Corruption in Southeast Asia


Partyforumseasia: Transparency International has published its newest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), based on interviews with 21,861 people in 16 countries, regions and territories across the Asia Pacific region between July 2015 and January 2017. (Link)

Here are the most important results for Southeast Asia:

Among the ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam seem to have the biggest corruption problems in the perception of their citizens. Malaysia obviously because of the festering and unresolved 1MDB scandal with a major involvement of Prime Minister Najib Razak who is also chairman of the ruling UMNO party, and Vietnam with the rampant daily petty corruption which tarnishes the ruling Communist Party though it tries to reduce it. Asked whether corruption has recently increased, the Indonesian respondents are even more critical than the Malaysians and Vietnamese, probably because of the ongoing corruption saga with the Golkar party and its chairman Setya Novanto.

The low rating for Thailand seems to be one of the positive points in favor of the military regime which is otherwise heavily criticized for its lack of democratic credentials, especially on the international scene.

Looking into the perception of the citizens vis-a-vis the institutions, the ratings for the police are on top. In most countries of the region, the rank and file police officers are not well or not sufficiently paid, which is a root cause for their constant attempts to solicit bribes as petty as they may be. Much more frightening, however, is the image of legislators and government officials who come immediately behind the police on top of the ratings. These assessments are certainly not conducive for the consolidation of the different democratic experiments in Southeast Asia.

NB: Laos, known for high corruption, and Singapore, known for very low corruption, are not covered by the GCB.

Political corruption and the funding of political parties and election campaigns
is indirectly highlighted in the table on institutions above but is not treated in more details in this GCB report. The answers of the respondents, though, are visibly influenced by their  perception of the political scene. While 59% of the Malaysians see an increase in corruption, only 23% say that they have paid bribes for basic services in their country.

The Political Partyforum Southeast Asia is working on a comprehensive survey on political party and campaign financing in the ten ASEAN countries minus Brunei Darussalam. We will inform our readers once it is published. 

 

 

Malaysia’s UMNO: Rich Party – Poor Voters


Partyforumseasia has been quoting the Philippino version of the golden rule: “Who has the gold rules”. Plutocracy (Merriam-Webster: Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth) was rampant throughout history, from ancient Greece and Rome to Italian merchant republics like Venice and Florence and up to our days. Campaigning without money is practically impossible and political parties cannot survive without sufficient funding. The crucial question of the legitimacy of party funding is simple: Where does the money come from? Clean democracies in Northern Europe use membership fees, state subsidies and controlled and transparent donations.Corruption 2
In the case of Malaysia, membership fees are symbolic, direct state subsidies for parties don’t exist, and donations are anything but transparent. Nevertheless, UMNO and its component parties in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition have no  funding problems at all. On the contrary, they seem to print the money themselves.

In an article with the headline “The Secret of Malaysian PM Najib’s Staying PowerKeeping the cadres fed well“, the asia sentinel (Link here) explains the cash flows which keep Prime Minister Najib and his party machinery liquid and in power:

The money river flows The reason that Najib is unassailable, however, is the unceasing river of money that flows from government coffers to UMNO cadres. Thus the unanimous confidence vote in early March, when the prime minister called together 160 of the 191 UMNO division chiefs to a party meeting in Kuala Lumpur. That was followed a strong confidence vote from other component Barisan parties.  It is money that not only appears at election time, to pay for lunches or small items like tin roofs for constituents’ whose kampung houses leak, but pays them wages between elections.
The payments are made through various government agencies including the Village Security and Development Committee, to which the cadres are appointed.  They are also appointed to four propaganda agencies under the Ministry of Information Communications and Culture, which have offices in each of Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories. The bulk of the money to support these propaganda agencies comes from the 1MDB Foundation, from which more than RM1 billion was siphoned off, purportedly for charity work, a well-placed source told Asia Sentinel.”

The article lists quite a number of dubious practices in Malaysia, how the business conglomerate controlled by the state and its cronies generates the necessary wealth.

The IRONY of this transfer system lies in the fact that UMNO depends on the votes of mainly poor Malay voters in the rural areas. With the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post election system they have guaranteed UMNO’s grip on power over five decades. But Malaysians are increasingly fed up with these corrupt practices and propelled a shaky opposition coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Coalition) into a position to challenge the ruling party. No wonder that UMNO is all out to destroy it.

