Report from the streets of Bangkok

For safety reasons I am omitting my name from this account. My apologies.

I was in my house, when I heard. A friend messaged me, urging me to turn on the television, and so I did. All channels showed the same thing: Thailand’s General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a total takeover of the country, Thailand was experiencing it’s 12th coup. A stream of announcements ensued over the next couple of hours.

This was Thursday May 22. I work in the media, so I rushed to the local TV-station to ensure I was there, before the now imposed curfew kicked in at 10 pm. A lot of other people had the same thought – everybody needed to be wherever they were going to sleep before 10, so the traffic was heavy and hectic.

I spent the night at the TV-station, occasionally being called up by journalists at home to give an update on the situation. I left for home in the early morning hours. I did go out during curfew hours, though, just a little bit. I wasn’t the only one – a few cars were cruising the otherwise empty streets. I said hello to a couple of confused tourists. But apart from that, about 11 pm in busy, buzzing Bangkok, the streets looked like this:

Bangkok 1

The next morning, it really sank in. The country was now military run, and in the daylight, a few reflections and reactions started to seep out. Cautious ones, though, due to the new, extensive censorship on media. One reporter of the English-language Bangkok-paper, The Nation, was really outspoken and critical. He used Twitter to express his anger over the sudden censorship and the coup in general.

I spent the day out and about in Bangkok. Most of the city looked normal, even more normal than it has looked for a while because the military cleared the protesters that have been camping out in the streets of Bangkok since November 2013.They’ve had a lot of demands and a specific political agenda, and has had stages and roadblocks in Bangkok for the good part of a year by now. I won’t go into that.

Up in the northern part of town, a small group of anti-coup protesters – maybe 200 – were defying the newly-imposed ban on gathering more than five people. So even though the soldiers were not present in most of the city, they were present up there: several stand-offs and minor scuffles during Friday, but luckily, nobody was hurt.

On Saturday, two days after the coup, a lot happened. A continued stream of different announcements – mainly announcing lists of people who were to report to the military – was on television all day. Late that evening, the military dissolved the Senate, and removed a not unsubstantial amount of public servants, amongst them the Chief of National Police. I started to worry, because many of the listed people, who were to report to the military, were academics and activists and journalists – critical civilians, in other words. It was not long after that the outspoken journalist from The Nation, the one who had been very critical on Twitter, was called in to report to the military.

So I think, by Sunday, the situation had become significantly more serious. Reports of large numbers of people being detained and transferred to unknown destinations were coming in now. A statement from the military declared that democracy in Thailand had “caused losses”, leaving us speculating if that meant they were not prone to re-establish democracy? The Nation’s journalist reported to military, as he was told, and it looked like this:

Bangkok 2

This picture floated social media yesterday. Unknown credit.

I heard that protesters were gathering again next to Victory Monument in Bangkok, and I decided to go up there. Overnight, the protest had grown in size – far more than 200 people were there now. I would estimate at least 1000, but it’s just a guess. Just when I arrived, I saw a lot of people running towards the soldiers that was blocking the street:

Bangkok 3

Upon reaching the ranks, people started shouting at the soldiers. (Who in many cases are young boys, and not necessarily happy with the task they are doing.) It was tense for a little while, especially when some people started throwing bananas at the soldiers.

Bangkok 4
But the situation seemed to diffuse, like it has done many times before. These scuffles happen regularly, because tensions are high. Anyway, the police were able to calm down the protesters, and the army was ordered to pull back, which they did:

Bangkok 5

After that, the anti-coup protesters decided to dissolve and meet again the next day. On my way home I heard that the Nation-journalist had been taken into custody and transferred to an unknown location. Noone has been in contact with him since that picture was taken Sunday morning, as of this writing.

The official explanation for the coup is to keep the peace. The military says it over and over – this extreme measure is to restore and keep the peace. I have a feeling that the new military leadership of Thailand has a very different definition the word “peace” than I do.


The author of the article has chosen to be anonymous, but is known to the In Focus editors.

Pictures are by the author, if not otherwise stated.


How to Win Elections in Indonesia?

Insights from the Campaigns for Jakarta Governor 2012

This online exhibition shows photographs, videos and other material from the 2012 election campaigns for the Governor’s office in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It covers the two main pairs of candidates in the field: incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo (Foke) and his running mate Nachrowi Ramli (Nara) vs. challenger Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and his running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).

The exhibition was designed to allow you to browse through and just pick individual sections that might be interesting to you OR read it as a story from beginning to end. As this is not an academic article it does by no means aim at presenting a comprehensive picture of the dozens of different campaign strategies followed by each team. Due to the mostly visual nature of an exhibition, several important but less visible elements of these campaigns can only be hinted at within this framework. Nevertheless, this exhibition aims at conveying an impression of how enormously contrasting these two pairs of candidates and their respective campaign approaches were and what has enabled Jokowi’s remarkable rise from small town mayor to Governor of Jakarta to most promising presidential candidate within just a bit more than a year.

Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli mostly relied on typical strongman campaign tactics involving money politics, voter intimidation, campaigning based on ethnic and religious discrimination, and mobilisation of various ally groups from within their patronage network, but also staged media events and expensive advertising. While Fauzi was believed to win easily within the first election round, the radically different campaign strategy of challenger Joko Widodo turned the game around (Jokowi-Basuki 42.6 % vs. Fauzi-Nara 34.05%), leading to a remarkable catch-up race and his final victory after a second election round (JB 53.82 % vs. FN 46.18%). Jokowi and his running mate Ahok combined strategically located face-to-face campaigning with a clever marketing technique to capture the attention of the media. They performed on a good governance agenda of providing services for the population, against ethnic or religious discrimination, and promoting the inclusion of the population into politics.


The campaign strategy of Jokowi and Basuki was to a large extent based on face-to-face campaigning in the slum areas of Jakarta. Their arrival was often anticipated with a mixture of curiosity and sceptisism, however, mostly the candidates managed to switch the atmosphere to one of excitement and even euphoria within a few minutes.

They immediately pick up individual conversations with people of the kampung (neighborhood), while walking through the narrow alleys lined with tin-roofed huts and shaded by plastic sheets. Dozens of potential voters and even more kids follow them on their way through the densely packed kampung.

Every now and then Jokowi or Ahok stop to enquire about the often very visible problems of the area (flooding, bad water- and sanitation conditions, waste-disposal). They explain the most important points of their programme, such as a health card or cheaper education.

During the whole time their entourage of a few close campaign team members and party allies responsible for organising the event in that particular kampung remain quietly at a distance. Only their bodyguards in civilan clothes stick around closely but almost invisible. There are no speeches by local leaders, party members or the like.

This creates a very personal and lively atmosphere for the encounter. People are laughing and joking around as they follow along through the kampung or pose for the journalists’ cameras (or mine) to show the “rock ’n roll” campaign sign with three fingers. This stands both for the candidates’ no. 3 on the ballot and Jokowi’s love for rock music. Using this hand sign was new to most people and created quite some fun and confusion, when people tried to get it right. Over the course of the campaign it became so iconic that ever since no. 3 candidates in several other local elections all across Indonesia have taken it over as their own campaign sign.

An important direct effect of these face-to-face campaign events is, that the population feels genuinely respected by the candidates, as they even take time for several minutes of personal discussion, as Basuki here does in a several minutes long conversation with a pious Muslim man (Basuki is of Chinese descent and Christian, which plays a large role in his own as well as in Fauzi’s and Nara’s campaign – albeit in very different ways, as we will see later).

Many voters even feel honored to have the chance to meet Jokowi or Basuki and come up with their own creative ideas to support the candidates. In this case two women came rushing after Basuki with a caricature of him riding a bicycle, which they had made themselves and they wanted him to sign.

However, the central point of these campaign events was not to meet as many people as possible and directly convince them to vote for Jokowi-Basuki – an attempt which would have been doomed to fail in a city of more than 10 million inhabitants. This strategy could only be successful because it was paired with a highly clever marketing of these events via the media, so that the messages sent at these small events affected the perception of the wider population.

This marketing strategy via the media had actually begun several months before the campaign got to the grounds of Jakarta neighborhoods. Agenda-setting pushing selected issues of Jokowi’s performance as Mayor of Solo into the national media made him rise as a media darling as soon as his candidacy had been decided behind the scenes. Overall this turned out to be so successful, that the campaign for the local Governor’s office developed into a national event on a scale never seen before for any local election.


The incumbent Fauzi and his running mate Nara chose a very different strategy quite in contrast to the personal face-to-face approach of Jokowi and Basuki. During the first official two-week campaign phase in June / July Fauzi Bowo even left all the activities to his vice-candidate. Only in the evenings he would do campaigning behind closed doors.

The team carried out two main kinds of public campaign events, the first one being staged media events mostly taking place at their media centre with no electorate (other than journalists) present.

This group of pictures from the media centre shows typical scenes of these staged events: A group of celebrities has been taken under contract to voice their support for Fauzi-Nara. While Nara speaks they are obviously completely bored and don’t pay any attention to what is going on, until the moment they are asked to give their two-lines statement of support for the cameras. What they say is almost the same, uninventive and fairly unconvincing standard phrase. The journalists do not bother to ask questions, because they know the answers are meaningless. Then the stars and starlets get up to show the candidates’ sign no. 1 with the index finger, smile for the photographers and off they go. The media will make a brief news item out of this, saying celebrities X and Y have stated their support for Fauzi and Nara. During the rest of the campaign we will not hear from them again.


The second type of public campaign events by the Fauzi-Nara team took place outside and usually involved cloths-covered pavilions and chairs for the VIPs to sit, a stage, microphones to bridge the distance between the speakers and the voters and a line-up of local leaders, strongmen, party allies etc., all delivering longwinded but mostly empty speeches.

This set of five pictures is a prime example of such an event in a neighborhood in Central Jakarta. First, Nara sits together with several other VIPs on a shaded verandah in the back of the stage, while waiting for his turn to speak. He is hardly visible to the audience assembled in front of the stage, all niecely dressed up in brand new campaign shirts or shirts of ally organisations. When it is his turn he starts with a several minutes long list of acknowledgements towards the present allies. During the remainder of his speech he makes a few jokes, which make the audience laugh and bring a moment of ease into the otherwise tense atmosphere. Apart from these instances the faces of the assembled population remain between disinterest, sceptisism and discomfort.

The reasons for this are – among others – to be found in two little details: In the back of the audience you see several men wearing caps with the writing FBR (Forum Betawi Rempug or Betawi Brotherhood Forum) – a Jakarta organisation between ethnic gang, local mafia, strongmen, employer on the informal market and generally a powerful local actor, particularly in this area of Central Jakarta. Nara holds close ties to FBR and their significant presence in this event sends a clear message who to vote for in this kampung.

Secondly, a banner reading Anak Polisi Pasti Pilih Foke-Nara (the clients and members of the police will vote for Foke-Nara). This banner is more than a mere statement of support from the police – which as a state organisation should remain neutral – it can be read as a “friendly reminder” for the local population to be on the right side, if they want to avoid trouble.


Aksi SAPU (Aksi Satgas Anti Politik Uang) or Action Task Force against Money Politics perfectly merges the two campaign event types mostly used by Foke and Nara: staged media event combined with a “show of force” directed at the electorate, while at the same time making sure to keep a distance from them – both socially and physically.

This time the purpose is the declaration of a task force against the use of money politics in the campaign. As usual, it involves a large array of allies from various parties and other supporting organisations of Foke and Nara. The action is meant to counter the manyfold accusations against the team, exactly because of their widespread use of money politics.

Again, a cloths-veiled pavilion is set up in the background for the VIPs to be seated in the shadow of the burning sun. A line-up of speakers gives their obligatory recitations of support and condemnations of money politics, while standing on a small podest at a large distance from the assembled population – but directly in front of Tugu Proklamasi – the momument commemorating the declaration of independence, complete with the statues of the founding fathers of the Indonesian nation Soekarno and Hatta. Only the press is allowed to come a little closer to take pictures.

After Nara’s speech the whole press is called closer to take the key picture: central figures from the ally groups, all men in the prime of life, well nurtured, several sporting expensive watches and gold or diamond clad seal rings, and wearing sunglasses so you cannot see their eyes. On top of this they wear white caps and shirts with the “Task Force Anti Money Politics” emblem – after this event you will not hear about this task force again. Instead of posing with the campaign sign of one finger (for ballot no. 1), they show a typical strongman guesture with their fist raised right into the cameras, conveying a picture open to interpretation.


In their largest event towards the end of the first election round the main candidate Fauzi Bowo attended a public campaign event for the first time.

Again, this event combines typical features of their campaign style: The obligatory comfortable sitting area for VIPs. A few celebrities advertised on the huge stage-spanning banner in the background; most notably Rhoma Irama, a famous singer and Muslim conservative, who should spark an outcry of protest a few weeks later, when he preeches in a Jakarta mosque that Muslims should not accept to have a non-Muslim leader. Here he is greeting Fauzi Bowo after he finished the performance with his band. Then, again, there follows the range of prominent speakers, this time quite high ranking party officials such as Anas Urbaningrum (at the time still Chairman of the Democrat Party, recently he had to step back because of large scale corruption allegations); Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (son of the current president, Secretary General of the Demokrat Party, Vice Chairman of a sub-section in the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, until recently Member of Parliament); Wiranto (former military General infamous for being Commander of the Indonesian military during the last months of Soeharto’s dictatorship, former and future presidential candidate), and Sutiyoso (Governor of Jakarta before Fauzi Bowo and one of his sharp critics until he suddenly changed his mind half-way through the first campaign phase).

Interestingly, a few hundred supporters get squezed into the small space directly in front of the stage and directly in front of the media’s cameras, behind them a wall of large party flags and banners. In the videos and photos that will be used in official campaign material later on this looks like a sea of many thousands of supporters, while in reality behind the flags were mostly not more than a few dozen dispersed people. You can see the results of this in several brief scenes in the camaign video entitled Foke-Nara INSYA ALLAH Nomor 1 untuk 1 Putaran, which is displayed in the video section further below. This video shows many scenes filmed during this particular event. In line with this portrayal was the suspiciously equal “estimation” of all members on the campaign team claiming there were about 50.000 supporters present. My personal guess would be somewhere around 10.000.


Religion as well as ethnicity played a major role in the election campaigns of both teams. Having said that, there was a huge difference in how voters were attempted to be mobilised along those lines.

Jokowi is a moderate Javanese Muslim from the area Central Java. His running mate Basuki is a pious Christian of Chinese descent, originally stemming from an Indonesian archipelago far away from Jakarta (Kepulauan Bangka Belitung). The opposing Fauzi and Nara are both Muslims and originate from the local Jakarta ethnicity Betawi, which has a reputation for being rather conservative, compared to the more syncretistic traditional Javanese Islam. Therefore, it may seem natural that Foke-Nara were trying to attack this perceived weak spot of Jokowi-Basuki as not being “sons of the soil” (putra daerah) of Jakarta and not representing the religious stream of the local ethnicity.

However, this calculation neglected several important facts: Jakarta has a Muslim majority population of about 85 %, but with more than 10 % also a relatively large Christian population, mostly from the Chinese Indonesian minority (the term Chinese in this context refers to Indonesian nationals of Chinese ethnic descent, whose families mostly have been living in Indonesia for many generations). With an estimated 7 % – 10 % the Chinese hold a significant share of the Jakarta electorate. Furthermore, the local ethnicity Betawi has been strongly marginalized in Jakarta and today only makes up less than 30 % of the population. By far the largest voting block comes from the approximately 40 % of Javanese, who mostly follow the rather moderate form of traditional Javanese Islam.

Jokowi and Basuki understood how to take advantage from those figures. Generally the two performed on a platform against racial or religious discrimination, but this does not mean that they abstained from using racial or religious sentiments for their campaign purposes.


Rather silently and not very visible to the media or larger public Basuki ran an enormously successful underground campaign among Chinese and Christians, gaining the team remarkable 100% of the Chinese vote in the first election round and about 93% in the second. In public, however, the team was careful not to make his Christian belief a topic of debate, but rather countered the attacks against him by portraying Jokowi and Basuki as candidates for all religions and ethnicities in Jakarta. Meanwhile Jokowi devoted his evenings to tour through the Muslim communities of Jakarta and eat and talk with local Muslim leaders to portray himself in the media as a pious but moderate Muslim man.

During the fasting month of Ramadhan just after the first election round, he spontaneously made a small Hadj to Mekka, which was widely reported about. Ramadhan greeting cards with photographs from this Hadj were distributed among the population to be send to friends and relatives.

In these and similar ways they efficiently managed to counter the aggressive negative campaigning by Foke and Nara, who were trying to mobilize anti-Chinese sentiments and conservative Muslim ideas discriminating against other religious groups. Finally, Jokowi-Basuki even garnered about 48 % of the Muslim vote, drawing almost even with Fauzi and Nara among this voting block.


The term black campaigning (kampayne hitam) describes the use of discriminatory, illegal, or generally morally doubtful campaign strategies, such as defamation, personal attacks, spreading of lies etc.

Both campaign teams were accused of using black campaigning, however the attacks carried out by the team Foke-Nara were rather obvious, widespread and often particularly nasty. It was a major part of their campaign strategy, in particular in the second, more aggressive election round. Discussing the high risk such a strategy brings along, a team member even confessed “We know that it can backfire, but what shall we do? We have no alternative.” (confidential interview Jakarta, July 2012).

Hence, in the second election round the black campaigning was brought to full force. Regularly pamphlets against Jokowi or Basuki were spread in the city. In conservative mosques hate sermons against both candidates were to be heard frequently. The smear campaigns also spread online via the social media, most notably twitter. Both teams had hired groups of young people to fight the social media war for them. In Fauzi’s team, for instance, a group of 20-30 students assembled every evening throughout the second election round to follow a black campaign strategy specifically designed for the web: The messages were to be spread via one central twitter account, two “offspring” accounts (akun anakan) with a designated use of “blunt and open language” and another 400 minor twitter accounts, each student being responsible for administering 20 of those. These 400 accounts were to be used to retweet the messages of the first three accounts and counter other twitter users backfiring at them. Each student earned about 15 US $ per night. This went on for approximately one to two months during the second election round and the number of accounts was raised throughout this time to become about 600.

Among other things, the students were told to portray Jokowi as a tool for the 2014 presidential election bids of the party leaders Megawati and Prabowo; at the same time they should spread fear about Chinese vice candidate Basuki becoming Jakarta’s Governor in 2014, when Jokowi might run for presidential office himself; in a particularly impudent statement it was said that behind Jokowi-Basuki would be a hidden agenda of PKI (PKI is the former Indonesian communist party, destroyed in bloody massacres 1965/66, which brought dictator Soeharto to power; Communism is forbidden ever since and PKI does not exist anymore). After a series of fires in Jakarta’s slum areas the team of Jokowi and Basuki raised allegations against Fauzi-Nara of being behind these incidents, as the fires allegedly occurred in Jokowi’s strong support areas. The twitter team of Foke-Nara then was responsible for countering this attack by simply pointing the finger in the other direction: Jokowi and Basuki themselves would have created those incidents in order to defame Fauzi Bowo.

Interestingly, the teams usually tried to portray their defamations and allegations as “objective facts” supported by “evidence”. This can be nicely seen in the Anti-Jokowi flyer displayed here. The content of the flyer is translated in the separate document below.


In the early morning hours of the last day of campaigning before the final election supporters of both teams assemble at Bundaran HI, the large central roundabout and landmark in Central Jakarta. All of a sudden the campaign song of Jokowi and Basuki starts to play really loud. A small group of dancers performs a choreography telling the story of the campaign song. After 3 minutes of their performance the audience of about 3500 people suddenly starts to join in the dancing and pull off their jackets and shirts, revealing the iconic checkered campaign shirt of Jokowi and Basuki below. The song plays over and over again and the masses keep dancing, celebrating their candidates, who had just arrived at the scene.

This Flashmob had been organised during the previous two weeks via the social media. Somehow the organisers managed to get several thousand supporters informed and prepared for the performance, while keeping it a relatively well-kept secret. The opposing team did not know about this in advance, neither did many of the journalists covering the campaign events. This being said, it was of course made sure, that enough press, especially TV, was gathered in the right places to get good shots of what was going on. The event immediately went viral over the web, and TV stations broadcasted it over and over again for the whole day. (In the video section below you can see a video of this event and read an English translation of the song’s lyrics).

Therewith, it marked the peak of Jokowi’s and Basuki’s election campaign and sent a final key message to voters: Campaigning and politics can be done in a creative and positive way AND to make this work you should get involved and participate voluntarily to support who or what you believe in.

As if to provide a final counter evidence supporters of Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli went around distributing flyers with anti-Chinese hate speeches directed against Basuki right at the same time and place (in the less crowded background of the photograph to the left).


Loosing the entire Chinese vote of the first election round to Jokowi-Basuki came as a shock to the team of Fauzi and Nara. Despite their aggressive anti-Chinese rhetoric no one had expected this. At least the rich and influential Chinese business community had been expected to be on the side of Fauzi Bowo.

Despite this defeat the anti-Chinese mobilisation grew even more aggressive in the second election round, as it was a crucial element to their dominant campaign strategy: the intensification of negative and black campaigning in order to weaken the enormously positive image of Jokowi and Basuki.

This type of campaigning was mostly aimed at a rather poor and uneducated Muslim electorate and based on widespread anti-Chinese stereotypes such as the corrupt and rich Chinese entrepreneur. It also built on a taboo from Soeharto times (Indonesia’s authoritarian leader from 1965 to 1998), stipulating that Chinese Indonesians cannot be in politics. This was paired with a radical Islamic demand not to accept a non-Muslim leader.

However, this does not mean that Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli would be anti-Chinese, Muslim fundamentalist radicals. This approach certainly needs to be regarded as a tool in the face of lacking alternatives. Five years earlier during his first election into office Fauzi Bowo himself campaigned on an open and pluralist platform in order to counter his only rival – a Muslim hardliner.

In this context it also needs to be seen that the educated Chinese community of Jakarta was expected to dismiss this black campaigning as mere election rhetoric and not perceive it as a real threat. Accordingly, in this picture you see Fauzi Bowo on one of the last nights of campaigning before the final and determining election: He speaks in front of several hundred rich Chinese Indonesians assembled in a luxury Chinese club in the Chinese-dominated area of Glodok.

He stands at a distance of about 50 m even to the first row, alone, on a huge and empty stage. As forlorn as he seems up there, as forlorn was his attempt to gloss over the public discrimination in the face of the Chinese community: Five days later at least 93 % of Jakarta’s Chinese Indonesians voted against Fauzi Bowo a second time.


Of course the citizens of Jakarta did not solely get soaked up in campaign activities for one candidate or another. Many NGO’s from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), over the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring (KIPP Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu) to the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem Perkumpulan Untuk Pemilu dan Demokrasi) were active in observing the ongoing process. They monitored the work of the local election commission (KPUD) and the state-directed committee for election supervision (PANWAS) and reported critically to the media, when necessary. They organized numerous political debates for the public, held trainings for the municipalities’ administrative staff involved in the election process, and put large efforts into voter education.

One prime example of their efforts is a public awareness campaign organised and supported by a number of local, national and international NGOs in cooperation with several groups of Jakarta’s street artists. In a number of strategic places in the city graffities addressing election related problems were put up under the title Street Art Peduli Pilkada Jakarta (Street Art Care About Jakarta’s Local Election). The three examples in the photographs from Central Jakarta read:

Vote carefully, so you don’t regret it later.

Don’t you bribe the citizens with that money to vote for you.

The third example is difficult to interpret correctly as it contains several double meanings. It was not included in a digital street art catalogue along with the other pictures. Quite likely this is because both depicted figures wear traditional Betawi clothing and the traditional Muslim headcover peci, the figure to the left has some resemblance with Fauzi Bowo. Both symbolism and text contain references to Satan. The sentence in the bottom reads “Together, let’s destroy Jakarta!!!”. The combination of these details seems rather radical and not quite in line with the ambition of the project to use art as an educational tool against the negative excesses of the campaigns.

Serrum – an art forum dedicated to use art as educational tool and main organiser of this street art campaign – kindly sent us their digital catalogue containing the remaining street art pieces. Previously this catalogue had also been exhibited online on Serrum’s website Now you can view the pdf document here:

Catalogue Street Art Peduli Pilkada Jakarta


In the following campaign videos you can get a final impression of how contrasting the approaches towards these two campaigns really were.

The first video by the Indonesian band Cameo Project is an adaption of the hit song “What makes you beautiful” by British boy band One Direction. The song was already highly popular in Jakarta at the time of the campaign. Cameo Project then rewrote the lyrics to tell about the problems of Jakarta and their hope in the candidates Jokowi and Basuki to overcome these. The music video depicts the narrative of the song. The story goes that the band had done this voluntarily and on their own initiative. Only after the song had become famous the campaign team started to officially use it for their purposes. This version of the YouTube video features English subtitles, which underlines that it was even successful enough to obtain some international interest. You can also read both the Indonesian lyrics and their English translation here:

It is the same song that was used for the flashmob performed by about 3.500 supporters of Jokowi and Basuki on the last day of campaigning, described earlier on in this article.

Following the initial success of this song, the campaign team also produced a short TV spot, in which Jokowi and Basuki perform together with Cameo Project, who are singing one of the campaign slogans Jakarta Baru, Harapan Baru, Wajah Baru (New Jakarta, New Hope, New Faces).

Again, the most widely spread campaign videos of Fauzi Bowo and Nachowi Ramli revealed a quite different picture. In the one-minute TV spot Jakarta Masa Depan (The Future Jakarta) you can witness a very professional and expensive animation of what a future Jakarta under Fauzi Bowo would look like. On the last day of campaigning (at the same time with Jokowi’s Flashmob and in parallel with handing out anti-Chinese campaign flyers), the team of Fauzi gave out DVDs with a more than 20!-minutes long version of this supermodern, extravagant, utopian and highly expensive vision of Jakarta.

The videos entitled Foke-Nara INSYA ALLAH Nomor 1 untuk 1 Putaran and Fauzi Bowo Nachrowi Bersatu Jakarta Indon.Subs also serve as typical examples of Fauzi Bowo’s campaign spots. All exactly one minute long, they were designed as costly TV spots, not as low-cost social media virus. And they bear the handwriting of one of Indonesia’s most successful advertisement gurus / new political marketing experts – Ipang Wahid. As mentioned earlier on, in the first of those two videos you mostly see scenes skillfully cut together from the largest campaign event of the first election round in order to create the impression of large crowds of supporters. However, both videos are generally rather similar in terms of music and imagery: they both contain passages where the Fauzi is speaking in a soft and friendly voice; they both contain references towards Allah in the song lyrics; they both contain images of a united Jakarta population living happily together and celebrating their candidates Fauzi and Nara. These videos were specifically designed to counter the negative image of Fauzi Bowo as an arrogant, distant and stiff person, short tempered, impatient, unfriendly and rarely smiling.

Ironically, their professional outlook might have partly worked against their very purpose, if you compare them with another campaign video by Jokowi-Basuki. In Bukan Putera Dewa (Not the Son of a God) both the lyrics and the imagery portray Jokowi with the humbleness and unpretentiousness, he is famous for. Most of the scenes are taken from “real” campaign events, meaning they were not shot specifically for this video. Generally, they appear to be more genuine and less constructed in direct comparison with Fauzi’s videos. The technically much less sophisticated filming and cutting techniques actually underscore the message meant to be send.

Looking back into Fauzi Bowo’s videos, they seem neither humble nor completely authentic, not least because of their polished, professional style.


By now you might have wondered what all of this costs. Just to provide you with a brief insight, in the last two pictures you can see the summary page of the two teams’ official campaign budget reports. These legally required budget reports only need to cover the two-weeks official campaign phase during the first election round. The law does not explicitly require a campaign budget report for the second election round.

Hence, these figures cover about two weeks of legal campaign expenses for each team. The figure for Jokowi-Basuki reaches 16,089,431,757 IDR (approx. 1.7 million US$ at the time of campaigning). The figure for Fauzi-Nara reaches 61,874,182,486 IDR (approx. 6.5 million US$ at the time of campaigning). They both do not include any expenses during the months leading up to this short official campaign phase directly ahead of the election on 11th July 2012 – let alone for the more than two months to follow before the second election on 20th September.

Moreover, these figures only cover expenses directly related to campaign activities (such as stage events, face-to-face campaigning, TV debates) or campaign material (advertisements in print media, TV and radio, posters, stickers, shirts etc.). They do not cover any service-related expenses, such as payments for any of the dozens of official campaign team members involved full-time for several months, or the expensive services provided by the numerous political consulting and survey companies in the field. Needless to say they do not cover any of the illegal or “grey area” campaign expenses, such as for vote-buying, “motivational encouragement” to make the members of the nominating parties go out and do their work as foot soldiers of the campaign, getting parties and other organisations or celebrities to support the candidate in the first place, financial or logistical support for any of the hundreds of volunteer networks mushrooming across the city, bribing influential newspaper editors to give a final touch to the articles, paying journalists to provide insider information, financing the black campaigning in the social media, and so on and so forth.


Now, what do these two election campaigns and their results tell us about the state and the future of Indonesian politics?

The fact that Fauzi-Nara still obtained 46.18% in the second election round – under different circumstances a quite respectable result – suggests that traditional strongman politics still work very well, particularly if there is simply no convincing and strong enough alternative candidate to challenge this kind of politics and campaigning.

However, Jokowi’s success with his campaign style (and his previous performance as Mayor of Solo) has already turned out to be much more than just a one hit wonder of one electoral competition. The “phenomenon Jokowi” – as it is called in Indonesia by now – has triggered the imitation of parts of his campaign style all across Indonesia. Candidates even go as far to try to portray themselves as the Jokowi of regency X or Y. The Indonesian term merakyat (to mingle with the common people) has almost become synonymous with him. For many months already, he is heading in nationwide surveys for next year’s upcoming presidential election. His own and even rival parties, who had been attacking him until recently, now slowly open up to the idea of nominating him as their presidential candidate. At the moment it merely seems a matter of strategic timing when his candidacy will be announced.

If he will really run, his chances of winning are very high, because with his approach Joko Widodo hits the nerve of a population that is tired of being treated as “floating mass” – the passive subjects of the state’s agency – something which has not fundamentally changed with Indonesian democratisation 15 years ago. If he succeeds to transform his campaign style into realpolitik, of course, is another matter and needs to be discussed elsewhere.


By Vera Altmeyer, Associated PhD Student, NIAS.

I would like to thank my colleagues at NIAS, who not only sparked the idea for this exhibition, but have also been enormously supportive throughout my research process and preparation of this exhibition. NIAS and NIAS Linc are also the sponsors of the physical exhibition accompanying this online version at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Gothergade 140, 1123 Copenhagen K, room 01-1-11. It will run from 30. May to 31. August 2013.

Vera Altmeyer is PhD candidate at the University of Hamburg, Germany and associated PhD candidate at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Denmark.

For her PhD project she focuses on election campaigns as the core arena of political power contestation in a democracy. The research aims to investigate how recent changes of institutiones and actors involved in campaigning influence the power relations between key actors in the national and local political sphere of Indonesia. More broadly it should also be considered how this affects the wider political economy behind election campaigns and ultimately impacts on the democratisation process of the country.

For this particular case study Vera has done field research from May to October 2012. All the photographs shown in this article are taken by the author. Copyright belongs to Vera Altmeyer and if you want to use any of the pictures please contact her at

Of Lions and Men: Pakistani Elections and Feline Symbolism

This spring six museums in Copenhagen exhibit collections of art and handicraft depicting flowers. As a visitor to the museum called Davids Samling – which houses the most exquisite collection of Islamic art in Denmark – one learns that in the Indian subcontinent prior to 1707 flowers were often depicted naturalistically. However, when in that year Aurangzeb ascended the Peacock Throne, a more stylistic representation of flowers came into vogue. Thus we are given to understand that when strict Islamic beliefs began to assert themselves, artists moved away from nature and closer to a standardized ideal. The museum also notes the exception that proves the rule: Poisonous plants continued to be depicted naturalistically even in times of Islamic reassertion.

But does this pendulum swings theory of art history set between the stern Islamic renderings of the living world and naturalistic renderings of the same world tell the whole story? Perhaps this generalization should be supplemented to include a third rendering of nature, which is neither stylized, nor naturalistic.  The recent elections in Pakistan would seem to indicate that even in the Land of the Pure, baroque and quasi-naturalistic forms of art asserted themselves in the space between science and religion.

This was evident in the campaign of Nawaz Sharif, the winner of the elections.  Both before and after the elections, Nawaz Sharif was virtually lionized as his party and followers played heavily on royal symbolism equating their chosen leader with the top predator of the natural world, i.e. the lion.  Equipped with the “fair, unused hand[s] of a wealthy Kashmiri-Punjabi” (Sethi 2013), the chubby rotund Nawaz Sharif hardly resembles a clawed feline predator. Nevertheless, in the streets of Pakistan and at party meetings his followers greeted him holding aloft lion toys or they painted themselves and their vehicles in feline stripes to give substance to their collective representation. Those fortunate enough to be invited to Nawaz Sharif’s garish palatial Punjabi home in Raiwind close to Lahore were treated to the sight of two stuffed lions guarding the staircase. The lions (imported from Zimbabwe) serve as the party symbol, and – said the granddaughter – as symbols of Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, whose term as Chief Minister of Punjab helped Nawaz secure an electoral victory (Sethi 2013).

