Is this the Beginning of the End of Political Corruption in Southeast Asia?


Partyforumseasia: Most of the region’s countries, except Singapore – and Malaysia to a certain degree – rank as rather corrupt in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Here is an excerpt of the CPI 2017 for Southeast Asia:

Since politics has become a profitable business model in the region, many “unusually rich” politicians have attracted criticism from the taxpaying electorate, with envy or without. But, on the other hand, the funding of political parties is widely unregulated or, if contained by legislation, the rules are not enforced at all or only half heartedly. The election campaigns are increasingly expensive, so the necessity of getting donations at any cost, mainly from the private sector or by skimming public procurement and infrastructure projects, has brought about many “creative” solutions.

The financial creativity of the toppled Malaysian leader Najib Razak, who was virtually sitting on a gold mine with his dual role as Prime Minister and Finance Minister is legendary. The 1MDB scandal with billions missing has probably broken his neck in the 9 May election and brought back former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (93) who is now trying to clean up Malaysia and see Najib convicted.

Some recent headlines:
9 August: “Ex-PM accused of receiving $14m in proceeds of illegal activities from former 1MDB subsidiary.”

24 April: “Ex-speaker of parliament Setya Novanto sentenced to 15 years for his role in stealing $170m from public funds.”

6 August: “Vietnam court jails 46 bankers, execs for loan scheme. He joins scores of bankers, executives and former politicians behind bars in the one-party state that has long had the reputation of being one of Asia’s most corrupt countries.”

8 August: “Thaksin’s trial to begin without him.”
The former Thai Prime Minister lives in exile in Dubai since he was ousted in 2006. This case is especially remarkable because the alleged malfeasance took place in the 2003 Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI) scandal. The retroactive prosecution has been made possible by a new law on criminal procedures for political office-holders which took effect in September 2017. Similar regulations existed in some Italian city states like Lucca and Pisa in the 12th century, but were forgotten since then.

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More information about the dilemma of money politics in Southeast Asia is available in our new publication ISBN 9789813230736 which covers nine of the ten ASEAN countries.

 

 

 

 

Malaysia’s UMNO Drama Unfolding Further


Latest development: Former PM Najib Razak detained on 3 July
at 3 p.m. by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)
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Partyforumseasia: The fall of Malaysia’s National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition after nearly 61 years in power is revealing more and more dubious secrets of its business model. The advantages of being the incumbant for so long, and having practically unlimited control of the country’s rich financial resources, had led to a network of the leading UMNO and the smaller component parties with huge flows of cash, donations, and bribes. Details are being revealed one by one, all but two component parties have defected, heads are rolling, but maybe most symptomatic for the “money-politics-disease” are the astonishing amounts of valuables found in the different dwellings of defeated party president and prime minister Najib Razak. The list of confisated items so far looks unreal to say the least.

                    The current exchange rate is four Malaysian Ringgit for one USD.

Najib’s explanations are manifold: He was not aware of the jewellery items of his wife. Many pieces are not his own and must be returned to the jewellers.  Najib 1Accepting gifts is not illegal. Most of the money was for the party, etc. He has asked his lawyers already to start legal procedures to get the confiscated items back. Nevertheless, Najib claims that his party has to reform itself and abolish money politics and payments for internal elections. But the investigations are going on, and bank accounts belonging to Najib as well as UMNO’s party accounts are being frozen. The “new – broom – governmant” under returned Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is trying to sweep as clean as possible.

The Najib portraits show the changes from the self-assured election winner and unassailable party leader to the loser threatened by the Malaysian anti-corruption agency with prosecution and eventually a Najib scepticalprison term. His attempt to leave the country immediately after the election defeat was thwarted by concerned citizens, followed by an official travel ban.
Investigations into the billions lost in the 1MDB scandal are intensely going on, so far 408 bank accounts are frozen, and more indictments can be expected. It all started in 2015 with the 682 million US$ found in Najib’s private accounts making waves internationally. AAznfO4.imgThe investigations go back to hundreds of transactions to “a party”, individuals, and organizations since 2011. There is hope that at least part of the lost funds can be recovered for the state budget, though experience with the Marcos and Suharto billions in the Philippines and Indonesia are not encouraging.

Meanwhile UMNO tries to pick up the pieces and convince the voters that they have understood the verdict of the voters and are serious about reforming themselves. The internal elections over the last weekend have produced mixed results, though. Najib’s former deputy Zahid Hamidi has won the presidency, in his own view to guarantee the continuity, criticized by others as hara kiri of UMNO. “Young turk” and former youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin was first runner-up with respectable 61 branches (out of 191) voting for him against 99  for Zahid.

For an overview on party funding and money politics in Southeast Asia see our new book, available at https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/10726

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