother Thaksin from any chance of coming back to the political scene.

Who says that politics is fair? At the moment all these legal battles show the ugly face of Southeast Asian hardball politics.
See also the chapter “Hardball: Power and Party Politics in Southeast Asia” in:

Book at Barnes & Noble incl E-Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Split of Parti Islam Se-Malysia (PAS)


Partyforumseasia: Founded in November 1951, PAS was itself splitting from the United Malay National Organization UMNO, but allowed dual membership in the beginning. It championed Malay and Muslim rights and the recognition of Islam as state religion which was somewhat contradicting the founding principle of Malaysia as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country with full citizenship for the massive Chinese and Indian immigration under the British colonial rule. The contradiction has festered until today and generated a party system along racial lines with UMNO and PAS competing for the Malay Muslim vote, especially in the more conservative rural areas.
The opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance consisting of Anwar Ibrahim‘s racially open Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), PAS and the Chinese dominated DAP seemed to blur the ideological divisions until PAS president Abdul Hadi‘s push to introduce Hudud (Muslim penal code regulations) in Kelantan exposed the internal fault lines in PAS and triggered the break-up of the Pakatan Rakyat.
But not all PAS members are following the hard-line Muslim clerics under Hadi Awang, the so called “ulama” faction. A minority formed the “Erdogan” faction, when the Turkish president was still considered a moderate Muslim leader, but lost all leadership posts in internal party elections earlier this year.
Splitting from PAS in big numbers now, the moderates have founded a new party under the name of “Parti Amanah Negara” (in short “Amanah” = trust or fulfilling one’s obligations in Arabic). Mat Sabu
The new party’s president Mohamad Sabu aka Mat Sabu was a deputy president of PAS since 2011 and moderate challenger of the clerical hardliners. In a statement during the launching of the party he said the new political platform is committed to continue the legacy of political Islam, but realizing that Malaysia is a country of people from diverse social and religious backgrounds, Amanah interprets Islam in a more holistic and inclusive manner. In an era of increasing Arab influence in the country a shift to moderate and more open alternatives should be welcome.

Amanah was officially launched on 17 September
with thousands of supporters attending and claiming that more than 30,000 members are  already joining, including non-Muslims and over a hundred lawyers.

With DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang also attending the meeting it is clear that the new party is most welcome to replace PAS in the opposition coalition. Amanah, though, states its openness to co-operate with PAS, but president Hadi Awang as leader of the hardliners has immediately excluded any truce with the “traitors”. Nevertheless, discussions on the rejuvenation of the opposition coalition as “Pakatan Rakyat 2.0” are underway with PKR and DAP, because without the massive remaining membership potential of the old PAS there is no chance of ousting UMNO and its coalition partners from their entrenched power position, despite the extreme pressure on prime minister and UMNO-leader Najib Razak with the embarrassing 1MDB financial scandal.

If the break-up of the opposition looked like a timely relief and victory for the government, it is matched by the slow erosion of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional by the marginalization of smaller component parties which were  kept alive by massive financial support from UMNO  anyway.

Malaysia needs urgently strong and united leadership to get out of the crisis. Unfortunately, the ruling and government coalitions look equally weakened.

For a better understanding of party politics in Malaysia see Kartini Aboo Talib‘s country paper (available at Amazon) in:
Amazon Party Politics SEA

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.

Fast Growing Internet Risk for Politicians – PM Najib in Hot Soup


Partyforumseasia: Internet and social networks have attracted politicians all over the world as an instrument for personal propaganda and the feeling of closeness to their voters. For Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia 2.1 million “Facebook likes” seem to signal popularity. The difference between these likes and the 3.4 million party members may simply reflect the focus of UMNO on rural Malay voters and their lacking internet access, not necessarily his lack of support within the party .

Najib 1Social media politics is a double-edged sword
The avalanche-like speed of communication when a post goes viral can ruin the image of a politician within hours or days. In an era where silly remarks ruin careers (an arrogant Australian wealth manager just lost his cushy job in Singapore for calling commuters on public transport “poor people”), politicians in the limelight must be extremely cautious.
PM Najib may not be fully aware of the danger. Facing a sh*t storm over his remark that food prices are not all up, since kangkung (water spinach) is getting even cheaper, many Malaysians saw it as adding insult to injury. But Najib insists and continues with more alledgedly cheaper items like sotong (squids). The public is not amused, but laughs about countless jokes ridiculing the Prime Minister.
Reports by the Malaysian Insider may be satirical, but if PM Najib is seriously asking his ministers to take a media training course, more jokes can be expected to target him in the coming weeks and months.
PS: Former PM Mahathir has already admitted last June that he might have made a mistake in giving guarantees for Internet freedom…!!

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.

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!

Can UMNO Survive without Reform?


NajibPartyforumseasia: UMNO’s narrow victory of the May election (if it was a true one anyway as the opposition still doubts) seemed to suggest that the party cannot continue business (!!!!) and politics as usual. Reform should be the order of the post election period if the steady increase of support for the opposition coalition was to be stopped. The party leadership, instead, seems to see the way out in playing the Malay card again and forget about reform.
Asia Sentinel, 16 September 2013 (=link), sums it up in the formula:
                Malaysia’s PM Capitulates to the Hardliners________________
“The Sept.14 announcement of an array of new economic benefits for ethnic Malays by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak represents the premier’s final post-election capitulation to radical Malay nationalists in the United Malays National Organization.

The new plan signifies a U-turn back to the New Economic Policy of affirmative action for ethnic Malays that was put in place in 1971 following disastrous 1969 race riots. Economists are largely in agreement that the policy has saddled the economy for three decades. Najib, an economist himself, has been attempting to undo the policy for three years through his 1Malaysia economic liberalization program. The new plan will play a major role in UMNO’s deliberations at its Oct. 5 annual general assembly and is key to Najib’s keeping his job, UMNO insiders say. If nothing else, it is recognition that reform inside the party is dead.”
Partyforumseasia is not surprised. PM Najib keeps his job but does not really look like a winner.

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.