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.

Politics and Religions in Southeast Asia


Somdet Chuang

Going to be appointed Supreme Patriarch? 90-year-old abbot Somdet Chuang

Partyforumseasia: The Asian Values – Debate of the 1990s is history. It was centered on traditional values like close knit families, group cohesion over individualism, filial piety, and last but not least respect for the authority of political leaders. Religion was not in the center of the debate but played an important role in the background, like in most countries. The exception is Europe where the established Christian churches which were in support of social status-quo-order and government authority for centuries are shrinking and losing influence.
The ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of Southeast Asia makes it difficult to think of a regional theory of politics and religion. But in several countries religion and religious groups wield considerable influence in politics. Here is a short and preliminary list of recent problem areas:

Madonna

Madonna has rather different target groups

In the Catholic Philippines the Bishops Conference called on the faithful to boycott a planned Madonna concert as the devil’s work. In secular and multi-religious Singapore, the Catholic archbishop and the Anglican bishop warned against Madonna as well, but added that they would leave it to the members of their flock to decide themselves. They even added that they did not want to impose their view on non-believers (sic!). But it is easy to understand that the artist’s name of the singer is a provocation for Catholics and Protestants alike.. It is noteworthy, though, that there is no Christian party in the Philippines, and Singapore is secular anyway with countless sects and denominations among the main religions.

In Buddhist majority Myanmar monks have been involved in sometimes rather violent attacks on Muslim Rohingya immigrants from Bangladesh under the pretext that Buddhism is threatened by them and has to be defended as state religion. Internationally, Buddhism enjoys a positive image of peacefulness and non-violence which it does not live up to everywhere, though. See our earlier post, Sept.4, 2015 “Radical Buddhism Meddling in Myanmar’s Politics” (Link).

The Muslim majority in Mindanao, Philippines, has created resistance against the perceived Christian domination from Manila with a festering guerilla-war for decades. It seems that even far reaching self-rule arrangement within the statehood of the Philippines will not pacify the region completely.
Because Mindanao is so close to the north of the East Malaysian federal state of Sabah on the huge island formerly known as Borneo, religious undercurrents of migration have created growing problems. Trying to create a vote bank for the ruling coalition in Kuala Lumpur, the immigration of Muslims into Sabah has been encouraged and legalized (see “Project IC“, Link). The percentage of Muslims has increased from 38% in 1960 to over 65% in 2010. And the rather bizarre claims of a Sultan of Sulu to regain sovereignty over Sabah have religious undertones as well and potentially terrorist implications difficult to control by the Malaysian authorities. This is one of the examples where playing the religious card in national power politics creates dangerous side effects. But the competition of UMNO and opposition PAS for the votes of the Muslim Malay majority has led both of them to play the religious card for many years already. In an era of growing Arab influence on Malaysia’s Islam and IS feelers into Southeast Asia this is increasing the political instability after Prime Minister Najib has come under pressure for the financial scandals in his party and his own accounts.

Thailand has similar problems with her Malay-Muslim minority in the South, bordering Malay-Muslim Malaysia. Mishandling the urge for self-rule and independence there by police and military has created a powder keg like Mindanao with lots of terrorism. But as usual, the distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters depends on partisanship, standpoint and definition.

The Military Interim Government actually has another problem with the country’s influential Buddhist associations. The 90-year-old abbot Somdet Phra Maha Ratchmangalacharn or Somdet Chuang has been nominated as Supreme Patriarch by the powerful Supreme Sangha Council which rules over Thailand’s monks. But the nomination has created criticism, not least by a more outspoken and more political monk (Phra Buddha Isara, 60), a former soldier in the Queen’s Guard, the same unit as the Prime Minister’s. Legislation passed in 1962, the Sangha Act, has given the Sangha council control over 300,000 odd monks, and the financial resources of the monasteries. Strings of scandals, including doubts about Somdet Chulang’s vintage Mercedes have shocked the public and undermined the credibility of the religion. See the article in the Bangkok Post (Link) which criticizes the Sangha’s policy of taking subsidies from the state while claiming independence and defending its status quo. The Sangha Act leaves the last step of nomination before confirmation by the King to the Prime Minister, who hesitates, understandably so.