Indonesia: Vote-buying getting ever more sophisticated


Corruption 2Partyforumseasia: With 240 million inhabitants, more than 13,000 islands, 300 native ethnic groups and 742 languages and dialects, stretching 5,000 km East to West, Indonesia’s national motto sounds suitable but difficult to achieve: “Unity in diversity“. By many different standards and criteria, the country may be the world champion in complexity. No wonder that the organization of Indonesia’s democratic system and elections is extremely complex as well. Like in many Southeast Asian countries money politics and vote-buying are far from unknown, on the contrary. Since the beginning of the democratic era after the fall of authoritarian President Suharto, huge amounts of money have been spent for securing a seat in parliament or other public office. Years ago already, the necessary budget for winning the governorship in an average province has been estimated at the equivalent of ten million USD!
Beside the development of an increasingly professional polling industry, demand has created rather professional jobs for people who know their constituency and the people living in it. They can tell the candidate who they decide to work for – and who can pay them – how many voters they can mobilize for her or him. What is mostly being done in other democracies in Europe by active party members, namely canvassing from street to street and door to door, has developed into a respectable profession in Indonesia.
While being realistic about the extent of direct vote-buying, Ulla Fionna from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, has just published a fascinating insight into this flourishing business. Read in detail how these field coordinators (in Indonesian “koordinator lapangan” or “korlap” in the short form) have been instrumental in the 9 April elections:

Link: Vote-buying in Indonesia’s 2014 Elections: The Other Side of the Coin

 

 

Thailand’s Politicians: Pluto- or Kleptocrats?


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. Corruption 4The 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.

Who is Funding Bangkok’s Street Protests?


Partyforumseasia:     According to Akanat Promphan, spokesman of the  People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the protest activities cost between two and five million Baht (up to 160,000 US$) per day. Where’s the money coming from? That is the headline of the Singapore Straits Times’ Thailand correspondent in an article on January 9th, page A18.
THB donations

Rumours on the internet seem to suspect big companies, especially the ones sidelined by the Puea Thai government. Akanat denies that as “rarely” and holds that ordinary people support the protesters with money, food, tents, or blankets for the cooler nights. He also reports that protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, with declared assets of more than six million US$, has even sold family land to start funding the protests.
The truth is probably a mix of the two and more possibilities, but the sophistication of the operations, including toilets, mobile kitchens, stages, big tents, sound systems and tens of thousands of people, suggest that there is quite a big logistical and planning effort behind it. And given the level of money politics in the country, the cui bono (for who’s benefit) question must be appropriate. If Suthep and the Democrat Party are right in criticizing the Shinawatra corruption (Suthep criticizsed Thaksin’s insider trading already in 1997 in Parliament), they themselves have quite a big skeleton in the cupboard. They narrowly escaped dissolution for an undeclared donation of more than 8 m US$ by a cement company (the legal donation threshold stands at 300.000) in 2005 and were acquitted in 2010 on technical grounds, because the prosecution had failed to follow proper procedures. Many Thais are not convinced that the Democrats are cleaner than Puea Thai and the Thaksin clan.
With the planned shut down of Bangkok coming Monday, 13 January, all friends of Thailand can only hope for a predominantly peaceful continuation of the standoff which is a most dangerous result of the country’s elite failure and political brinkmanship.

Philippines: End of Pork Barrel Politics? Party Financing Endangered…


Partyforumseasia: Scandals can speed up necessary reforms. At a time when the strongest ever tropical storm hit the Philippines, one of the ugliest political corruption scandals has started to change the political porklandscape in Manila. Triggered by a whistle-blower, businesswoman and alleged “Pork Queen” Janet Lim Napoles has been exposed as central facilitator for abusing development funds for kickbacks to congressmen and senators. This method of funding politicians and political parties, partially via fake NGOs, was widely known, but never exposed like now. And the alleged dimensions are certainly outrageous in a country with the remaining poverty level of the Philippines. One of the prominent accused is veteran politician Juan Ponce Enrile (89), who only some months ago had to resign as president of the senate because of abusing senate funds. The alleged kickbacks for the multimillionaire are supposed to be 363 million Pesos (more than 8 million US$!!), half of his pork allocation. Other colleagues are liable for similar sums, that means that development funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in the respective constituencies have been used for campaign and party funding, maybe for private purposes as well.
In the face of massive demonstrations during the last few months, also against President Aquino, who won his election with an anti-corruption campaign, politicians have started to back-paddle. As of November 12th, nine senators had already declared that they are waiving their PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) – allocations for 2014.
The political establishment may find other ways of refinancing, though, similar to creative new money politics in Indonesia. Cash transfers being too dangerous now, credit card payments, insurance policies, fixed assets and landed property seem to be a way out…

