The View From Asia

Of duelling parties and delayed polls

Asia News Network commentators give their take on looming elections in their countries. Here are excerpts.

Race of a different character


The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

Official campaigning for the 48th election of the House of Representatives has kicked off, with nearly 1,200 candidates registered to run for the Lower House's 465 seats.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his intention of staying on the job if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito win a combined total of more than 233 seats - a majority.

Kibo no To (Party of Hope) leader Yuriko Koike will not run in the race herself, and Kibo has gone only so far as to field 235 candidates, barely reaching that majority.

Ms Koike has also said that "not all our candidates are expected to win", so it is hard to anticipate Kibo taking power. There may be no denying the party's momentum has been stalling.

The upcoming race can be said to have taken on a different character from one where voters choose the administration to one where they decide whether to place their confidence in the Abe administration.

According to a public poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the largest number of people polled attached importance to foreign and security policy, more than those who emphasised economic or social security policy. This is an unusual development. Taking into account that North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear tests and launched ballistic missiles, the Prime Minister considers the election as one to "come through a national crisis".

To ensure the safety of Japan, political parties should hold deeper, more constructive debates.

In her stump speech in Tokyo, Ms Koike asserted her party's plan of postponing the proposed consumption tax rate hike. Disregarding Mr Abe's intention to redirect part of the allocation of the increased tax revenue to make education free as a "dull proposal", Ms Koike said to voters: "Let's change the Abe-dominant politics."

There are fears that the assertions made by both the LDP and Kibo may result in the pork-barrelling of fiscal resources. The cut in funds that would result from a change in the allocation, which was originally earmarked for the nation's fiscal reconstruction, would be tantamount to a newly accrued debt. Kibo also remains vague as to how to secure tax revenue following the freeze on the planned hike.

The deterioration of politicians' quality has long been pointed out. The LDP has had a series of scandals and gaffes involving its young Lower House members, who lost their seats after the dissolution.

Although Kibo is in the special situation of having recently been established, the party has fielded a large number of first-time candidates with little political experience. Doubts cannot be dismissed.

'Malay tsunami' from the east

Joceline Tan

The Star, Malaysia

If size does matter in politics, then Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is definitely back in business after its epic gathering in Terengganu earlier this month.

Kuala Nerus town had never before seen so many people. The area is also where the menteri besar of Terengganu has his state seat and all those green-clad people must have given Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman the jitters. The optics were fantastic and, more important, the Fastaqim, or "uprising" as it was known, was dominated by young Malays in their teens, 20s and 30s.

It sent out the signal that the party is still relevant and that it has recovered the Malay support it used to command. But perhaps the most significant message sent out was, as Selangor PAS election director Roslan Shahir put it: "This is what a Malay tsunami looks like."

PAS members have been rather annoyed with some of the Chinese Democratic Action Party leaders who have been going on about a Malay tsunami that will sweep Pakatan Harapan into Putrajaya. "They are dreaming," said Mr Roslan.

What happened in Terengganu suggests that Pakatan will have to rely on another Chinese tsunami to do well.

PAS president Hadi Awang arrived at the venue riding pillion on a motorcycle because the whole of Kuala Nerus was grid-locked. His motorcycle was part of a convoy of hundreds of bikes that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.

Datuk Seri Hadi's schedule is still quite restricted. His recovery from heart surgery earlier this year has been quite slow, and he made only one speaking appearance at the Fastaqim. It was quite apparent that the political transition in PAS is already in progress. The sun is setting for Mr Hadi, who will turn 70 this month. His no-nonsense deputy, Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, is widely accepted as the rightful successor.

Up till a few months ago, Pakatan leaders were still trying to send emissaries to persuade PAS to cooperate with the party, but the trust and goodwill were gone and the PAS leadership was not interested.

Tuan Ibrahim is also very clear about where PAS stands against Umno and Pakatan in the general election but the problem is that he cannot seem to win a seat and his intellectual depth is apparently not on the same level as Mr Hadi's.

Critics of the party have pointed out that the Terengganu gathering was all show and little substance. Observers were expecting key announcements in connection with the general election and they were disappointed with the political rhetoric.

Terengganu is seen as a swing state where seats are won and lost by narrow majorities. After last weekend, Umno cannot take it easy in the state.

Thai polls when?


The Nation, Thailand

Thai Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha's announcement that a general election will take place in November next year is welcome, though there is good reason to doubt it will be his last word on the subject. The roadmap to elections is brandished every time the junta chief travels to a democratic country, most notably during trips to the United States and Japan.

During his trip last week to the US, General Prayut made another pledge, assuring President Donald Trump that the election date would be announced next year.

Their joint statement was more specific about the election date: "President Trump welcomed Thailand's commitment to the roadmap which, upon completion of relevant organic laws as stipulated by the Constitution, will lead towards free and fair elections in 2018."

The story changed again when Gen Prayut later met the Thai community in Washington and told them elections should take place in 2019. That pledge contradicted the projections of junta-appointed legislators who were reading from the roadmap in the new Charter.

The ongoing confusion is fuelling hot debate in Thailand over the timeline of the so-called roadmap to an election, if not full-fledged democracy. It seems that Gen Prayut, who led a military coup to topple an elected civilian government in May 2014, enjoys paying lip service to this subject.

But while an election would bring the normal conditions on which economic development thrives, it also signals a return to barracks for the ruling military. The top brass, understandably reluctant to retreat from the halls of power, will naturally seek to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2017, with the headline 'Of duelling parties and delayed polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe