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. 

 

 

PAS Malaysia – No Cooperation With The Infidels


Partyforumseasia: Today, Monday 2d May 2017, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has wrapped up its 63d convention in Kedah, Northern Malaysia, close to the Thai border. With 800,000 members PAS is the country’s second=biggest political party after UMNO with 3.2 million, and also the second biggest Malay Muslim party after UMNO. Originally a split-off from UMNO, PAS has been the more religiously conservative movement, but the two parties’ competition for devout voters has pushed both of them increasingly towards a visible Islamization and Arabization. During a separate women’s wing assembly at the convention, some participants were wearing “niqabs” or face veils, while head scarves are mandatory for many years already.
Party leader Hadi Awang (69) is a Muslim cleric who has studied in Medina and Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and heads the party since 2002. During the convention, his religious and political message was absolutely clear. He told the 1,200 delegates that “aligning Islam in one’s self would save the country”, and debunked politics that are “liberal, pragmatic and secular”. That reminds somehow of the Middle Eastern slogan “Islam is the solution” which so far has not yielded much progress there. But Hadi’s domination of the convention and the party has a number of immediate and important repercussions for Malaysia’s domestic politics:  

  1. PAS is pushing a reform of the Shariah courts, a religious justice system parallel to the general judiciary of Malaysia. Hudud law has been enacted in the federal states of Kelantan and Terengganu, but so far, since it is supposed to be against the constitution of the federation it has not been implemented fully. The Sharia courts are limited to imposing fines, jail terms and caning. Hadi’s  private member bill asks for harsher penalties like up to ten years prison and 100 lashes with the rattan cane. These would affect only Muslims, but the bill (RU355) meets criticism and resistance from the minorities, especially the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP). In the screenshot above from Star TV, Hadi is saying: “How can we agree with people who want to go against Islam?”
  2. In practical terms that means that the DAP as former partner in the now defunct opposition coalition is no longer acceptable for any form of cooperation and that PAS will open a “third bloc” for the widely anticipated general election which Prime Minister Najib might call any time this year, and as long as the opposition is as disunited as it is.
  3. Feeling strong, PAS will compete in 80 constituencies, like UMNO predominantly in the rural areas with devout Muslim voters and small precinct, whereas the opposition parties DAP and PKR have better chances in the urban environment. PAS expects to win up to 40 seats, up from 14 now.
  4. For the UMNO-led ruling National Front coalition (Barisan Nasional or BN), the PAS decision is extremely positive. BN can avoid direct competition with a united opposition, and three-cornered fights would badly reduce the chances of the opposition to topple the government.
  5. For Malaysians and observers, the flirtation between PAS and UMNO is difficult to analyze. For PAS it would make more sense if UMNO, as it has done with the BN component parties, would allocate them a certain number of seats in the many constituencies where the opposition has no chance to win. But PM Najib has wavered in his support for the Hudud bill and has the upper hand already with the “third bloc” solution anyway.
    Rumors about a secret alliance between UMNO and PAS have made it to the courts already. Hadi Awang is suing the Sarawak Report website in a London court for defamation: “The suit is over a claim in the article that RM90 million was “reckoned” to have entered the accounts of top PAS leaders to woo them into supporting Umno and the Barisan Nasional.” (LINK). And the party has already collected donations for the legal costs during the convention.
  6. The separation from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the party of former ally Anwar Ibrahim who is still serving a prison term, has been high on the convention agenda and adopted unanimously. Unfortunately for PAS, it would mean its retreat from the state government of Selangor, the richest federal state, which PAS rules together with PKR and DAP. Pulling out would have opened the doors for the PAS-splinter Parti Amanah Negara which represents the more moderate wing against the Hadi-led “ulamas” or conservative Muslims.-  Hesitatingly, the official decision has been postponed, and the Syura Council as highest decision-making body of PAS will announce it in due course.
  7. Conclusion: On the colorful background display of Malaysia’s Muslim movement, the PAS convention has created a couple of new developments in the running-up to the next general election. The highlighting of religious differences and corresponding political animosities is not auguring well for the unity of the country but signaling political risks for the future.

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.

The Same Jinn in Two Bottles?