Appendix: 1 billion Pesos are nearly 23 million US$
PDAF

Philippines: Is Re-election Without Pork Barrelling Possible?


PorkPartyforumseasia: A recent scandal involving 23 suspects including members of parliament and senators as well as former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may give new momentum to the fight against political corruption and the endemic pork barrelling in the Philippines, which President Aquino has declared a priority for his term of office. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles is under investigation for setting up bogus NGOs and embezzling nearly $ 290 million from disaster relief and development funds. Up to half of the funds paid out to the NGOs seem to have gone to the accused legislators.
Pork Barrelling is a common political tool in the country and based, like in other countries in the region, on traditional patron-client relations between voters and their MP or senator. According to the political science analysis legislators get kickbacks from development projects (e.g. the Countryside Development Fund – CDF) at a rate of 30%. One full term in office was supposed to yield about $ 200,000 for a House member and $ 600,000 for a senator (estimated 2009 figures). This has been called “Standard Operation Procedures (SOP)” but growing public protest and President Aquino’s determination to fight corruption might end the SOP – probably later than sooner. Lawmakers so far need this additional income to pay for their party and campaign expenses.

New Overview Paper: Party Financing in Southeast Asia


GlasbergenPartyforumseasia’s editor, Wolfgang Sachsenröder, has presented a comparative paper on party finances at the ICIRD Conference (22-23 August 2013) at Chulalongkorn University Bangkok.

Below you find an abstract.
If you are interested in the topic see the whole paper here:
Political Party Finances in Southeast Asia 1

Party Funding and Party Finances in Southeast Asia(Abstract)
by Wolfgang Sachsenröder, visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, and editor of www.partyforumseasia.org

Southeast Asia, riding on a wave of economic and asset growth in the last few decades, has developed an exaggerated level of money politics and enrichment opportunities for all sorts of political entrepreneurs. The part of political parties in this game and the different methods of securing enough funding for the management of the party machineries and the increasingly costly election campaigns vary from country to country. But the basic pattern can be described as a skilful move to blur the distinction between big business, state funds, and political parties in order to control and manipulate cash flows as the main instrument for coming to power and secure it.

Based on traditional patron-client relationships and the remaining big income gap between mostly rural poor and limited mostly urban middle classes, “pluto-populism” and “pork-barrelling” have become prominent features of party politics everywhere. The overrepresentation of businessmen and bankers in parliaments and governments reflects the interdependence of party politics and business sectors, once dubbed as “incestuous relationship” by veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang in Malaysia. And the rising cost of being selected as a candidate or branch leader as well as the goodies to be showered on potential voter groups and party supporters are only a logical consequence of these developments which have hardly been affected by progress in democratic and institutional development. Frustration with the level of corruption is high in Southeast Asia, but the vicious cycle of political cash flows and party politics remains below the necessary domestic debate threshold to lead to radical reforms.
As the Malaysian election campaign for the 5 May 2013 “GE13” has shown, anti-corruption rhetoric strikes a strong chord with large sectors of the electorate, but the well-oiled machinery of the incumbent government coalition could not be defeated. In Indonesia, and certainly similarly in other parts of the region, the anti-corruption sentiments seem to be superseded by resignation. Since all parties are more or less involved, and people are so used to the daily petty corruption, the argument is losing appeal in campaigns, also because even the most corrupt parties use it strategically.

State funding for political parties, not to speak of the generous levels in many European countries (e.g. 154 million Euros in Germany in 2013) is widely unknown in Southeast Asia. An exception is Thailand, which has introduced – after long debates since the mid-1990s – a quite generous party funding system.
Membership fees are more or less symbolic in the region (e.g.Democrat Party, Thailand 20,- THB, PAP, Singapore S$ 18 / year) if collected at all. These contributions to the party funding are practically negligible and certainly no serious part of the parties’ income.

