Philippines: Massive Party Switching Towards President Duterte’s Coalition for Change


Partyforumseasia: Political parties in the Philippines are known for their volatility. Not that parties are much more stable in other countries in the region, at least as long as they are not in power and don’t have much money to offer. Party hopping and offering positions to rich candidates are quite common in Southeast Asia, ideology and programs are not important, but that is increasingly true in Western democracies as well.
AntsDuterteAquino

The presidential system of the Philippines has developed a unique and smooth ritual once the new president has been elected. As everywhere, politicians scramble for positions, but faster than in any other country, losing parties join the presidential camp and MP’s leave their party and join the president’s. Call them opportunists, unprincipled, turncoats or traitors, it is a pragmatic and realistic way of providing the new president with a parliamentary majority that works from day one. And at the same time the party switchers retain the perks they are used to. President Jokowi of Indonesia could not even dream of such a smooth transition.
CamelionThe changes look dramatic with the underlying figures: The Liberal Party (LP) more than tripled its presence in congress with the election of president Aquino in 2010. According to Asiasentinel, 17 June (LINK) between 80 and 90 of its 110 MP’s are prepared to join Duterte’s PDP-Laban party. Outgoing house speaker and LP vice chair Feliciano Belmonte declares that the Liberals will eventually coalesce with what president elect Duterte calls the Coalition for Change. His policy priorities, a federal system, fighting crime and corruption, and re-introduction of capital punishment, should easily find support in the congress. After Duterte’s tough crime buster talk during the election campaign, anticipatory obedience seems to set in already among the police. Since the election 42 suspected drug pushers have been killed in shootouts with the police. But what the president elect has promised, eradicating drug related crime within six months, remains a tall order.

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!

 

 

PAP Singapore: Higher than Expected Victory


Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s dominant and long-term government party PAP has surprised everybody from political observers, journalists and the opposition to its own membership with a sweeping victory of 69.9 % in yesterday’s (11.09) general election.
In a rather colorful nine day official campaign Workers’Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) especially managed to pull huge crowds and rouse the expectations of their supporters.

Here are the main results, published by Election Commission and Straits Times:
GE2015 Results

And nota bene: These results still look rather mild for the opposition parties because they calculate their percentage on the votes in constituencies they contested. Only the PAP had fielded candidates for all 89 seats. If calculated on the total number of valid votes the two main opposition parties look much more miserable:

Total number of valid votes: 2,257,016                 Invalid/rejected votes: 47,315 (2%)
Voter turnout: 93.56%

Workers’Party (WP) share of all valid votes:                          12.48%
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) share of all valid votes:  3.75%

The Workers’Party narrowly retained the group constituency in Aljunied and more convincingly one single member constituency, losing one other it had won 2 1/2 years ago in a by-election. All seven other opposition parties did not win any seat but three candidates will be offered a seat as Non Constituency MP as “best losers”.

The media are talking about a two thirds majority which in reality is closer to four fifths. But calling the results “undemocratic” or “reminding of North Korea”, as losing party leaders said in their disappointment, is certainly far from justifiable. The first-past-the-post electoral system is not helpful for small opposition parties, sure, but all in all space of maneuvering, access to mainstream media including TV coverage, allocation of big open spaces for rallies, canvassing, and publication of pamphlets were free and fair enough. The ruling party could bank on its track record of running the country with exceptional and corruption free  success plus the financial means to improve nearly on all practical aspects of the citizens’ lives. Attacking the government for underground train disruptions or increasing prices for food and health care did not resonate with the PAP supporters, nor could criticisms of the compulsory savings fund CPF, which includes in the meantime a lifelong pension scheme after retirement, mobilize a population of (close to 90 %) home owners against the government. The privileges  of citizenship in the city state contrast quite favorably with what most other countries have to offer, including the neighbors in Asia. So the opposition parties tried to harp on the importance and usefulness of opposition voices in parliament as checks and balances but obviously the silent majority does not care too much for more controversial debate. Nearly 70 % seem to think that the PAP government is caring enough and has sufficient foresight to lead Singapore into an even better future.

Winner takes all

First-past-the-post system:

Winner takes all

SDP losers

Loser loses all

Indonesia: The Hidden Price of Aklamasi


Partyforumseasia: As reported, the recent Bali congress of the PDI-P has  “reelected” Megawati Sukarnoputri by acclamation. With the weight of her family background as daughter of the nation’s founding president she would have won a real election as well, but the political culture has not yet arrived there. Not all Indonesians and certainly not all PDI-P members like this procedure, but if unconditional allegiance to the party line is being promoted before and during the congress, open internal dissent is not very probable. MegaJokowi

Photo: A traditional gesture of respect, but the matriarch seems to appreciate more than that.