Partyforumseasia: Indonesia and Malaysia, the two Muslim majority but multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in Southeast Asia are playing with fire.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Indonesia: “The rally against Mr Basuki has thrust issues of race and religion to the forefront of the upcoming gubernatorial election, turning it into a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia.” (Jakarta Post, 2 December 2016, LINK)

rally-from-videoAfter a first rally on 4 November against gubernatorial candidate Basuki aka Ahok for alleged blasphemy had turned violent at the end, the Indonesian government was more cautious on 2 December. The rally had not been permitted but changed into a mass Friday prayer with more than 500.000 (!!!) participants. Massive security presence, timing in the morning, and the participation of President Jokowi may have prevented worse, but “double minority” candidate Ahok, who is Christian and Chinese, has seen his re-election prospects gliding from clear front-runner to nearly hopeless. Demonstrators are asking for Ahok to be imprisoned though judicial procedures are on the way whether his remarks in a campaign speech were blasphemous or not. Similar rallies were held not only in Jakarta but other places as far away as South Sulawesi or North Sumatra. Religious police-at-rallyemotions are boiling over and getting more difficult to control, putting a jinn back into the bottle is famously difficult.  The authorities, though, have to be commended for skillfully controlling the crowds. Police officers nearly blended with the protesters if they only could hide their boots

But the turmoil is not only about the Jakarta governor, religion and blasphemy. On a different level there is a fight against President Jokowi and his reformist government. Described by political scientist Leo Suryadinata as “Indonesia’s ideological war”  between entrenched interests and reformists (Straits Times, 2 December). As a proof how serious this struggle is, seven opponents to the Jokowi administration have been detained on the same Friday for allegedly trying to exploit the anti-Ahok rally to overthrow the government. The most prominent among the seven is Rachmawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of the country’s first president Soekarno and younger sister of former president and chair of the PDI-P party, Megawati Soekarnoputri, who supports Jokowi. For the president himself it is a delicate issue because the embattled candidate was his deputy when he was governor of Jakarta himself, and Megawati and her PDI-P are his indispensable political allies and partners.

Malaysia: With cold blood, chutzpah and by firing his party-internal critics, Prime Minister Najib has – so far – survived the enormous pressure of the 1MDB corruption scandal and his personal financial involvement in it. Compared to the 2008 and 2013 election results, dreams have come true for the ruling and dominating UMNO party and its president Najib. Najib is unchallenged in his party, and the opposition, after winning the popular vote in 2013 without getting a majority in parliament, is emasculated to unprecedented levels. After opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison on dubious sodomy charges again, any bonding among the old opposition forces seems more than improbable, and, even worse, UMNO has managed to oblige the Malay Islamist PAS party to move closer to the government by supporting its motion to further empower the Shariah Courts, a parallel judiciary line.
As usual, though, there is also more shadow where the light increases. By its corrupt image and ubiquitous money politics, UMNO has lost much support among the Non-Malays, whose Chinese, Indian, and racially mixed component parties in the broad National Front Coalition (Barisan Nasional)  are weakening towards insignificance. It is too obvious for many Malaysians that they have been thriving on generous handouts from the UMNO governments and cozy arrangements for guaranteed mandates. Taking these smaller parties for granted and as guarantors of comfortable government majorities may turn out to be a strategic mistake. As appendices and dogsbodies of UMNO they are more and more losing appeal. But sizable parts of the Malay population are also turning away from UMNO, and not all disenchanted Malay voters feel comfortable with conservative and Islamist PAS.
What remedy has magician Najib in his sleeves? The five day general assembly, ending 3 December, brought together 5.732 delegates from the roughly 3.5 million membership. PM Najib and his deputy in both leadership functions Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are being endorsed by all wings of the party, general, women, young women, and youth. But despite all the positive sides of the party’s current situation the mood sounds defensive. With auxiliary voters from the minority races no longer dependable enough, UMNO is scolding the component parties for not working hard enough. And what is probably even less convincing for them is the support for the PAS hardliners’ Shariah motion. The more UMNO harps on religious issues and the Malay Muslim identity the more its minority supporters will develop doubts. And one of the 191 division chiefs, Jamal Yunos, copies the infamous Thai “red shirts” to fight the “yellow shirt” Bersih (clean) campaign against corruption and election manipulations. But the most worrying messages from this convention are the warnings against the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which would threaten decades of pro-Malay policies and Malay privileges  if they should come to power. That, of course, is anything but imminent. The Election Commission has already heavily gerrymandered the precincts in favor of rural Malay UMNO voters against the urban majority. So, though due only in 2018, the general election will be called soon as PM Najib announced during the convention. The racial and religious overtones of UMNO’s policies are certainly not conducive for the racial and religious harmony  the country needs. On top, the progressive “Arabisation today is in fact a worrying trend” (Sociologist Syed Farid Alatas, LINK), even more so in view of the terrorist threat in Southeast Asia and the rampant radicalization of Malaysian and Indonesian believers.

