Electing Robin Hoods? The Voting Power of the Left Behind


Partyforumseasia: The presidential election in the United States has shown new levels of campaign spending. While Jeb Bush burned “only”  130 million $ without getting anything back, Hillary Clinton spent more tan 700 million $ on her campaign robin_shoots_with_sir_guy_by_louis_rhead_1912(Bloomberg, LINK). Donald Trump managed to win with a much smaller budget. Is this signalling that money is getting less important than the right target group? That a sort of Robin Hood candidate has better chances than big money? And what could that mean for the widespread addiction to money politics in Southeast Asia?

Francis Fukuyama, in an analysis  in Foreign Affairs (LINK) on 9 November, summarizes Donald Trump‘s victory success as follows: “He has identified two very real problems in American politics: increasing inequality, which has hit the old working class very hard, and the capture of the political system by well-organized interest groups.”

Let us look into some examples from our region where inequality is the norm:

In Thailand, especially in the North and Northeast, the farming population is similarly left behind or much worse than the old working class in America. With generous Thaksinhandouts and promises they were easy to be nudged into securing billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s and his sister’s victories which eventually triggered military coupsAnd the country’s many other billionaires were not just looking on but actively manipulating the political market place as well.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised could be mobilized though Thaksin was not exactly a Robin Hood type, but old “Bangkok” elite and military managed to stem the tide.

In the Philippines, landed family dynasties with their private armies, coercion and patronage, have monopolized political power over most of the rural areas and remote islands since independence. The recent surprise election of maverick candidateDuterte Rodrigo Duterte who won against all the money of the traditional elites, is probably due to better information of the poor and an advanced election system run by the Commission on Elections.
Conclusion: The disenfranchised masses have made it against elites and oligarchs, President Duterte  is seen as their Robin Hood and champion . As a former American colony, the Philippines is more similar to the US than other countries in the region.

In Malaysia, due to a sophisticated patronage system controlled by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and a heavily gerrymandered election system, the left behind rural population provides the necessary majorities in the federal parliament.This vote bank, conservative Muslim Malays, as well as the public service, is being kept loyal by generous government handouts and the promise to safeguard theNajib Nov. Malay dominance against the Chinese and Indian minorities as it is enshrined in the constitution. The rural Malays’ loyalty seems rather  unshakeable despite  the rampant political corruption, culminating in the 1MDB scandal with billions disappearing from a sovereign wealth fund and hundreds of millions being found in the prime minister’s private accounts. Without radical changes in the electoral system the ruling party looks almost unassailable.
Conclusion: The ruling coalition has lost the popular vote but still enjoys decisive majorities in parliament, so it can be seen as a tactical and selective Robin Hood variety.

Indonesia has made remarkable progress in the development of her democratic procedures and institutions since the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998. But the huge Jokowiarchipelago has more than enough left behind rural areas and rural poor. The divided party landscape is characterized much more by rich and therefore winnable candidates and rich “party owners” than by programs and principles. Apart from ethnic and religious cleavages, money politics is a decisive factor in elections and governance.
Conclusion: President Joko Widodo was an outsider candidate who made it against the moneyed elites in the 2014 election. But the wannabe Robin Hoods are probably the Islamists.

Vietnam, one of the last communist one-party systems in the world, has developed quite interesting features of checks on party apparatchiks and performance of the party branches. But entrepreneurial space of maneuvering remains limited and the ruling party is still the best jumping board to get ahead. Competition for power positions and bribing in the widest sense are rampant. Whether daily corruption has been reduced by party policies is a question under debate.
Conclusion: The Robin Hoods by communist definition are in reality not helping the left behind.

The outlier in the regional comparison remains Singapore with very high ratings in rule of law, control of corruption, and good governance. As a city state there is no rural hinterland, but the economic development has of course left behind some groups which are targeted by social programs like housing and health care subsidies and many more. The political competition is not decided by money, but the ruling party, with support of its track record and the well organized administration, could increasingly contain protest votes and win elections.
Conclusion: The ruling party has skilfully institutionalized Robin Hood elements and shows its concern for the left behind in numerous support programs.

The Presidential Systems in Indonesia and the Philippines Work Differently


Partyforumseasia: President Joko Widodo of Indonesia is not yet in full control of the political machinery 19 months after assuming office in October 2014. If the election of Setya Novanto as new chairman of Golkar, the second largest party, will end the

Indo Parl

The newest figures by Wikipedia

internal rivalries and the party joins the presidential coalition, the President will control over 60 % of the parliament. But control may be exaggerated as description, as the coalition, see the colorful chart on the left, consists of seven parties,with Golkar already included by Wikipedia after the party convention in Bali last weekend. Running a country as diverse as Indonesia without a majority in parliament is certainly extremely difficult but maybe facilitated by the flexible nature of Indonesians and the very wide range of gray tones between black and white compared to the normal confrontations in Western democracies. The support of Golkar will help President Widodo to push more forcefully for stalled but necessary reforms. But it will remain a daunting task to balance the government coalition and satisfy all party leaders and dignitaries with sufficiently powerful (and profitable) posts and positions in government and public service.