Lions were not the only predators with which the Sharif brothers were equalized. Tigers and leopards, too, were indiscriminately held forth as the symbol of the brothers and their party. All of this would seem to be an instance of a popular political culture throwing Islamic cautions to the winds by neglecting the call for stylization, while also not heeding the scientific call for the accurate identification and portrayal of the species found in nature. Tigers, lions and leopards are all big cats and top predators. As such they seem to be equally good to think with and hence they are evoked interchangeably in popular political imagination. Tellingly, the word sher is used for two of these species, i.e. for the lion and for the tiger (Madsen 2007). Altogether, the feline symbolism that infused the election campaigns exemplifies the powerful ways in which nature is widely used as a metaphor for human society (Madsen 2004-5).

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) won a resounding victory securing 35% of the votes and winning 45% of the seats in the National Assembly. In Punjab the party gained 49% of the vote securing an impressive 78% of the seats. Had not Imran Khan (the cricketer whose luxuriant mane more obviously entitles him to be considered the true lion of men) been around to challenge Nawaz and Shahbaz, the Muslim League might have won 60% of the votes in Punjab ( 2013).

For sure, the lions had it in the worlds of the humans, but that did not mean that the real lions and tigers had a field day. During the election campaign, the Muslim League fielded a striking female white tiger. The animal was securely chained, placed on a vehicle and repeatedly paraded around as part of the election campaign. Nawaz Sharif’s own daughter was one of the persons engaging in this stunt. The party had apparently rented the white tiger from “a former PML(N) MNA, Mian Marghoob, who owns a large farm in Mehmood Booti in Lahore” (Khan 2013). This piece of symbolic politics stretched the natural world to the limit. Just before the election day, the tiger was reported to have died, but soon after this tragic-comic news was broadcast, it was contradicted by reports to the effect that the tiger was alive and well and had only suffered a minor ailment for which it had been successfully treated.  As of May 15, it was still not certain whether the animal had survived, but it seemed certain that a legal case had already been filed in the Lahore High Court by animal rights activist and actor Faryal Gauhar against the Muslim League. Wrote Rina Saeed Khan:

“The first hearing has taken place already and the next hearing will take place at the Green Bench in Lahore headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah tomorrow. The complainant would like to see a ban on displaying big cats in rallies and improvements in private facility inspections. The Election Commission of Pakistan will be called as well since they are the ones who agreed to awarding the “sher” as an election symbol in the first place” (Khan 2013).

Pakistani is still home to leopards and snow leopards in small numbers, but both tigers and lions are extinct. The only place on the Indian subcontinent where the Asiatic lion survives is the Gir forest in the state of Gujarat (Madsen 2007). The lion population in Gujarat is currently healthy, but in order to ensure its long-term survival it was proposed years ago to move some of the lions from Gir to Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh as a fallback option in case the Gujarat population would come under threat. This plan was resisted by people about to be affected by the proposed translocation. They did not fancy lions in their area. However, resistance proved fruitless and the Madhya Pradesh government has eventually managed to relocate 1,545 families from 24 villages in the Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary to make room for the lions. This human hurdle overcome, one might expect that the translocation of lions would be carried out.  But lo and behold! The Gujarat government did not want to let go of the lions which they consider theirs:

“The Gujarat government argued that the lions in Gir were doing well, they were protected, they had enough food and therefore there was no need for relocation. It went further by arguing that even though it was reasonable to conclude that restricting  an endangered species to one area could lead to its extinction and that the translocation site in MP was a sound choice, the lions of Gujarat were like family and hence decisions had to go beyond ‘scientific reasoning’ . Chief Minister Narendra Modi had personally put his heft behind this argument” (Economic and Political Weekly 2013)

The case came up in the Supreme Court of India which quashed the “anthropocentric” argument in favor of an “eco-centric” argument delinking the protection of lions from the particular site and people who had hitherto allowed them to survive. The court found that the lions were Asiatic lions, not Gujarati lions. The Gujaratis may well claim that they do have a special relation to the lions. After all, nowhere else has the Asiatic lion (which differs only a little from the African subspecies) been allowed to survive (Madsen 2007). But this argument did not persuade the court which ruled in favor of translocation based on scientific and universalistic reasoning, rather than in favor of status quo based on ethnic and historical reasoning.

Now that Nawaz Sharif has already been invited to India in the latest of umpteen attempts to mend the fences between the hostile South Asian neighbors, one might suggest that some lions be relocated to Pakistan, too.  Would it not behoove for India’s likely future Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an act of public diplomacy to let himself be cast in the role of the magnanimous dispenser of symbolic political capital, and would it not be wise for Nawaz Sharif to supplement his human stock of uncontrollable jihadist wards with a few free-roaming feline wards less likely to turn against him?

Stig Toft Madsen

Senior Research Fellow, NIAS


Dawn.Com, “The Election Score”, 16 May 2013,

Economic and Political Weekly, “The Lions in Gujarat. The Supreme Court judgment marks a welcome move away from anthropocentrism”, Editorial, 18 May 2013, p. 8

Khan, Rina Saeed, “The mysterious case of the white tigress”, 15 May 2013, Dawn News,

Madsen, Stig Toft, “Musharraf lets in the lions”, Asiaportal, 29 November 2007,

Madsen, Stig Toft, 2004-5, “Narratives of Nature as Metaphors of Society”, Folk 46/47: 121-141

Sethi, Mira, “Watch the throne: Nawaz Sharif on the cusp of power”, 1 April 2013, Caravan,

May 23, 2013

Who can meet the expectations of the majority?



Malaysia’s thirteenth general elections (GE13) will be a battle of the coalitions, pitting the world’s most successful ruling coalition – the 13 party Barisan Nasional (BN/National Front) against the 4 year old, three party Pakatan Rakyat (PR/People’s Pact/People’s Alliance).

It is not easy to categorise the two opposing coalitions and its members as they are disparate, complex, and, with multiple agendas, often fractured. This is primarily the outcome of Malaysia’s recent history. The disparate regions and people that make up Malaysia today are, after all, an artificial construct whose only common denominator was that they were all subject to British Imperial power. A peninsular with 9 Malay kingdoms at the end of Asia’s land mass whose citizens were populated in majority by a polyglot of people from the Malay Archipelago, the Chinese and South Asian subcontinents, with a sprinkling of Arabs, Turks, remnants of past colonialists, various unique groups that were created through inter-marriages, and not to mention the many indigenous peoples aggregated together with two geographical entities on the island of Borneo, that is separated by 800 kilometres of the South China Sea, and whose people have greater cultural affinities with the peoples of the Philippines and Indonesia, and who themselves are disparate in culture, ethnicity and language.

However, all these societies did have one feature in common – feudalism. This was buttressed by British efforts to violently suppress progressive elements in the Malayan polity, preferring instead to hand over power after independence to conservative elements, primarily as a means to protect British interests. The feudalistic nature of these societies gave rise to what has become a very successful model of politics practised by the ruling coalition since the first elections before independence in 1955: Consociational politics, where the elites bargained and struck a deal where each group – first three, then rising to 14, now 13 political parties – had some share of political and economic power under the hegemonic power of the Malay and increasingly Islamised United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). This system has served BN well, chalking up electoral victory after victory at the past 12 general elections.

More importantly, the BN and its predecessor, the Alliance, were able to monopolise power because they were able to forge a ‘syncretism’ in their style of government i.e. governing via a variety of ideological orientations and political practises. The BN was successful not only because of its competent stewardship of the Malaysian economy but mainly because they were able to straddle competing (social, economic and political) interests within their coalition as well as address competing interests outside it by either co-opting them into BN, stifling them through draconian measures or skilfully manipulating these competing interests. The opposition parties and coalitions of the past were not able to successfully mount a challenge to the Alliance and BN partly because the electoral process and system was stacked against them, but also because the opposition parties could never successfully find a way to manage the competing interests that they each represented.

In the past decade or so, especially since the sacking of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/98, the BN appears to have lost this unique ability to straddle the competing interests of its members and the communities they represent, while the opposition, led by, ironically, the sacked former Deputy Prime Minister, appears to be increasingly adroit at managing these tensions.

Therefore, one big question at GE13 is how the two coalitions are projecting themselves as true representatives of the people’s wishes, and how they go about addressing the key challenges that Malaysia as a country and Malaysians as a people face, in a way that satisfies the myriad competing interests.

The key reasons for widespread dissatisfaction with the present situation are manifold, but the key issues that both coalitions have to address are the rising living costs, demographic change, rapid urbanisation and increasingly uneasy race-relations.

The BN, in the past, has been very successful with their politics of development and key among these has been the reduction of absolute poverty to below three per cent and shaping Malaysia into a middle income economy by 1994 on the back of a low-cost, export-oriented economic model whilst at the same time creating a Malay middle class, primarily through the expansion of the public sector and government linked corporations (GLCs) jobs that is financed primarily through Malaysia’s revenue from non-renewable resources.

However, this particular model has two unintended effects: widespread relative poverty and high income inequality. The low-cost model has seen wages for 80 per cent of Malaysian households stagnate over the past three decades. These households earn less than RM3,000 (around AUS$ 1,000) a month in a country where the average monthly income is RM4,025 (around AUS$ 1,250). More critically, the bottom 40 per cent of households earn on average RM1,440 a month (around AUS$ 450). Most shockingly, the vast majority (71 per cent) of people in the bottom 40 per cent are bumiputeras – literally sons of the soil, a designation that includes Malays and a range of indigenous groups – despite 40 odd years of affirmative action for this group. Indeed, their well-being is and has been the raison de être of UMNO, the backbone of the ruling coalition.

People have been able to get by in spite of rising living costs, because they have been kept at bay by infusing government funds into basic social services, food staples and a fuel subsidy. The last especially has proven effective, but any attempts to rein in costs have been met by popular resistance as a motorised populace has become addicted to cheap petrol.

There is also a significant demographic change in Malaysia. 71 per cent of Malaysians are under the age of 40 with 34 per cent aged between 20 and 40. They face a major challenge. Malaysia is in a middle income trap and must either develop or procure high quality human capital as a pre-requisite to transition into a high income economy. However, Malaysia’s poor quality education has not prepared them for the necessary challenges of a knowledge intensive economy. International benchmarks and surveys shows that the quality of education in Malaysia, at all levels, is no match to the successful East Asian economies that Malaysia has chosen to emulate. 80 per cent of Malaysia’s labour force has no more than the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM – equivalent to year 10 or O’levels qualifications), and the 57 universities and the more than 500 colleges are producing large numbers of graduates that the Malaysian labour market deems unsuitable or poorly skilled. This in an economy experiencing full employment since the late 1980s, and severe skills shortage since the early 1990s. Ironically, unemployment among graduates was highest. In 2007, graduates accounted for more than one-quarter of those unemployed, while unemployment among new graduates was 24. 1 per cent in 2008. With limited employability, mediocre wages and loans to be repaid, young Malaysian graduates end up saddled with enormous debt. The bloated civil service and GLCs, which are also perceived to be inefficient and a fiscal drag on the economy, are unable to provide the expected middle class jobs for bumiputeras long accustomed to getting them as part of a perceived social contract with UMNO.

However, perhaps ironically, it has been rapid urbanisation, that has brought these once disparate communities closer together. While many urban areas are still stratified by race and class, the sheer density has increased the interaction. 71 per cent of Malaysia is now urban. Only Kelantan, Pahang, Perlis, Sabah and Sarawak have rates or urbanisation below 55 per cent.

Better infrastructure, especially information communication and telecommunications, in urban areas have also provided a platform for dissatisfied Malaysians to hear alternative views and to connect with each other. 65 per cent of Malaysians were using the internet in 2010. As the internet largely remains uncensored, the opposition coalition and civil society movements have used it effectively to mobilise support for their causes. These groups have used social media, technology and the internet to also penetrate into rural areas through free radio, websites, but also the audio-visual recording of government scandals in DVDs, and other forms. While the ruling party has also joined the information technology revolution, the opposition has been quicker and more able to marshal support online despite being out-resourced by the ruling coalition.

These developments, whose impacts were first experienced at the 2008 general election, have impacted the coalitions in different ways, and have prompted different reactions. It appears that the BN continues to rely on its tried and tested race-based, trickle-down economic growth, and welfarist approach to policies while PR sensing that the ground has shifted, appears to focus on class-based and rights-based policies.

The BN possibly believes that it is best to straddle the competing interests among ethnic, religious, cultural and regional groups by addressing their needs individually, while PR appears, in general to address issues more holistically.

In the BN, the president of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaysia now takes precedence over the other political leaders in the coalition. Different interest groups today, do not go through their “representative” political leaders or parties to seek government support, but approach the Prime Minister directly, who then, channels the support to these communities through the “representative” political parties. This, however, applies only to Peninsular Malaysia, and not in Sabah and Sarawak which have different dynamics.

PR’s approach is markedly different. Although Anwar Ibrahim is the leader of the opposition coalition and is most likely to be the Prime Minister should PR win, several factions in PAS have indicated some misgivings, preferring their own candidate. This suggests a more equal distribution of power in the opposition coalition members. But most significantly, Anwar Ibrahim is the first mainstream Malay politician to persuasively argue for the dismantling of the race-based affirmative action and has committed to it in the PR manifesto. This alone stands in contrast to BN’s continued reliance on continuing and expanding affirmative action for bumiputeras (although the Prime Minister has made contradictory statements on this).

PR also appears to be moving towards depoliticising contentious issue such as education and language issues. While BN has made side payments to vernacular schools on a piece-meal basis, PR have promised to embed these into government budgets should they come into power. While BN has demonstrated inconsistency in its language policy in primary and secondary schools, PR has been consistent in promoting the right of communities to use their preferred language in education in vernacular schools. This was in the context of using English in the teaching of Science and Maths, that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed introduced, and which has since been reversed succumbing to strong popular protest.

Both coalitions however have resorted to populists strategies. PR’s strategies such as free education, removal of excise duties on cars, etc. all show that they are targeting the young and lower and middle income earners, much like the BN is doing now by handing out cash bonuses to Petronas (the national oil company) workers and through its many 1Malaysia initiatives, one of which provided a cash payment to low income earners to purchase a smartphone.

Handouts and their associated media attention are economic and visual reminders of a party in trouble and a party seemingly still able to resource its mass redistribution of wealth according to the principle of affirmative action and poverty reduction rhetoric. The former has been shown to have benefitted those in power (the now infamous 1 per cent) much more than the majority it is meant to aid. The latter, too, has been critiqued, especially in Sabah and Sarawak where poverty rates remain high.

And yet, BN has maintained a strong showing in polls and a support base that does not wish to change the way Malaysian society, economy or politics is structured. The status quo is highly reassuring for many who have yet much to gain from it as well as those who deeply believe in it. And belief is crucial in a country where mosque sermons are written by politics, ‘race’ is used as an everyday descriptor of ethnic background and ‘class’ is not uttered since the crackdown on the communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Who will Malaysians believe come the next elections? Personal attacks against political leaders has been a mainstay in Malaysian politics and lurid stories abound, backed up by court cases, exposes as well as much rumour, gossip and coffee shop talk.

Malaysia today is not the feudalistic society it once was, but the political is still dominated by communal topics such as race and religion and the need to ‘secure’ both against some unknown and often unnamed threat. Many people are willing to move beyond the politics of fear into a brave new world, but will there be a job, a car, cheap petrol and cheap food for them?

Only after the election will we see.

Greg Lopez is a visiting fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University and the New Mandala’s Malaysia section editor, an academic blog hosted by the College of Asia and the Pacific, also at the Australian National University.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is a lecturer in Anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. He has recently published Modern Muslim Identities with NIAS Press.


This article was previously posted on the New Mandela website

Pakistan: a consolidated democracy?

Intervention at a conference arranged by South Asia Democratic Forum on the occasion of the UN Human Rights Council’s periodic review of  “Pakistan”, Palais des Nations, Geneva, October 30, 2012.


Stig Toft Madsen
Senior Research Fellow
NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies

This intervention will cover the period from the return of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 till now. I am speaking as a person who has worked as a sociologist and anthropologist mainly with India, but who has kept an interest in Pakistan as well. For lack of time I have not been able to study the UN reports (e.g. A/HRC/WG.6/14/PAK/1) presented elsewhere today.