In both countries alike, playing racial and religious cards is extremely dangerous. That UMNO and its president want to stay in power and will defend their dominance by all means is understandable. But doubts about the long-term effects and the stability of the country especially in the era of international jihad are more than justified.

The witch-hunt against Jakarta governor Ahok and the underlying power struggle between vested interests and reformers fanning religious passions is equally playing with fire. Both countries are jeopardizing the multi-racial and multi-religious social equilibrium and open the doors for passions and violence. It is difficult to gauge how far the jinn is out of the bottle but it will be impossible to get it totally back.

jinn-out-of-the-bottle

Not Only in Malaysia: “Buy or bye- or by-elections”


Partyforumseasia: The word game is too nice to be only used for the two bye-elections scheduled for coming Saturday, June 18th, in two constituencies in Malaysia. Both are Bye electionnecessary because their MPs died in a helicopter crash in Sarawak during campaigning beginning of May. in the last election Sungai Besar was won by Umno with a wafer-thin margin of 399 votes (or 49.6% of votes cast) while Kuala Kangsar was won also by Umno with 1,082 votes (50.4% of votes cast). The numbers show already that both constituencies are quite marginal on the national level, but the upcoming bye-election is of utmost importance for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Najib to show that he is unassailable despite all the scandals he is involved in. With the recent triumph in Sarawak which he did not really earn himself, Najib is in dream situation vis-a-vis a splintered opposition. But taking no risks, Umno spends big in its campaign.

For readers with a special interest in Malaysian politics, we recommend the FREEMALAYSIATODAY-article (LINK), with the wonderful word game headline. But all interested in elections in Southeast Asia and beyond should remember the “Buy Election” as a wide-spread and successful campaign concept. And in the cases where the incumbent is too sure that he will win and forgets to buy the victory, it can be a bye-bye-election as well…

Partyforumseasia will collect the newest examples and highlight them here!

 

 

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.

Political Hunting Season in Malaysia


Mukhriz

Former Chief Minister – since yesterday 3 February

Partyforumseasia: Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, son of former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, has finally resigned from his post as chief minister of the federal state of Kedah after only 30 months. As the rumors go he was asked three times in a week to sign a prepared resignation letter. Claiming that he was forced out because of his (and his father’s) criticism of prime minister Najib Razak and the series of financial scandals he is alleged to be involved in, Mr. Mukhriz did not hesitate to counterattack:
“Sorry to say that as long as Najib is still there, Umno is at its weakest point right now. Scandal after scandal, I think we can’t take it all, it is too much for us. It is really traumatising to all of us. We can’t hold our heads high. Now I will have more opportunity to fight on and speak out for the people because this will not shut me up,” he is quoted as saying by Singapore’s Straits Times (Link).

Prime Minister  Najib’s control of their common party UMNO looks more than total at the moment, but with Swiss and Singaporean banks being involved in the 1MDB scandal the shells are landing ever closer. And never underestimate estranged and sidelined party members. The roles of hunted and hunters can change:
In the first German children’s book, first published in 1845, the hare steals the hunter’s rifle and starts to hunt the hunter…
jäger 1

 

 

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.

 

Malaysia’s UMNO Convention: What Keeps Najib In Power?


