Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: In Southeast Asia private campaign and party donations are certainly not coming in smaller amounts from millions of citizens. The millions here are more investments by cronies and businesses interested in government contacts and contracts. Nevertheless, an article titled “Live together, vote together” in The Economist, November 22d, page 33, is interesting in the way it shows that peer groups can be rather influential on political choices: “Americans who live and work together are often politically like-minded, according to The Economist’s analysis of more than 1.7m individual contributions of $200 or more made during the 2014 election cycle. The analysis also reveals which cities and companies are most politically engaged, financially speaking.” The survey does not correlate its findings with the election results, but at least the more one-sided results are indicators.
In systems with only two parties like the US it is certainly easier to define the areas with better election chances than in splintered multi-party systems. But for political parties in Southeast Asia, apart from the traditional rural – urban divide, it may be useful to study possible partisan clusters in more detail.
One interesting case in point is a pocket of opposition stronghold in the North-East of Singapore, where the Workers’ Party has managed to surf a wave of anti-establishment and anti-PAP feelings and conquer a five seat group representation constituency (GRC) in 2011 plus a single member constituency in a by-election in 2013. The losing PAP normally has a very good grassroots system and its MPs get a feel of the ground in their meet the people sessions every Monday night. Both camps will be trying hard to gauge the voters preferences for the next election which is due by January 2017 latest.
Partyforumseasia: In the case of Thaksin Shinawatra there has been little doubt that he made his billions with the help of political connections. And comparative research on party financing in Southeast Asia has shown that political entrepreneurship is one of the most lucrative business lines.1) The region, more or less independent of the political system, is full of “unusually rich” politicians. The Thai situation is being discussed in an article by Tan Hui Yee, Thailand correspondent of Singapore’s Straits Times (25.2.2014, p. A22). With a Gini coefficient of .484, higher than that of the US, Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in Asia. The regional imbalance has opened the flood gates for populist policies and the landslide victories of Thaksin’s political parties. According to Chulalongkorn University’s economy professor Pasuk Phongpaichit the minimal taxes on land are not being adjusted because most politicians are big land owners. As protest leader Suthep Thaungsuban, himself confronted by graft allegations, tries to hurt the business empire of the Shinawatra clan, it is evident for the Thai citizens that too many politicians are millionaires in a too conspicuous way, and there seems to be no difference between the competing parties. Frustration and cynicism are growing with the number of scandals, the duration of the stand-off and the negative impact on the economy.
Money politics is all too entrenched in Thailand and Southeast Asia to be eradicated by well-intentioned reforms. Only rich enough candidates can win an election, and few will sacrifice part of their assets to get elected. That simply means that millions invested into an election campaign have to be recouped one way or the other.
1) See: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang, Party Finances and Money Politics in Southeast Asia in the reference archive.
Partyforumseasia had taken up the pork barreling saga in the Philippines recently. Yesterday, November 19th 2013, the Supreme Court has declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel fund “unconstitutional”. Many concerned citizens welcome this decision with a sigh of relief, first letters to the editor thank the Lord for this decision.
See (link here) The Manila Times of November 20th.
For the political parties and politicians it will be a severe blow, cutting them off from the most important funding source for their activities and election campaigns. But their shamelessness in the practical handling of kick-backs from development funds in the billions of Pesos and millions of $ has triggered the loudest ever public outcry and the radical decision of the Supreme Court.
The question is now how the political system can find a legal and socially acceptable way of funding parties, politicians and election campaigns. As e.g. the German example shows, even generous public funding is not sufficient. In 2013 the “Campaign Cost Reimbursement” for political parties will amount to 154 million €, but the combined budgets of all eligible parties are being estimated at 450 to 500 m €. Donations are indispensable in every political system but not easy to control and protect against influence peddling and lobbyism.