15 Years Not Enough? Setya Novanto Finally Sentenced


Partyforumseasia:  The corruption and embezzlement case around former house speaker Setya Novanto has come to a close. 15 years imprisonment, IDR 500 million (US$35,880) in fines and restitution of US$7.3 million, meted out by the Jakarta Corruption Court, is a landmark decision against one of the top politicians considered to be untouchable before. For many Indonesians, especially graft watchdog Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), the punishment is disappointingly lenient. They had preferred a life sentence, arguing that the restitution of the $7.3 million he obtained was only 22.69 percent of the total state losses caused by him. The $7.3 million was only his personal share of what the conspiracy deducted from a huge 2009 project of introducing electronic identity cards for the 266 million Indonesians. Novanto hid the money transfers through several corporate accounts at home and overseas. Novanto 1

Is the difference in expectations the normal difference between rule of law and justice, which often results in critical views of court decisions? On one side it certainly is, but the court is also raising the benchmark against the widespread impunity of top politicians who organize the funding of their parties and election campaigns. One of the usual instruments, in Indonesia and neighboring countries alike, is the skimming or scalping of government projects, normally reducing the amount which reaches the target groups or project purpose by about 30% on average. Since the lawmakers have the discretion to decide on project funding, especially in certain financially crucial committees, secret deals with the bureaucracy and affiliated commercial enterprises are more than common. The system in Indonesia is ubiquitous and not really a secret, however, party activities and elections have become excessively expensive, and candidates must invest heavily in their election or re-election campaigns. One recent research paper on vote buying in Indonesia found that poor candidates never win a mandate.

Will the final fall of Setya Novanto, who got away with a couple of other corruption cases before, set a precedent for Indonesia and possibly some of the neighboring countries? Punishing even Politbureau members in China or Vietnam has done rather little against the daily corruption of miserably paid policemen and other civil servants. But the top level convictions in Korea, Taiwan, and now Indonesia, may contribute to the visible nervousness of the Najib– government in Malaysia which is going to the polls on 9 May. Obviously, the 1MDB scandal has not been forgotten by the voters, 

 

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.