Partyforumseasia:One important advantage of democracy  over all other systems is the possibility to exchange an unsuccessful  government against a new team and new hope for the voters. Sometimes it happens after internal power struggles like the recent transfer from Abbot to Turnbull in Australia, sometimes it is growing unhappiness among the voters and defeat in elections. With a more open and less gerrymandered electoral system PM Najib would have lost his job already in 2013. But even under

Determined to prevail

Determined to prevail

unprecedented pressure from voters, many of whom have lost trust in him, and internal opposition in his own party, Najib seems unassailable. In this week’s ongoing party convention with 2,654 delegates from 191 divisions he shrugs off all the attacks and calmly pretends to be in fighting spirit. An admirable level of self-confidence.
His long career as a politician has been a jump-start but accompanied by a series of scandals. At the age of 23 he took over the parliamentary seat of his father, a prime minister like an uncle, and moved into the cabinet as deputy minister only two years later. Prime Minister since 2009, his former mentor and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad has now turned into his most prominent critic. Mahathir’s constant call for him to step down seems unsuccessful by now, and the UMNO-internal challenge looks neutralized. As incredible as it sounds for Malaysians and outsiders, the scandalous mismanagement of 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund with billions of debt, and the more than dubious campaign “donation” of 700 million US$ from undisclosed Middle Eastern sources into Najib’s private account (!), seem to be swallowed by most leaders of the 3.4 million strong government party. His enemies never imagined that he got get away with that.

There are four main reasons for the strong position of Najib:

1. There is no competitor who could replace him at short notice. All party comrades who speak up are being sacked, like former deputy prime minister and deputy party president Muhyiddin Yassin,  and replaced by yes-men. Najib even declares that it is a Muslim religious duty to support the leader.

2. With the  imprisonment and effective elimination of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the ambivalent stand of Islamist opposition party PAS, the threat by a strong opposition coalition has more or less vanished.

3.  Starting from Mahathir’s time, the powers of party president and prime minister have been strengthened continuously. On 3 December, Malaysia’s parliament has approved the National Security Council Bill which gives the prime minister quasi unlimited discretion to detain people and declare a state of emergency. The criticism of Mahathir sounds somewhat hollow, though, because he used the former internal security act against his challengers during his term rather extensively.Najib 1

4. The main reason, however, is the pervasiveness of money politics. Widely the norm in Southeast Asia, it has been developed and fine-tuned in Malaysia, ironically again since Mahathir’s premiership. Najib, born with the famous silver spoon in his mouth, has made full use of the UMNO patronage system. As Partyforumseasia has argued earlier, UMNO cannot afford to lose an election because the whole enormous scheme would collapse and leave hundreds of thousands of party officials and supporters in the cold. And Najib cannot afford to step down because more dirty linen suspected by critical Malaysians might surface and destroy party and patronage.
The system, described as “the patronage networks that flow downward through UMNO, and that ensure the loyalty of party cadres” (Council on Foreign Relations, Link here) is a tool for which many parties worldwide may envy UMNO. But its refinancing comes from state funds and corrupt government-business links at the expense of tax payers.
As aptly as ruthlessly playing racist and religious cards, party and prime minister seem to get away with this cancerous system among the profiteers and voters. And far from being as scandalous as it sounds for most observers, the 700 million “donation” might even strengthen Najib’s position by boosting his financial discretion even more. As the saying in the Philippines goes, the Golden Rule simply means that he who has the gold will rule…

He won't go

He won’t go

John Stewart Mill in his Considerations on Representative Government published in 1861 had warned already against money politics: “Of what avail is the most broadly popular representative system if the electors do not care to choose the best member of Parliament, but choose him who will spend most money to be elected?”

 

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’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.

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.

Political Parties As They Come and Go…


Partyforumseasia: Three pieces of advice were quite shocking for the editor of this page when he joined a party as an idealistic young student: 1. Former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s warning about inner-party competition in three steps, “enemy, mortal enemy, party comrade”… 2. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that if you need a friend in Washington you better buy a dog, and 3. The claim of a party veteran, “No power in the world can destroy our party, only we ourselves…”
Political parties come and go, some rather fast, some more slowly. Southeast Asia has many of the first kind, but also quite a number of very resilient ones, most of them in power for decades. The self-destruction by infighting and power struggles can be observed in three interesting cases at the moment, namely Golkar and National Mandate Party (PAN) in Indonesia and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

GolkarGolkar is the oldest party in Indonesia with decades of a very privileged ruling monopoly under President Suharto. Adapting to the democratic era it has survived so far (with 91 out of 560 seats in parliament), but ambitious chairman Aburizal Bakrie‘s failed gamble in the presidential election and sticking to the losing coalition may eventually destroy the party. An anti-Bakrie faction may prefer more flexibility and has elected a rival chairman, former welfare minister Agung Laksono. On 3 March, two of the four judges on the internal party tribunal have voted for him as legitimate leader, two others avoided a decision and want the case to be decided by a court of law instead. The Central Jakarta District Court had already earlier refused to invalidate the party’s Bali congress which re-elected Bakrie. This way Golkar has two competing factions with two chairmen fighting for legitimation. Without a binding decision of the internal party tribunal and the obvious reluctance of the courts to tip the scale, the party risks to break up and become irrelevant without a role in government. A European-style way out would be a ballot including all party members, but the fluidity of party membership in Indonesia might exclude this alternative anyway.

PANThe leadership feud in the National Mandate Party (PAN), with 49 out of 560 parliamentary seats, has similar roots as the one in Golkar. Chairman Hatta Rajasa, who was Probowo Subianto‘s running mate in their unsuccessful candidacy against President Jokowi, was narrowly defeated (292-286 votes) by challenger Zulkifli Hasan. The new chairman’s victory was supported by party stalwart Amien Rais who alleged in the party congress that Hatta Rajasa had secretly met with Jokowi and was not faithful to the Prabowo coalition, known as Red-White Coalition or KMP. Loser Prabowo’s inability to concede defeat after the presidential election in July 2014 is still creating ripples in the political party scene of Indonesia.

MICThe Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) was for many years the useful vote getter among Malaysia’s Indian citizens on behalf of UMNO and its National Front or Barisan Nasional coalition but is down to 4 seats out of 222 in parliament in the 2013 election. The crisis followed a decision of the  Registrar of Societies to nullify the internal elections in November and directing the party to hold fresh elections for the three vice-presidential and 23 Central Working Committee (CWC) posts. Since then members of the CWC are challenging the Registrar of Societies order in court in order to maintain the November results. Once at the courts it looks impossible to find an internal compromise. As usual, voters are disappointed and question the quality of the leadership, a common paradox in democracy, which is about debate over policy solutions and compromise.
Dangerous for the party and its survival is above all a public debate about its relevance for the Indian Malaysians. Not surprisingly, prominent Indians and many letters to the editor of Malaysian newspapers say very clearly that the MIC is not serving the Indian community at all.
Nota bene: Political parties are all and always work in progress and turn easily into endangered species!

PS: To be continued…

Malaysia’s Competing Coalitions: War of Attrition Going “MAD”?


Partyforumseasia: Sometimes the epic struggle between the ruling Barisan Nasional and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalitions reminds of the cold war nuclear strategy called “mutually assured destruction” or “MAD” in short. But in reality it isn’t about deterrence, it is about the destruction of one or the other. The Non-Malay coalition partner of UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association ( MCA ) lost more than half of its mandates in 2013 with 7 seats in Parliament left. The other predominantly Chinese Barisan-party, Gerakan, is nearly annihilated since 2008, and both were losing despite generous financial support from UMNO.
Now the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), equally pampered by UMNO, and down to four seats, risks its own future by major infighting. What happens within the MIC? Strategic director S Vell Paari and former Youth chief T Mohan, rivals of  party leader G Palanivel triggered an order by the Registrar of Societies to hold fresh elections for three vice-presidents and 23 members of the central MIC fracas 2working committee after the convention in November 2013 was found to have breached the Societies Act 1966. Two weeks ago about 500 disgruntled members demanded Palanivels resignation and came into a scuffle with his loyalists, watched by 100 policemen. Leadership competition is normal in any party but in a declining party it easily gets out of control.
Altogether, the apparent weakness of UMNO’s traditional vote “absorbers” among the ethic minorities plus inroads of the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak must ring the alarm bells quite clearly.
Strategy-wise:
UMNO has reason enough to fear a further erosion of its “majority-formula” which guaranteed its domination for decades by getting enough support from the Non-Malay minority groups in the Barisan Nasional or National Front coalition. Internal warnings were saying that a further two per cent drop in the next election would cost them the government.
To compensate this weakness on their own side, the answer is of course a strategy to create problems for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and use their apparent cleavages and lack of stable cohesion. The most visible cleavage at the moment is the hudud (Islamic criminal law and punishments)-debate between coalition partners PAS and DAP. If the PAS-dominated Kelantan State Legislative Assembly paves the way for hudud after trying to do so for more than two decades, a split of Pakatan may be imminent. The secular DAP can hardly cooperate in that matter with the Islam-driven PAS. And for political gain and its own survival UMNO can hardly afford to prevent Kelantan from introducing hudud. In this type of impasse UMNO will most probably opt for survival and not for the best interest and unity of the nation it leads. The decision of a a special state assembly sitting on December 29th to pass the amendments has been postponed because of the heavy flooding, but the climax of the drama can be expected any time soon.

