Southeast Asia is East…and West is West


Partyforumseasia: The vast scholarly literature on political parties is often rather theoretical, and academic ambitions make “theorizing” a necessity for the young scholars. Starting to analyze the parties in “Non-Western” systems with the tool box from Europe, where most of the scholarly models have been developed, can be tricky, though. At face value, there are all the well known attributes, headquarters, members, presidents, vice-presidents, branches, central committees, internal elections, even membership fees. However, to start with the latter, membership fees in Southeast Asia’s parties are symbolic at best, if collected at all. With election campaign costs spiraling and reaching absurd levels, the funding is getting more and more the central problem. That affects the image of many parties and their leaders because money has to be found, and  corruption scandals erupt frequently. In some countries in the region, the voters expect tangible returns for their votes which has lead to so-called “pork-barrel politics”. The candidates, rather often, invest into their campaigns, are expected to “help” their voters once they are elected, and consequently need to recoup the invested sums one way or the other. For many of them, just recouping is not enough, they can also enrich themselves via their political engagement. It is maybe one of the big differences compared with Europe that there are many more “unusually rich” politicians in Southeast Asia.  This is not saying that politicians in Europe are underpaid, but a mandate in most parliaments is financially not attractive for professionals and even less for entrepreneurs who earn much more.

Partyforumseasia has been interviewed by Global Review with a list of questions about the characteristics of political parties in Southeast Asia.
What are the differences between Western and Southeast Asian parties?

You find questions and answers under this Link

Comments and opinions are most welcome!

In case the above link does not work, try to insert the following:
https://www.global-review.info/2017/12/19/interview-with-dr-sachsenroeder-about-south-east-asian-parties-many-political-scientists-base-their-analysis-too-much-on-the-paradigms-and-theories-developed-in-western-europe/

 

A “GE13-Autopsy” with Four Preliminary Conclusions


Popular vote

Source: http://malaysiasdilemma.wordpress.com 10 May 2013

Partyforumseasia:

  1. Majority of mandates and minority of the popular vote
    Barisan Nasional had to win this election at any cost and it did so, never mind the further eroding simple majority. It had to win it in order to keep its grip on the political power, its control of the administration, and the connected business networks which have oiled its machinery for decades. A victorious opposition with a probably cleaner and more transparent government style and consequently cutting the cronies off the pork barrels would have meant much too radical losses for the beneficiaries of the established system. And a losing Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition will certainly face problems to keep its ranks closed.Eventually, PM Najib’s strategy of an all-out campaign with a mix of threats and goodies, neglecting the short and long term costs for the taxpayer, was successful against the groundswell of opposition sentiment in the population. The much discussed popular vote majority for the opposition (50.9 against 47.4 % for BN) is rather irrelevant in terms of power politics as long as Malaysia does not change the British-heritage first-past-the-post system, though it affects the legitimacy and credibility of the continued BN-rule. So, for the next five years don’t expect changes to the electoral system. As Lee Kuan Yew from neighbouring Singapore once said, a ruling party cannot be expected to make it easier for the opposition.
  2. A stolen victory?
    If an incumbent ruling party or coalition has to win at any cost, at least some preparations for manipulation must be expected. And many Malaysians did expect it. What came up during election night and triggered the complaints of the opposition is probably haunting the BN as well and will continue to do so for a while. The congratulations from president Obama and the EU were urging PM Najib to carefully address the alleged fraud cases. That is a quite unusual diplomatic formulation which affects the international image of Malaysia. But in the face of a critical Bersih (Malay for clean) movement monitoring the elections with tens of thousands of local observers specially trained to detect attempts of fraud, the BN strategists and campaigners may have been prepared for very cautious procedures and for mudding the water after the end of the vote counting as well. More than a week after the election now, the EC chairman urges the opposition to accept being defeated. Opposition and Bersih, on the other hand, seem to be slow with presenting proof of fraud, saying they are still compiling evidence. But the EC by-laws give them ample time for that. Much material published online has disappeared from the internet, but as of 13 May the PKR Election Fraud Investigative Team is looking into 237 complaints, especially in cases with a winning margin under 5%. Future investigation by Election Commission (EC) and courts may bring up more evidence than we have so far. Nevertheless, the anger of hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters clad in black show the public sentiment and the lack of trust in government and EC.  That is a difficult and dangerous situation showing quite brutally the cleavages in Malaysia’s society.
  3. Reconciliation despite bitterness and mistrust?
    Fortunately, Malaysia has enjoyed many years of peaceful development without open conflicts. But unfortunately, political interference, like preferential treatment for Malays, housing and settlement policies, the crony-networks, and the religious undertones in the UMNO-PAS competition about who has the better Muslim credentials, have created and intensified resentment and critical opposition to the decades of BN-rule in growing sectors of the population, nota bene including urban Malays. This is why PM Najib’s first reaction in disappointment and anger, holding a “Chinese tsunami” responsible for his lacklustre victory was a serious mistake. All his calls for reconciliation and unity sound hollow after this, and may cost him the leadership of UMNO eventually.
    On the other hand, the world political history of the last few years is full of narrow and dubious election outcomes with opposition protests fizzling out sooner or later. In the Malaysian case, the final price for the May 5th narrow victory may turn out to be costly for UMNO. Much depends on Anwar’s and Bersih’s perseverance in questioning the results. But even if their protest dies down sooner or later, the BN administration will have to continue to pamper its supporters with material goodies or risk being let down even further. This type of indirect and thus not illegal vote buying will turn out to be more and more costly, after the outrageously costly campaign we have seen already.