Regional outlook: With growing Middle Eastern influence on Southeast Asia’s supposedly milder and more peaceful version of Islam, Indonesia witnesses already widespread violence against Christian churches and communities. In Malaysia the competition between the ruling and an opposition party ,which both emphasize their religious credentials, has given an ever growing role to clerics and their often narrow interpretation of Islam as well as lack of tolerance vis-á-vis the other religions. In Myanmar and Thailand Buddhist-Muslim relations are already difficult and seem to create more political turmoil in the near future. The religious diversity of the region needs tolerance and mutual understanding between the denominations. But “religious harmony” as discussed and officially promoted in Malaysia and Singapore is not easy to achieve. Practically all these groups believe in absolute truths which tend to exclude each other even when they – historically – worship the same God.

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 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: PAS Party Election Shock Waves Spreading


Partyforumseasia: The overwhelming victory in the internal party elections (see our comment last week, link here) for the conservative, Muslim scholar or ulama faction PAS arabmay not be such a triumph as the winners seem to believe. The aftershocks continue, on Monday 15 June with the resignation of Mazlan Aliman, the last “surviving” progressive in the 23 member Central Working Committee. In a press conference in the PAS headquarters he underlined his disappointment with the “cai paper” strategy, a list of ulama endorsed candidates.What is cai paper or cai list all about? Ironically, the pro-Malay PAS has adopted the word from the expression for menue in Chinese coffee shops. Lists with candidates recommended by the leadership are common in all parties world-wide. But for this convention the internal preparations were obviously much more carefully orchestrated than normally, the president challenged for the first time in decades and opinions split about the introduction of the Islamic penal code or hudud and the co-operation with the Chinese dominated DAP and the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. Normally the recommended candidate list game is played in the background, this time it was visible for friends and foes alike:
The “Cai Tan” or menu for electing the office bearers for the 2015-2017 term that was posted on the Dewan Ulama official Facebook account not long after the acting head of the wing, Datuk Mahfoz Mohamed asked members to reject leaders whose loyalty is not with party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang but Pakatan Rakyat allies, had raised eyebrows. While “Cai Tan” is important to ensure a working team is voted in, many did not expect the Dewan Ulama to endorse a complete list of line-up and make it public, too.” writes The Rakyat Post on 3 June (Link here).
Religious, strategic, ideological or loyalty considerations may not be the only driving force to influence the outcome so massively. A round table discussion on Islam and human rights in Kuala Lumpur on 14 June highlighted the material aspect of Islamic bureaucratization in Malaysia:
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is budgeted to receive more than RM783 million for its spending this year under the Prime Minister’s Department.
And there is also criticism of exaggerated enforcement of alleged religious prescriptions:
Here in Malaysia, they have even added things which are not even in the traditional interpretation of Shariah, especially when it comes to moral policing, intrusion of private space of Muslims.” Source: The Malay Mail Online, 14 June, Link here)

While President Jokowi emphasizes the specific peaceful characteristics of Islam in Indonesia, PAS seems to go for an even more Middle Eastern style. A friend of the author once told him “Here in Indonesia we are Muslims despite the Middle East”… Malaysia cultivates a supposedly more authentic and Arab style of Islam and honors sometimes dubious theological qualifications with cushy positions. This may alienate not only non-Muslims, especially in the fast growing urban population, but also many more moderate Muslims.

At the end the sweeping victory of the ulama faction may turn into a sort of Pyrric victory. The progressive faction is licking its wounds with some considering to split from PAS and start a new party. Meanwhile the 40,000 non-Muslim supporters in the “PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP)” who were anyway asking for more say before the convention are certainly not encouraged.

Malaysia’s PAS: A Theocratic Political Party


Partyformseasia: In one of Grimm’s fairy tales the optimistic hero has a convincing motto: “If you trust in God and are always lucky nothing can happen to you”. PAS MuktamarWatching the party convention (Muktamar) of PAS ending this Saturday 6 June and the sweeping victories of the clerical or  “ulama” faction on all levels, their trust in God may have been even stronger than their good luck. At least this is what they probably are sure about with their mission to implement the Islamic criminal law (or hudud) as a religious duty in politics.
As widely anticipated, the results were clearly against the more moderate “professional” faction. Incumbent president (since 2002) Hadi Awang polled 928 votes against 233 for his challenger Ahmad Awang, a former vice president of the party and Muslim scholar himself. Incumbent deputy president Mohamad Sabu was ousted with 279 votes against 881, which was seen as a punishment for disagreeing with president Hadi Awang. Similarly sweeping were the victories of the three vice-presidents, ousting all three incumbents, and the 18 members of the central committee.  Muktamar 61
With a lesser margin but clear enough the incumbent youth chief was ousted with 263 votes against 429 by Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, son of the late spiritual leader of the party. His deputy, Mohammad Khalil Abdul Hadi, was re-elected. He happens to be the son of party president Hadi Awang. PAS has two rising sons with charisma and a very clear mainstream in support of the religious leadership, Malaysian media call it wiping out of the progressives in the party. The buzz words are about the dangers of secularism and liberalism and the necessity not to separate religion and politics!!

There are at least two dangers in this development:
1. The conservative drive for hudud as a religious obligation will alienate PAS not only from the hudud critics in coalition partner Democratic Action Party (DAP) but endanger the fragile cohesion of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat as such. The UMNO dream of seeing the opposition coalition falling apart may come true.
The first direct fallout is already there: After the delegates approved a motion to sever ties with the secular DAP at the end of the convention, DAP leader Lim Guan Eng asked PAS representatives in the Penang state government to leave.

2. The second question mark comes with the emphasis on Islam and its mandatory lifestyle in a period of growing attractiveness  of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among Southeast Asian young Muslims. While Malaysia is trying to prevent young men and women to join ISIS and reduce radicalization within the country, the internal shift within PAS and its leadership might pour oil into the smoldering fire.

Malaysia’s PAS: Hudud, Non-Muslims and Party Cohesion


Partyforumseasia: Islamic or Islamist parties, maybe more than other religious parties, could be more coherent than their worldly counterparts because they share faith and rituals and certainties in life in a very direct way. Normally their spiritual leaders have clear-cut views and with their authority directly linked to God the dissent among members should be limited. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia or PAS has indeed enjoyed a sort of close-knit stability under its late spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who served also as chief minister of the federal state of Kelantan for 23 years. PAS has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling UMNO party for fishing in the same voter reservoir of Muslim Malays, especially in rural areas. Being seen as more caring for the poorer Malays and not corrupt like UMNO, the party pushed UMNO into a competition in terms of religious credentials which has entrenched the ethnic and religious divide in the country, bringing it ever more often to dangerous levels.
Hadi AwangPAS-president Abdul Hadi Awang (68), a Muslim cleric and in office since 2002
is standing for re-election in the upcoming party convention in June. But for the first time in four decades, he will have a challenger, and ironically, the difference comes after Hadi Awang’s very firm stand on the implementation of Islamic criminal punishments (hudud) which threatens PAS’ partnership in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Though the supporters of hudud say that it will be applied only to Muslims, the non-Muslim coalition partners in the (mostly Chinese-Malaysian) Democratic Action Party (DAP) oppose it strongly. Reasons for concern are certainly justified: There are quite a number of mixed marriages who may be effected. And the hudud punishments, normally described as not easy to execute because of a demanding number of male witnesses, e.g. for extramarital sex, obviously find willing supporters, e.g. Muslim medical doctors who say they are prepared to perform the prescribed hand amputations on thieves.

But the hudud-debate has also increased the internal split PAS between hardliners who are prepared to a rift with DAP and those who support the opposition coalition and the common fight against UMNO. So, the challenger of president Hadi Awang is another cleric, Ahmad Awang (79), who is Ahmad Awangpromptly being attacked as secretly supporting the DAP, whereas Hadi Awang declares it a duty of every Muslim to fight for hudud.

At the same time, the PAS strategy of enlarging its voter base to non-Muslims by establishing a special branch for them, the PAS Supporters’ Congress (DHPP), is creating additional irritations. If the publicly known figures are correct, the DHPP has 40.000 members out of about one million normal PAS-members. Though 4% look negligible,  the DHPP members can make a difference in the constituencies where PAS cannot win a majority alone and where the opposition coalition depends on PAS to win the seat. Giving up this potential would destroy years of effort to strengthen the party’s credibility among non-Muslims.

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.

How Stable is the Opposition Coalition in Malaysia?


Partyforum has always seen the opposition coalition as lacking cohesion apart from the charisma of its leader Anwar Ibrahim and the groundswell among Malaysia’s voters against the eternal rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition led by UMNO. In the special context of the country’s racial divide and the dominance of the Malays as raison d’état, the opposition trio of PAS, PKR and DAP is rather improbable as “bedfellows”. There is a lot of speculation about their common future if Anwar’s increasingly bizarre sodomy conviction should be confirmed by the Federal Court this week. Homosexuality not being considered a crime in most advanced countries anymore, the whole legal procedure against the most prominent opposition figure looks for many like Anwar himself and many Malaysians see it: as a means to crush him politically. The saga is highly detrimental for the country’s international reputation.

Lim Guan EngBut instead of highlighting this, the internal communication between the Pakatan Rakyat coalition members is not as coordinated and strategically skillful as the fragile situation would require. After the Selangor-Chief Minister-replacement-crisis has been solved with great damage to the opposition, the coalition partners continue bickering against each other. The Malaysian Insider ( Link here ) published on 4 November how DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng attacked the supremo of partner party PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang,  for his authoritarian leadership style:

HadiDAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said the coalition found it difficult to continue operating when PAS had a leader who could “override everything”, including decisions made in his absence during the PR presidential council meetings. (…) He can overrule (his party). If that is the system, he must attend PR leadership council meetings so that we can make decisions, we can keep promises, and we can fulfil our commitment.
“So long as he stays away from the PR leadership council meeting, then it will be very difficult for PR to function as a whole,” said Lim in his speech during last night’s DAP fund-raising dinner at the MBPJ Civic Hall in Petaling Jaya.”

Lim’s criticism is certainly justified, but it is not the best moment to say it in public or say it in public at all. All over the world controversial political debates are not appreciated by the voters, open quarrels even less, and they are certainly not conducive for the image of a coalition which is not very stable anyway.

Strategy-wise: First-Time Voters for Change?


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: All over the democratic world consistent vote patterns are more and more disappearing. While the “polling industry” has become more professional, the long term prediction of election outcomes is increasingly difficult. Competing poll results and their interpretation by politicians are useful in campaigns, but the only reliable figures come from exit polls, that is when the race has been decided already. 43690-20140522
For the parties and their campaign design it is therefore most important to focus on target groups which can be reached and influenced to vote for them. Data collection of vote patterns in residential areas are so easily available nowadays that campaigning in a wrong suburb comes close to wasted time and effort.
In Southeast Asia, where political fossils like Mahathir of UMNO or Lim Kit Siang of the DAP are still influential, “safe vote banks” like Thailand’s North East or Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak still work but come under more pressure as well. So the campaign efforts are focusing more on one big group which is open to be influenced: the first- time voters and the young. In Malaysia first-timers and under 30 year-old voters represent 20 percent of the 13 million electorate and their preferences are more volatile than in any generation before. Especially in the urban areas they tend to prefer the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, but they are also open to switch to the ruling Barisan Nasional if any special issue comes up. The eternal Islamic Law (hudud) discussion is one of these issues which deters non-Muslim voters from PAS as the biggest component in the opposition coalition.
It is interesting how the Malaysian parties try to woo the young voters. They have started to get them engaged and work for the party instead of just harvesting their votes in one election. As one of the key tasks of a political party in democratic systems is the recruitment of political personnel and prepare “new blood” for leadership posts, the implementation of internships and volunteer movements is an important new instrument. PKR and DAP were the first to offer internships with their MP’s and that creates in many cases new activists. The two parties carefully select interested young voters for a ten-week internship, but the ruling BN coalition followed suit since 2013 with a fellowship program for 70 internships in government offices, quite attractive for further career ambitions.
The DAP, in a long term bid to break the BN strongholds in East Malaysia, sends young volunteers for development internships to Sabah and Sarawak. It is understood that all these programs are yielding dedicated party activists and future leadership material.