Malaysia: “Fortress” UMNO threatened by Own Supporters?


Partyforumseasia: As the saying goes, with certain friends you don’t need enemies. One possibly dangerous ally of Malaysia’s ruling party UMNO is the support group Perkasa, founded in 2008. It is supposed to have a membership of over 400.000, but probably a majority among them are also UMNO members. Perkasa has been established to defend the leading role of the country’s Malay population and their special rights, enshrined in Article 153 of the constitution. Privileges for the Malays and other indigenous groups (called together “Bumiputera” or sons of the soil) go back to colonial times. The British had imported Chinese and Indian labor in big numbers, but later the decisive division became more economic and social with predominantly rural Malays and more affluent city dwellers from the immigrant minorities. Unfortunately, the imbalance is persisting until today despite all quotas and support programs of successive UMNO-led governments.
Najib Nov.   The big strategic challenge for Prime Minister Najib is the necessity to reform certain outdated provisions like the sedition act and others to win over more votes from the minorities on one hand, and at the same time convince the Malay clientele that he will not touch their privileges. After winning the last election with only 48% of the popular vote with the help of a lopsided election law, Najib faces  challenges now from both sides. And on top of that his pre-predecessor Mahathir, who has already toppled his own direct successor, is increasingly critical vis-a-vis Najib. Dr. M
In this difficult situation Perkasa is not exactly a helpful support group but pours constantly oil in the fire. Their initiatives against perceived and alleged Chinese, Indian, or Christian threats against the Malay and Muslim majority increase all the latent tensions. The minorities are frightened of Muslim criminal law (hudud) for all, hairsplitting controversies about who may use the word Allah and the distribution of bibles in Malay as well as many other gross exaggerations coming from Perkasa.
Strategy-wise the organization threatens to be much more of a liability than a support group and undermines the Prime Minister’s efforts to reduce the tensions and deep divisions after the 2013 election. Asking him now before the UMNO convention to drop most of the so-called “liberal” reforms amounts to stabbing him in the back. And Perkasa adviser Mahathir should carefully weigh the doses of vitriol he pours on Najib.

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.

Will Malaysia Follow the Path of Taiwan and Mexico?


Partyforumseasia: The question may sound surprising in the regional discussion in Southeast Asia, not to mention Malaysia itself. It is the headline of an analysis by Joan M. Nelson, a Malaysia expert at the American University’s School of International Service, and published in the latest Journal of Democracy, July 2014, Volume 25, Number 3, pp 105 – 119.
Roller 2Too small to create a level playing field???

By comparing Malaysia’s UMNO with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), Nelson’s list of the main similarities is as follows: “The hegemonic party controls the legislature by a majority sufficient to change the constitution at will; penetrates the bureaucracy; constrains the judiciary and the media; and controls the institutions that organize, monitor, and adjudicate elections. The party is largely sustained by the distribution of government spoils and patronage.” (p.105)

The central points of the comparison are the gradual weakening of PRI and KMT and their loss of domination, opening Mexico and Taiwan to a more open and more democratic development and a more level political playing field with chances for the opposition to take over.

Sure, the Barisan Nasional coalition has lost the important two-thirds majority in parliament and in 2013 even the popular vote. But in contrast to Mexico and Taiwan, where party elites started leveling the playing field, UMNO elites remain dedicated to maintain the status quo. The central analysis in this article is bluntly describing the attitudes of the leadership: “Politicians and cadres long accustomed to electoral advantage and pervasive reliance on patronage (to advance within the party as well as to win inter party elections) predictably resist changing the system.”

This is underlining Partyforumseasia’s pessimistic outlook for a possible sea change in Malaysia, at least in the short and medium perspective. The ruthless judicial persecution of Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition figures show that the Barisan coalition has been digging in more than their heels to stem the tide and defend their domination. Too many of them see politics as business and not as a vocation, they simply cannot afford to lose. And the “Bersih fatigue“, observed by some, as well as the somewhat suicidal handling of the chief minister saga in Selangor by the Pakatan Rakyat contribute to a pessimistic outlook.

Malaysia: Is the UMNO/BN Dream Coming True?


Partyforumseasia Strategy-wise: Is the UMNO/BN dream (= seeing the PR opposition coalition committing suicide) coming true… or is it that their strategies are working? Knowing the systemic vulnerability of the UMNO/BN system by changing vote patterns and facing the extraordinary challenge by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, held together by the charisma of Anwar Ibrahim, one might guess at least some of the defense strategies of the Barisan Nasional. The most important one in 2013 was winning the election at all cost – or, in financial terms, at a price tag of an estimated more than two billion RM. Gerrymandering as the most innocent looking tool worked as planned and the popular vote, won by the opposition, was more than neutralized. Having won the 2013 election, time would help to consolidate the shaken dominance again. And so it does, the second Malaysia Airlines (MH 17) tragedy in July even giving the Prime Minister and his government a chance to make good on perceived weaknesses after the first tragedy (MH 370). And both tragedies divert the public from domestic political issues.  Khalid Ibrahim
However, the Selangor shadow play about the replacement of chief minister (menteri besar) Abdul Khalid Ibrahim (picture with Anwar) at the hands of his own party can only be observed with glee and schadenfreude by the ruling camp. Since Khalid Ibrahim wants to stay on, a leadership drama is unfolding and develops into an operation on the open heart of the Pakatan coalition, which is anyway difficult enough to hold together . If Anwar still manages to convince most of his PKR leaders so far, the cacophony of statements by coalition partners in DAP and PAS will definitely harm the public image of the Pakatan Rakyat and spread doubts about their ability to take over the government in future. Internal squabble in any party world wide damages its public image. Even authoritarian party leadership is more acceptable for the broader public. But with the airline disasters already rallying the nation, the Selangor squabble might be close to suicidal for the opposition.

Coalition Strategies in Malaysia: Barisan Component Parties No Longer Needed?


Partyforumseasia: The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) 150px-Flag_of_the_Malaysian_Chinese_Association.svghas been thriving for decades as appendix of UMNO, helping to secure its absolute majority by bringing in substantial numbers of Chinese votes as a regular dowry and a counterbalance to the Chinese opposition DAP. Formation and success of the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition and the multi-racial approach of its Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as well as the growing attractiveness of the DAP for Chinese voters have undermined MCA’s traditional role. Factional infighting has crippled the party for some time already and the extremely narrow results in the recent internal elections may herald the further decline of what was once Malaysia’s second biggest political party. In 2008 it still won 15 parliamentary and 31 state seats, in May 2013 only 7 and 11 seats respectively. But, as it was pampered by big brother UMNO with ministerial portfolios and business opportunities during its heydays, MCA is still very rich. According to a Straits Times article on 22 December the party assets are estimated at nearly 3 billion RM, which comes to over 900 million US$. These assets, land, buildings, companies (Huaren Holdings) and a 42% stake in the Star daily may keep the leadership posts embattled. 2,325 delegates elected president and deputy president, four vice-presidents and 25 central committee members, and Mr. Liow Tiong Lai has won the presidency by just 26 votes.
MCA results

Strategic Lessons: Piggy rides are dangerous coalition strategies. Junior partners have to maintain their usefulness for big brother or risk decline. Assets may keep them alive for some time but not for long.