Pakistani politics has always had periods of military rule and democratic rule alternating in rather long cycles. Therefore, the return to democracy in 2008 would not necessarily mean the institutionalization of democracy in Pakistan once and for all. But at that time there was a hope that this time around Pakistanis had finally realized the benefits that democracy could bring, that they had learnt to recognize the problems of military rule, that they had become better informed by the electronic media, that they had come to desire the rule of law as, indeed, it appeared at the time from the wide support given to the dismissed Chief Justice Iftikar Mhd. Chaudhary and the Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan and, if nothing else, that middle class Pakistanis had amassed sufficient property that they would support democracy to secure political stability.

In fact, the elections held in 2008 were technically fair confirming that the Election Commission is one functioning institution in Pakistan. After the elections, President Musharraf made a rather dignified exit. For a time, the two main political parties stood together in their common opposition to military rule. I remember TV-footage of political leaders joking among themselves and with assembled journalists, and exchanging Urdu couplets in those golden days. But as Shaheryar Azhar reminded his readers, “great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes”.

What does a democratic transition entail? When does a transition get consolidated? When is it completed? According to an article by Schedler

“The consolidation of democracy concludes when democratic actors manage to establish reasonable certainty about the continuity of the new democratic regime.… While the task of transition is to push open the window of uncertainty and create opportunities for democratic change, the challenge of consolidation is to close the window of uncertainty and preclude possibilities of authoritarian regression. Transitions create hopes of democratic change, processes of consolidation confidence into democratic stability” (Schedler 2001).

Transitions, he also argued, may be gradual and even, or they may contain a few defining moments or focal events, or they may be more erratic and fuzzy with many high and lows.

How does Pakistan look in this perspective? Elections put democracy back on the rails in February 2008. That marks a shift, but not a full shift. There was a controlled or guided democracy even under Musharraf with parties and elections, but without the two main civilian leaders in the country, i.e. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. It was the return of these two persons to take part in the elections that marked the beginning of the transition.

The reinstatement of Iftikar Mhd. Chaudhary as Chief Justice in March 2009 was a further focal point. Another was the transfer of power from the office of the President to the office of the Prime Minister by the 18th Amendment in 2010. As regards the troubled frontier regions, one may note that for the first time ever political parties have been allowed to operate there. Moreover, one should note that the present regime is now completing its 5-year period in office. That is no mean feat considering that no elected government in Pakistan has ever completed its full term![1] Do these events add up to a consolidation of democracy in Pakistan? I would say “no”, they do not create full confidence in democratic stability.

Why not?  For a start, there has been no systematic reform of the military which would include reducing the economic privileges that officers enjoy, reworking its “doctrines” to further de-escalation rather than escalation in Pakistan’s relation with its neighbours, and breaking the close links with the militant organizations that the military has cultivated.

The attack on Mumbai, it should be remembered, took place not under Musharraf, but in November 2008 after the return of democracy. Investigations have testified to the continued links between the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which was behind the attack, and the Pakistani military, but the LeT still operates more or less as it has done before.

It is true, on the other hand, that the Pakistani military did stage a major counter-offensive against the Islamic militants in Swat. The operation was relatively successful, but the attack on the pro-schooling activist Malala Yusufzai shows that the same militants are still around.  Indeed, militias of various hues have grown stronger in many parts of the country.

The transition, therefore, involves not only the political parties and the military, but also the militants, whose capacity to intimidate and harm, and to set the agenda, and to rule in many areas and across many institutions precludes the consolidation of democracy in Pakistan and even in parts of Afghanistan.

How much of a threat are the Islamic militants? In early 2009, a leading human rights activist, IA Rehman, known for his long work for human right in Pakistan, was willing to give up FATA and PATA (the federally and provincially administered tribal areas), if not the whole of the NWFP. He wrote:

“The sole option will be to buy a truce by separating the Shariah lobby from the terrorists and creating FATA and PATA as a Shariah zone, which may quickly encompass the Frontier province. The question then will be whether Pakistan can contain the pro-Shariah forces within the Frontier region… In such an eventuality, the hardest task for the government will be to protect the Punjab against inroads by militants”. (Rehman 2009).

Pakistan did not break up, but Rehman’s willingness to consider dividing the country stands as a sad testimony to the despair at that time. Remember also that the Government of Pakistan actually did sign an agreement with the militants to turn Swat into a Sharia zone (Shah 2009).

But it was to get worse. The breaking point to me and, I suspect, to many others, was the murder in January 2011 of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab. It marked a new low even by Pakistani standards because the murder was done by his own bodyguard, because the other bodyguards did nothing effectively to stop him, because the assassin was affiliated to the ostensibly moderate Barelwi-branch of Islam, because the bodyguard was lionized by members of the legal community otherwise supposed to be a relatively enlightened class, and because many clerics boycotted Taseer’s funeral. The bodyguard killed Taseer because of his support to Asia Noreen Bibi, the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy about whom we will probably hear more today. This was followed in March by the murder of another Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minority Affairs. These murders did not occur to further the return of military rule. They occurred for religious reasons. They were the harbingers of a possible transition to theocratic rule which already affects not only Christians: Ahmadiyas, Ismailis, Hindus, Shias, and Barelwis as well as Jews, Americans, Danes and many others, including schoolgirls, are among the legitimate targets.[2]

To deal with this threat to democratic consolidation and to human rights requires an efficient state, and here lies another fault-line. The conflict between the legislative and the judiciary has been carried over from Musharraf’s time, most obviously in the conflict between President Zardari and the Chief Justice who wants to re-open old corruption cases with roots in Switzerland against Zardari. These old cases have been zealously pursued by the judiciary in a manner that has made an ex-member of the Supreme Court of India chastise his Pakistani colleagues for not exercising judiciary restraint (Katju 2012).

In Pakistan itself, the unofficial Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted in its 2011 report that

“While this expanded role gained the SC immense popularity, it also raised many questions regarding the impact of frequent and extensive invocation of suo motu powers on the courts’ normal work, the difficulties in avoiding the side effects of selective justice, and the consequences of the executive-judiciary or parliament-judiciary confrontation.” (Taqi 2012)

What emerges is the image of a Chief Justice and a Supreme Court overreaching their allotted space within the division of powers, whether for reasons good or bad.

Let me add to this that the fourth pillar of power has also not been as efficient in furthering democratic consolidation as one could hope for. Reasoned political debate is not absent in the Pakistani press. Since I come from Norden, I will take the opportunity to draw your attention to a book written by a Pakistani living in Sweden, i.e. Ishtiaq Ahmed’s The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed about the period around 1947. This book has been meticulously and reasonably debated in both the Pakistani and Indian press. One may also come across provocative and humorous interventions in the Pakistani press, such as Ziauddin Sardar’s little article “Why Are Muslims So Boring?”, and the daring satire/desperate sarcasm in the online magazine Viewpoint. However,Pakistani political debate is often an exercise in mud-slinging and venom-spitting which belies any hope that the Pakistani obsession of securing a world without defamation of the Prophet will limit other forms defamation.[3]

Similar unprofessional conduct extends into “the fifth pillar” of the state, i.e. academia, where most recently the journal Nature has written about “predatory journals” where publications-hungry academics pay large sums to be published in sham journals emerging from especially Pakistan, India and Nigeria (Beall 2012). To round off this lament let me mention also the rot in Pakistani sports exemplified by the two Pakistanis who were jailed in the UK and banned from cricket for a period for fixing a cricket match at the Lords in London – only to reappear later as TV commentators in Pakistan ( 2012).

I do not think I need to belabour the point any more. What I have been saying is that while a democratic transition from a largely military regime to a largely civilian regime has occurred, there has been little in the way of democratic consolidation. Pervez Musharraf in 2004 said he wanted “enlightened moderation”, but unenlightened extremism is what the Pakistanis still get as the country moves from Crisis to Crisis, in the process earning a bad name for democracy.[4] I have been able to give you only a limited number of examples of this. However, they are no mere incidents. They form a coherent pattern.

(Slightly revised 6 November 2012)



Ahmed, Ishtiaq, 2012, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford University Press.

Azhar, Shaheryar “The Way Forward”, Daily Times, 27 February 2008,

Beall, Jeffrey, “Predatory publishers are corrupting open access” Nature 489: 179, 13 September 2012,, “Butt and Amir on TV as pundits during World T20”, 18 September 2012,

Feldman, Herbert, 1972, From Crisis to Crisis: Pakistan 1962-1969, London.

Katju, Markandey, “Pakistan’s Supreme Court has gone overboard”, The Hindu, opinion, 21 June 2012,

Noorani, AG, “A right to insult”, Frontline, 2 November 2012, pp. 80-86.