In the Philippines the post-election political situation looks very different. The country of over 100 million citizens, with a median age of 24.4 years, and still a high poverty rate of 26%, has not developed a strong party system. During the political developments after the fall of Marcos and the “People Power or Edsa Revolution” in 1986, the Philippines have in many ways managed to strengthen their democratic institutions albeit with a weakness of enforcement in important details. With 70 % of legislators coming from political clans and thriving on oligarchic and partially even violent patron-client relationships, the 55 million voters were tired of elite politics and provided maverick candidate Rodrigo Duterte with a handsome majority of 38.6% over the runner up establishment candidate Mar Roxas with 23.45%. The latter’s running mate, Leni Robredo, is still waiting for the final and official results because her lead over “Bongbong” Ferdinand Marcos, eldest son of the late dictator, is paper thin. In case her victory is confirmed, Duterte will give her a cabinet post.

President-elect Duterte has pushed his campaign with a very tough image after two decades as mayor of Davao and plenty of tough talking and promises to clean up with corruption and crime. Elite candidate Mar Roxas, whose grandfather was a president, has graciously conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, but establishment and intellectuals are anything but happy with the outcome. Duterte may manage to cut painfully into their privileges and redistribute the benefits of the country’s economic growth under the Aquino administration to the poorer parts of the society.
As usual in the Philippines, after the president is elected politicians move into his or her camp irrespective of party affiliation. Duterte is holding court in his Davao home and the friends, old and new, queue up to get appointed for positions from minister to ambassador.
Expectations among Duterte’s voters are sky high, but there is also a herculean task ahead. Despite economic progress under Aquino the poverty level is still the second highest in Southeast Asia.
Poverty levels in SEA

The organization of the elections on 9 May has worked remarkably well given the geographical challenges of the 7000 islands nation. On top of the election of president  and vice president, the voters had to decide on12 Senate seats, all 297 seats to the House of Representatives, all governors, vice governors, and 772 seats to the boards of the 81 provinces, all mayors and vice mayors for 145 cities and 1,489 municipalities, all members of the city councils and 11,924 seats on municipal councils, as well as the governor, vice governor and all 24 seats in the regional assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

vote machine

The electronic voting machines are supposed to be hack- and cheat-proof

As the largest electronic vote counting exercise in history with 92,509 vote counting machines being used to digitize voter-marked ballots and transmit the results to the Municipal Board of Canvassers, the 2016 election is an incredible achievement which is not adequately appreciated by the international media, probably too much overshadowed by the victory of Rodrigo Duterte.

Establishment In Panic: Will “President” Duterte End The Golden Rule?


Partiforumseasia: According to traditional political wisdom and experience in the Philippines, the real meaning of the Golden Rule is the rule of those who have the gold.
In this presidential election, however, there are candidates outside the plutocratic establishment. And if the polls are sufficiently reliable, one anti-establishment candidate has a good chance of being elected: DuterteRodrigo Duterte (nickname “Digong“) is so popular because of his cleaner but more brutal law and order policies as mayor of Davao city, including a huge number of extrajudicial killings of criminals. The contrast to the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate, Mar Roxas, could not be bigger. Roxas is a cultivated, well traveled intellectual politician from the quasi aristocratic upper class and successful minister in Aquino’s outgoing cabinet. In the latest polls Roxas stands at 20 % behind Grace Poe with 22% and Duterte with 33%! Duterte seems to be totally eligible for the poor masses and big parts of the middle class as well, who are already soul searching before the election on 9th May. Imelda Deinla from the Australian National University sees the failure of the elites to establish a minimum level of the rule of law and to reduce the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the civil service. See her comment “Rule of law deficit behind voter dismay in Philippines” (LINK) in the East Asia Forum. Narciso Reyes Jr., a former journalist and diplomat, has a deeper psychological analysis of the voters and the darker side of their hopes and aspirations. Here is short passage of his article in the 4th May Inquirer (LINK):

“Duterte’s incredible popularity, despite his crude blunders (…) is evidently being fueled by an atavistic, primal instinct among our people who crave order and a better life under the strong arm of a man with a seeming license to kill.”

The elite is in panic mode! The latest move, supported by President Aquino, is warning against a Duterte dictatorship and urging the candidates Mar Roxas and Grace Poe to join forces in order to prevent Duterte…

On a different level, but rather interesting is a comparison with the US presidential campaign. A frightened elite is exploring ways to prevent Donald Trump, who has money himself and will attract more donations now. Duterte is probably not that rich but will not be short of funding either. According to media estimations presidential campaigns in the Philippines cost between 2,5 and 3 billion pesos (or 53 to 65 m US$), and 80% of it going into political ads. Nielsen Media reported that even before the official campaign period started on 9 February, 7.5 billion pesos (nearly 160 m US$) had already been spent for ads of all kinds. But the media campaign is being dwarfed by the carnival atmosphere in the streets when the candidates show up in person. Being the most important crossroads decision in the country’s politics, the 55 million voters in the Philippines are politicized on a high voltage level. When the counting works well, the country is running the elections technically quite professionally, we will see the result within a few days.
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