One difference compared to older democracies is that the political youth organizations in Europe often cultivate their critical distance to the mother parties. They feel like the vanguards of their party and are sometimes much more progressive than their elders would like them to be…

Malaysia’s Islamic Party (PAS) Between “Ulama” and “Erdogan” Factions


Partyforumseasia: With nearly one million members Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is the biggest party in the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance, but many of its members seem to feel that Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) are treating PAS as a junior partner. This has lead to the formation of factions within the party, often dubbed as Ulama (clerical) and Erdogan (“liberal”). The tensions were visible for some time already and even more so during the party convention over last weekend, 22-24 November. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang was reelected unchallenged and deputy president Mohamad Sabu‘s victory over his conservative rival from the ulama faction with 588 to 490 votes was considered a victory for the liberals, also called “Anwarinas” for supporting Anwar Ibrahim as leader of the PR coalition.
PAS leadersAmong the three vice-presidents only one from the ulama faction was elected. But some results came out only after recounting, a sign that the polling was controversial. The following calls for unity show that the strategic orientation of the party remains under debate. The “progressives” want to broaden the voter base and open it to non-Malays and non-Muslims because they are fishing in the same pond as arch rival UMNO. As seen among the religious (Christian) parties in old Europe, the rural and probably more religious constituencies lose much of their importance with the fast urbanization, even if the Malaysian first-past-the-post election system still gives them an advantage.

Political “Dynasties” in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Political families are not uncommon in party politics, take for example the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush and his son, the 43d President, George W. In Europe it happens less on the top level, but often enough in regional and local politics. The corruption and enrichment scandal in Indonesia’s Banten province and the remarkable career of Mukhriz Mahathir in Malaysia have brought the issue back into the media. MukhrizIn the Mukhriz case two narrowly lost elections, his candidacy for one of UMNO’s vice-presidential posts and the recent by-election in the federal state of Kedah, where he supported the local party candidate, are interpreted as defeat and the campaign support by his father Mahathir Mohamad, 88, a liability, signalling the end of father Mahathir’s overpowering influence in Malaysia’s and UMNO’s politics.
RatuThe Banten case (already posted by Partyforumseasia) has much broader ramifications with family members of the governor Ms Ratu Atut holding seats in the national parliament, mayors, deputy regents and numerous business positions close to politics and administration. Continuing practices of money politics remind many Indonesians too much of Suharto’s family clan and the enrichment of his sons.
If the Banten-related corruption case involving the chief justice of the Constitutional Court should turn out as the tip of the iceberg, as it looks like, it will be more than difficult to fight family dynasties and money politics throughout the huge Indonesian archipelago.
By the way: Partyforumseasia has other (possible) family dynasties on its radar:
Thailand: Not only sister Yingluck, but also son Panthongtae Shinawatra
Malaysia: Mukhriz Mahathir from UMNO and Nik Abduh from PAS
Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a successful succession with a long break after his father resigned.

Malaysia: Another Rising Son – Nik Abduh in PAS


Nik Abduh.docxPartyforumseasia: Nik Abduh (full name: Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz) combines religious credentials and family ties for a promising political career in Malaysia’s Islamic party PAS. Son of the spiritual leader and long term chief minister of PAS stronghold Kelantan Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the 43 year old Nik Abduh has studied in Nadwatul Ulama (Lucknow) and Darul Uloom (Deoband) in India as well as at the Al Azhar University in Cairo. Whereas these institutions do not necessarily prepare their students for political practice, they may encourage them to go into politics with a religious motivation. And since religion plays an important role in PAS and Malaysia in general, Nik Abduh seems to be cut out for a top leadership role and possible succession of his father as spiritual leader of the party.
Nik Abduh’s political credentials are also impressive. He is deputy chairman of the PAS Youth Wing and defeated a formidable competitor in the May 2013 election, Ibrahim Ali, leader of the Malay rights and supremacy group Perkasa.
In the run-up to party elections in November, the coalition issue with Pakatan Rakyat seems to be controversially discussed among members and candidates. Some say that Nik Abduh and other leaders in his age group are against Anwar’s supporters, called Anwarinas. But Nik is also being quoted with a clear preference for PAS remaining in the opposition coalition.
Less reassuring for the Malaysian Non-Muslims may be Nik’s activities in the religious field like a sticker campaign “Love Rasulullah” (the messenger of God) when the reputation of the Prophet Muhammad seemed to be under attack. Or his clear stance against Shiites and Liberals. But his second name Abduh is possibly referring to the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, a liberal reformer and key founder of Islamic Modernism.

PAS (Malaysia): Dirty Campaign Tactics Ahead of Party Polls?


Mat SabuPartyforumseasia: While complaining about dirty and “worst-ever” campaigning tactics ahead of the party polls in November, PAS vice-president Mohamad (Mat) Sabu notes that open campaigning was not permitted in the party but has become the trend among members now. For Partyforumseasia the “new trend” (?) is less surprising than the alleged ban on open campaigning. Competition is or should be normal in a political party and is rather common. If you have ambitions on party posts you must be known by the members and this is hardly possible without some sort of internal campaigning.
Civility, courtesy, calumny, comeradery, friendship, blackmailing, bribery, brutality, even violence and all the shades between them are common in political parties since ancient times. Former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer was quoted as saying about the relations between competing party members: enemy – mortal enemy – party comrade…
It would be close to a miracle if PAS had managed to avoid it. But they may have a moral chip on their shoulder by claiming that they are better Malays than the UMNO members.
See: Straits Times, Singapore, 27.9.2013, page 17A
PAS 1

Malaysia’s GE13: Of Frogs and Princes


Partyforumseasia: The ugly frog turned out to be a handsome prince, at least in the fairy tale. In a country where party switching has a long tradition (see national cartoonist Lat’s 1992 cartoon), turncoat politicians are not unknown, even welcome by other parties if they seem to be winnable candidates. But this universal feature, often accompanied by cash handouts, seems to be less acceptable with the Malaysian voters this time. The turncoats are now called katak = frog…

Lat 1
Partyforumseasia: One of the frogs has been nominated by PM Najib to the surprise of many. This rather controversial politician was with PAS first, then with PKR, and is now running as religious and Malay supremacy wild card for BN against a moderate from PAS… This pairing could hardly be more ironical.

Zulkifli

Source / Link: Straits Times 24.4.13

Malaysia: PAS Fields First Christian Candidate


Partyforumseasia: Since UMNO is competing for the same voter pool among rural and pious Malays, opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has tried for some time already to open up to non-Muslims, also showing at the same time that nobody should be frightened by its Sharia policies which would apply only to Muslims. Fielding for the first time a Christian candidate in the upcoming election is certainly a significant symbolic step. It is also in line with the Pakatan Rakyat and Parti Keadilan Rakyat line of multi-racial party development in Malaysia.
Link: Straits Times 5.4.2013
PAS 5.4.13