4.    Toward a two-party system?
During the last few weeks many commentators were talking about an upcoming two-party system. We can safely assume that the heavy losses of BN’s component parties are gradually pushing UMNO into admitting that it is more or less alone in charge. MCA and Gerakan have been kept alive with the financial and logistic support of UMNO and both have relied too much on this relationship. This political miscalculation has been punished on May 5th and may lead to their dissolution sooner or later.
On the opposition side it is rather difficult to see any tendency toward a merger. As long as Anwar Ibrahim does not retire from politics and joins academia, as he had announced (or threatened?) for the case of losing the election, PKR will remain a strong player. Whether PKR or DAP is the more stable and stronger party is not clear despite the better results of DAP. Merger tendencies or even merger talks between the two have not been published so far, and a merger of any of them with PAS is even more improbable. Racial issues, the urban-rural divide and its gerrymandering advantages, as well as religious preferences will continue to create high barriers against the formation of a united opposition party. But in the longer perspective it may be possible with a new leader even more charismatic than Anwar and who can galvanise the resistance against the prolonged BN rule even more successfully. With the popular vote already on the side of the opposition, the BN strategists cannot lean back and rule as usual. They will try to divide the PR parties as much as possible, but this may backfire with the growing number of voters who suspect UMNO of working more for their own survival than for the progress of the country.

Malaysia’s UMNO: Leadership, Warlords, Members, and what keeps them together


Malaysia votesPartyforumseasia: Intense reporting about the election on 5 May brings up a rare glimpse into the structure and internal workings of the ruling party. Here is some information about a membership of more than three million, 20.000 branches etc., but also about the power of grassroot leaders, often called warlords in UMNO. See the revealing article of assistant foreign editor Reme Ahmad in the Straits Times of 3 May 2013.
Here are some key assessments:

“These warlords are a kind of pseudo-godfather…(…) The chiefs get financial allocations from the party and government. (…) In return, they deliver votes for Umno and its Barisan Nasional coalition…These warlords have to be kept happy (…) as they can otherwise sabotage candidates who are parachuted in.
In this election, the wrath of the warlords was on full display when Prime Minister Najib Razak shoehorned his own “winnable” candidates into many constituencies…(…)
In Umno, each of the 191 divisions has hundreds of branches, with total party membership at 3.2 million people. Keeping the branches loyal includes dishing out small projects, and this is where allegations of corruption and the overpricing of projects arise. (…) During the general election and by-elections, disaffected warlords have at times sabotaged their own party (…). Other warlords are known to have told supporters to vote for the other side. To reduce internal mischief, troublesome local leaders are often “given goodies”…
But UMNO is also reforming itself. Obviously in order to reduce money politics and vote buying in the internal elections, 100,000 members instead of the former 2,500 division delegates will elect the party chief later this year. Reme Ahmad comments: “The thinking is that it would be impossible to buy the loyalty of so many people.”
Partyforumseasia:

Party loyalty, of course, hardly comes without any material incentives, be it just power or all sorts of other perks. But the Southeast Asian practice of pork barrel politics has reached quite spectacular levels.
Umno structure 2013

Philippines: Understanding the flawed party system


Partyforumseasia: Patronage politics in the Philippines, often described, but the parties have hardly been defined so bluntly or brutally as:

“convenient vehicles of patronage that can be set up, merged with others, split, reconstituted, regurgitated, resurrected, renamed, repackaged, recycled, refurbished, buffed up or flushed down the toilet.”

Nathan Quimpo, The left, elections, and the political party system in the Philippines, Critical Studies 37, 2005: 4-5 is being quoted with this verdict in: Hutchcroft and Rocamora, Patronage-based parties and the democratic deficit in the Philippines, in: Robison, Richard (ed), Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics, 2012: 97-119.

It sounds very sad, but Hutchcroft and Rocamora put the deficits into the proper historical perspective to understand how it could happen. And they sketch the necessary reforms to overcome the historical burden. Fortunately, the present administration under president Aquino seems to be set to push through the most urgent reforms.
Partyforumseasia: A must read for anybody who wants to understand the Philippino party system!