The elections in Malaysia (May 2013) and Cambodia (July 2013) suggest that the electorates are increasingly aware and sick of political corruption and vote for the opposition which they expect to be cleaner.

Will Political Corruption in Southeast Asia Come to an End?


Pork1Partyforumseasia: The funding of party activities and election campaigns is closely related to corruption in many countries in the region. This is why many businessmen are in politics or close to politicians and vice versa. But the enormous cash flows in the political arena are more and more tarnishing their image and creating a public outcry and demonstrations. Demonstrations alone would not bother the beneficiaries of this “incestuous relationship” too much, if there were not a backlash against corrupt parties in elections. Malaysia’s GE 13 in May and Cambodia’s July election ended as a very close shave for the ruling parties perceived as very corrupt.
These days it is in the Philippines that citizens demand an end to the infamous pork projects and President Aquino will have to show some results in the second half of his term.
Partiforumseasia will soon publish a comparative assessment of party financing and corruption in Southeastasia which was first presented in the ICIRD Conference in Bangkok last week.
Pork2

Source: Straits Times, Singapore, 27 August 2013

Indonesia’s PKS: No Party of Angels…


Engel
Partyforumseasia: Busyro Muqoddas, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) of Indonesia, has called the Prosperous Justice Party PKS “not a party of angels”. The latest series of scandals has been highlighted by John Mcbeth in the Straits Times of July 2d 2013. Here is a part of his report:PKS
Apart from doubts about the complete innocence of angels – even these famous ones by Raffael have some mischevious twinkle in the corner of their eyes – Partyforumseasia does not know any party of angels in this world. The question is whether Indonesians are so used to corrupt politics and politicians that they don’t expect angel parties or somewhat cleaner than the others-parties any more.
Another interesting observation of Mcbeth is the split between more religious and ideological PKS members and the more secular pragmatists who adapt to a more affluent lifestyle and don’t mind to make some bucks in the shadow. Only the next elections will show whether voters seriously mind corruption in a major Islamist party or take political corruption for granted.

Beginning of the End of Indonesian Money Politics?


WidodoPartyforumseasia: Will this man change the endemic political corruption in Indonesia? Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, seems to meet the expectations of a growing number of Indonesians fed up ad nauseam with big style money politics in their country. President SBY turning out more and more as a lame duck at the end of his term, popular darling “Jokowi”, as the former mayor of Solo is affectionately known, may be the early front runner in the presidential race for next year.
In a recent poll by think tank CSIS Widodo leads with 28.6% in front of former general Prabowo from the Gerindra Party with 15.6 %. Golkar chairman and business tycoon Abdurizal Bakrie, in strong headwind after scandals, comes third with 7%, and PDI-P long term leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is nearly written off at 5.4%.

The humble style of Widodo, e.g. using the office driver but in his private car, obviously meets the dreams of many voters of an approachable politician who is not showing the usual priority of lining his own and his party’s pockets. One of the leading experts on Indonesian money politics, Marcus Mietzner from the Australian National University, estimates the campaign cost for the governorship of an average Indonesian province at a staggering 10 million US$. The popular dream of cleaner politics may pick up with Jokowi. So more parties than his own PDI-P are eying him as their own presidential candidate…

Political Party Funding in Southeast Asia


Corruption 4

Partyforumseasia is preparing an overview on party funding in Southeast Asia, a region where public funding for political parties is widely unknown, though Indonesia and Thailand are experimenting with it. The party laws prescribe certain minimum infrastructures like the number of branches in so many provinces, etc. And election campaigns cost in the billions, not only in the US but also in Southeast Asia. So, where do the political parties get their funding from? Donations, sure, but why give businessmen and corporations money to the parties?
At the same time, the general perception of corruption, except Singapore, is comparatively high. See here an excerpt of Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI):
TI 2012

Partyforumseasia: What can be expected in the practice of political party funding in this environment?
Contributions, examples, comments will be most welcome for our study. Please send them to:

webmaster@political-party-forum-southeast-asia.org
Corruption 1