The more vitriolic were media comments on “aklamasi”. The Jakarta Post quotes the definition of the English word acclamation as: “a vote to accept or approve someone or something that is done by cheers, shouts, or applause” (Merriam-Webster).
The comment (link here) continues:
But in the Indonesian context, the dictionary’s definition sounds euphemistic. In order for any political party chief to be elected by way of aklamasi, they have to exert formidable political and financial resources for backroom lobbying ahead of a national party congress.
This way, the congress is nothing but a ceremony to formalize the “election” or “reelection” of party leaders without the participants actually casting their ballots. All party executives who have voting rights have been effectively mobilized during preparatory meetings to agree to give their incumbent chief another term by way musyawarah-mufakat (deliberation for consensus). It is in this forum that the real battle happens.
Then when the party congress opens, the committee announces the aklamasi while the participants accept it by thunderous cheers, shouts, or applause. No objections are raised. What a sweet moment for the (re-)elected chief!”
The paper criticizes that “aklamasi” is a relic of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship but still widely practiced in the country:
“The dominant strong, charismatic leaders, such as the PDI-P’s Megawati, the Democratic Party’s Yudhoyono, Gerindra’s Prabowo and the NasDem Party’s Surya Paloh, has given rise to the prevailing feudalistic aklamasi election tactic. They are highly revered because they are founders of their respective parties. So powerful and revered are they, they have practically become cult leaders. Dissent is easily silenced. A member’s political rise often depends on his or her loyalty to the supreme leader instead of on real merit.”

The conclusion of the article is certainly correct, but reveals a sad undertone: “The politics of aklamasi proves that oligarchies give rise to political corruption, cronyism and dynasties. Public trust is wearing thin as political parties are failing to prepare future national leaders and to promote democracy.” 
Other prominent Indonesian publications like The Jakarta Globe (link here) and Tempo  (link here) are similarly critical about these shortcomings which are too visible for the country’s voters and undermine the belief in fast consolidation of Indonesia’s  fledgling democracy. Especially detrimental are promotions of sycophants in the party hierarchy, even if they have been under suspicion of corruption.
By coincidence, The Economist, a British news magazine, has taken up the topic of dynasties in business and politics in its newest edition (April 18th – 24th 2015).

Strategy-wise: Blood is thicker than water, and too many leaders trust bootlickers more than courageous people who tell them unpleasant truths. Democratic procedures inside the parties are still underdeveloped in Indonesia.
Finally: Trust is good, control is better (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov alias Lenin).

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…

Clean Elections in Southeast Asia?


Partyforumseasia: Political parties, when in power, make vital decisions on behalf of their countries and populations. But not surprisingly, they also keep an eye on their own interests, especially regarding their re-election. “Free and fair elections” is a nice promise, but many political parties are not too keen on creating or maintaining the level playing field which could make it more difficult for themselves and more fair for their competitors. From grey areas in the electoral legislation to more or less visible gerrymandering and hundreds of other  tricks to manipulate the outcome of elections, nothing is unknown to Southeast Asia.

The Electoral Integrity Project at the University of Sydney, Australia, (www.electoralintegrityproject.org) has published a very relevant report called “The Year in Elections, 2014“, subtitle “The World’s Flawed and Failed Contests” (Link here).

Electoral Integrity 2014 map

Similar to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International, the project has compiled a database which allows to measure the level of fairness in elections, the Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index.
The list covers 127 countries, led by, no surprise, the usual champions in Northern Europe with Norway on top (PEI 86.6). The criteria applied are: electoral laws, electoral procedures, district boundaries, voter registration, party and candidate registration, media coverage, campaign finance, voting process, vote count, results, and electoral authorities.
Where does Southeast Asia fare with the last elections? Here are the results for 2013 and 2014:

Nr.                                       election date                    PEI index
____________________________________________________

51  Indonesia                        9.7.2014                          68.1
82  Indonesia                        9.4.2014                          62.3
88  Thailand                          2.2.2014                          60.6
91  Phillipines                      13.5.2013                          58.8
114  Malaysia                         5.5.2013                         48.4
120  Cambodia                     28.7.2013                         45.6

Surprise? Not really, but chances for improvement…