Difficult to compare but interesting:
The German Free Democratic Party (FDP), a long term successful piggy rider in various coalitions, has lost all seats in the federal parliament in September this year. Its survival may be more difficult than for MCA because it has no assets…

Malaysia: A Good Question Concerning the Pakatan Rakyat Opposition Coalition


Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s leadership of UMNO has been strenghthened and confirmed by the recent internal party polls. Najib 6.12.13For the time being there are no visible challengers around and Najib feels more than confident in promising the 3000 party leaders attending the annual meeting a continuation of the “Malays First Policy”. This is seen as race based by the roughly 40% Non-Malay Malaysians and has contributed to a surge in the popular vote for the opposition in the general election in May.
In terms of election strategy this makes sense, though, since UMNO’s main support comes from carefully gerrymandered rural constituencies with huge Malay majorities. As long as the first-past-the-post electoral system remains UMNO can focus on these vote banks while the opposition coalition might win the urban votes but fail to win a majority in parliament.

An interesting question has been raised by Murray Hunter in the New Mandala: Whether Pakatan Rakyat deserves to be in government!!!!
See (link here) New Mandala

PRakyat Whether a party or coalition really deserves to be in government is a difficult question. But there are indeed some big question marks concerning the cohesion and stability of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Some see the three coalition partners as somewhat strange bed fellows, united only in their struggle against the ruling Barisan Nasional.

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.

UMNO’s Party Elections- Another Rising Son?


Mukhriz 2Partyforumseasia: Fierce competition inside a political party is the best time for observers and researchers to get a better picture of what is going on inside. The preparations for the internal elections which should have taken place already in 2012 but were postponed because of the May 2013 general election reveal a few things about UMNO after the extremely narrow victory which keeps it in power.
One interesting detail is that six candidates compete for three vice-presidential posts whereas PM Najib Razak und his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin remain unchallenged.
Among the six vice-presidential hopefuls one is more interesting than most of the others because he happens to be the son of former party president and long serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. This son, Mukhriz Mahathir, newly appointed chief minister of the federal state of Kedah immediately after the May election, is on the way up and would be a possible successor of PM Najib if elected as vice-president.

His father, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, like many other elder statesmen, continues to comment on everything political in the country, but still wields more real influence than most of his peers. His direct support for his rising son and his vice-presidential ambitions may help a lot in this special area of political culture. (In most European countries this open support would be counterproductive).
Mukhriz 1

Source: Straits Times (Singapore) today, 26-9-2013.

But there is a nice irony involved which seems to go unnoticed by father Mahathir when he says:
“Eventually people get bored of these outdated leaders who refuse to accept the reality.”
A European proverb is saying that you should not throw stones if you sit in a glass house…

Another interesting detail is the contest for chairing the women’s wing. Incumbent Shahrizat, who was involved in a massive corruption scandal under the headline “Cowgate” seems to enjoy endorsement for another term by PM Najib. But her challenger, senator Mazlah Maznan has good chances to replace Shahrizat exactly because of Cowgate.
UMNO is the biggest Malaysian party with 3.4 million members and the results of next month’s convention promise to be interesting!

Can UMNO Survive without Reform?


NajibPartyforumseasia: UMNO’s narrow victory of the May election (if it was a true one anyway as the opposition still doubts) seemed to suggest that the party cannot continue business (!!!!) and politics as usual. Reform should be the order of the post election period if the steady increase of support for the opposition coalition was to be stopped. The party leadership, instead, seems to see the way out in playing the Malay card again and forget about reform.
Asia Sentinel, 16 September 2013 (=link), sums it up in the formula:
                Malaysia’s PM Capitulates to the Hardliners________________
“The Sept.14 announcement of an array of new economic benefits for ethnic Malays by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak represents the premier’s final post-election capitulation to radical Malay nationalists in the United Malays National Organization.

The new plan signifies a U-turn back to the New Economic Policy of affirmative action for ethnic Malays that was put in place in 1971 following disastrous 1969 race riots. Economists are largely in agreement that the policy has saddled the economy for three decades. Najib, an economist himself, has been attempting to undo the policy for three years through his 1Malaysia economic liberalization program. The new plan will play a major role in UMNO’s deliberations at its Oct. 5 annual general assembly and is key to Najib’s keeping his job, UMNO insiders say. If nothing else, it is recognition that reform inside the party is dead.”
Partyforumseasia is not surprised. PM Najib keeps his job but does not really look like a winner.