Rehman, IA, 2009, “Shariah Zone: One Solution for Pakistan?”, 12 February,

Schedler, A, “Taking Uncertainty Seriously: The Blurred Boundaries of Democratic Transition and Consolidation”, Democratization, 8:4, 1-22, 2001.

Shah, Waseem Ahmad, 2009, Pak govt signs Malakand sharia deal”,, 16 February,

Taseer, Shehrbano, “The Girl Who Changed Pakistan”, Newsweek, October 29, 2012, pp. 30-35.

Sardar, Ziauddin, “Why Are Muslims So Boring?”, Emel, November-December 2004,

Sulehria, Farooq, “Pakistan awaiting the clerical tsunami: Pervez Hoodbhoy”. Viewpoint, online issue 125, November 2, 2012,

Taqi, Mohammad, “Judging the Judges”, View from Pakistan”, Outlook India, 19 April 2012,

[1] Shaukat Aziz did complete his 5-years term as Prime Minister under Musharraf.

[2] On blasphemy, see the article in Newsweek by Shehrbano Taseer, a daughter of Salman Taseer (Taseer 2012), the interview with Pervez Hoodbhoy in Viewpoint on the rising tide of extremism (Sulehria 2012), and AG Noorani in Frontline (2012) for a problematic liberal defense of the Islam that hardly exists, but in whose name others are required to stay silent to avoid holy wrath.

[3] For those conversant with Urdu, and even for those without such knowledge, watch  “MQM & PML-N showing his Ethics & Character (Live on Talk shows)”, where two leaders trade insults, and “Malik Riaz Planted Leaked Interview with Mehar bukhari and Mubashir Lukman on dunya tv Part 1”, where TV anchors at Dunya News engage in a manipulative interview of a businessman who had accused the son of the Chief Justice of corruption.

[4]  From Crisis to Crisis was the title of Feldman’s 1972 book about Pakistan.

Slaget om Kinas framtida ledarskap av Johan Lagerkvist

Med början den 8 november ska det kinesiska kommunistpartiet hålla sin 18:e nationella partikongress. En hel värld som har blivit samberoende med Kinas ekonomi kommer att påverkas av det förestående maktskiftet. Omgivningen svävar dock i ovisshet om den nya politbyråns sammansättning och framtida politik, i en atmosfär där datum för kongressen offentliggjordes först den 28 september. Kina må vara öppnare än någonsin sedan revolutionen 1949, men inte ens i en tid när sociala medier, trots omfattande censur, läcker mer och allt snabbare framkommer särskilt trovärdig information om den nya ledaruppställningen.

Det är paradoxalt. Om tio år kan Kina vara världens största ekonomi, och mer transparens kommer att vara en nödvändighet. I en globaliserad, ömsesidigt beroende och allt mer direktkommunicerande värld, med Folkrepubliken som en av de viktigaste noderna, framstår kommunistpartiets mörkande som mycket märkligt. Varför så mycket förtegenhet om den 18:e partikongressen och vad säger hemlighetsmakeriet om Kinas nya ledarskap?

Redan kommunistpartiets allra första nationella möte 1921 organiserades i skymundan på en båt i en sjö i Zhejiangprovinsen. Den första generationens kommunister, som Mao Zedong småningom blev ledare för, greps ofta av myndigheterna eller utsattes till och med för attentat i städer som Shanghai, Wuhan och Kanton.

Att verka i det fördolda är därför en gammal tradition, närd av tanken och erfarenheten att landsförrädare och utländska makter griper varje tillfälle att förgöra partiet. Och faktum är att under åren 1934–35 lyckades Maos bondearmé endast med nöd och näppe undkomma nationalistpartiets elittrupper, som var dem i hasorna under den kanoniserade långa marschen genom inlandsprovinserna.

För ett parti som var förföljt från 1921 fram till segern i inbördeskriget 1949 var alltså diskretion en ren överlevnadsstrategi. Men förmågan att dölja information blev under 50- och 60-talen också allt nödvändigare för att manövrera mellan vänner och fiender också inom de mot omvärlden slutna partileden. Kinesisk elitpolitik har visserligen alltid handlat om en balansgång mellan olika partifalanger, men dagens avsaknad av en karismatisk senior ledare bidrar till mindre jämvikt.

Att obalans råder i partitoppen är just nu tydligt. Det nya ledarskap som ska stega in framför kamerablixtarna på partikongressen borde vara fastställt vid det här laget. Slutgiltigt beslut brukar fattas när den avgående politbyrån och ännu äldre partiveteraner samlas på badorten Beidahe under sommaren. Men uppenbarligen fanns i år ingen enighet om hur de sju eller kanske nio platserna i politbyråns ständiga utskott – Kinas de facto högst beslutsfattande organ – skulle fördelas på olika partifalanger. Maktkampen är med största sannolikhet inte avslutad.

I samband med det förra maktöverlämnandet, 2002, från Jiang Zemin till Hu Jintao kunde forskningen skönja en viss institutionalisering av denna process, ibland kallad midnattstimman eftersom leninistiska politiska system historiskt haft ytterligt svårt att skapa legitimitet för en arvtagare. Kanske är det ännu för tidigt att tala om institutionalisering? Eller är kanske leninistiska politiska system inte alls kapabla till att effektivt institutionalisera ledarsuccession?

Eftersom 80-talets partipatriark, Deng Xiaoping, före sin död 1997 bestämde att Hu Jintao var näste man vid statsrodret efter Jiang Zemin, och inga skuggkandidater fanns, överfördes legitimitet till Hu. Efter Hu Jintao skulle normer om mandatperioder, åldersgräns och röstning inom centralkommittén kompensera för förlusten av högste patriarkens välsignelse. Men denna önskan om jämvikt materialiserades aldrig helt och krypskyttet mot Hus position har tilltagit med åren.

En av dem som har forskat mest om de stridande partifalangerna är Bo Zhiyue, verksam i Singapore, som i boken ”China’s elite politics: Political transition and power balancing” (2007) ingående belyser maktbalansen inom kommunistpartiet. En viktig poäng är hur lite den starka men väldigt nischade falang som brukar beskrivas som ”furstesönerna”, det vill säga barnen till partiets adel av revolutionära hjältar, egentligen har gemensamt. Kartläggningen av kinesisk elitpolitik med dess myriader av personrelationer är nog mest fascinerande för ett fåtal besatta av ”pekingologi”. Dock intresserar denna systematiserande forskning sig sällan för vad falangerna faktiskt representerar ideologiskt.

Men i Bo Zhiyues bok framkommer ändå att partiets i dag tre viktigaste falanger kan läggas på en vänster-höger skala: ortodox gammelvänster som delvis övergår i en nyvänster, mittenfalangen som önskar ekonomisk tillväxt men begränsad politisk liberalisering, och en allmänt reforminriktad grupp med nuvarande premiärministern Wen Jiabao som språkrör. Falangerna består av olika personliga nätverk som till exempel den förra presidenten Jiang Zemins ”Shanghai-gäng”, Hu Jintaos falang med rötter i det kommunistiska ungdomsförbundet eller den tillträdande nye ledaren Xi Jinpings mer amorfa maktbas av ”furstesöner”.

I den politiska tideräkning som börjar med Mao Zedong lämnar alltså nu den fjärde generationens ledare, med president Hu Jintao som ”det kollektiva ledarskapets” kärna, över makten som partiets generalsekreterare till den femte generationens centralfigur, den 59-årige Xi Jinping. Även runt honom, vars far Xi Zhongxun innehade höga poster under ordförande Mao, har informationen varit tunn på senaste tiden. När han oväntat ställde in ett möte med USA:s utrikesminister Clinton och därefter försvann helt ur kinesisk medierapportering under två septemberveckor kom ryktena snabbt i rullning. Hade Xi hjärtproblem? Var han offer för intern maktkamp? Eller befann sig Hu Jintaos efterträdare på hemlig ort för att förbereda politiska reformer? Efter hans återkomst och möten med bland annat USA:s försvarsminister Leon Panetta har ryggont efter simträning varit den officiella och mest trovärdiga förklaringen till Xis frånvaro.

Men en hård maktkamp inom kommunistpartiet har verkligen pågått under hela 2012. Parallellt med hemlighållandet av all information rörande den 18:e partikongressen har statspropagandan serverat noggrant förpackade nyheter om den under våren utrensade vänsterpopulisten Bo Xilai. Den tidigare handelsministern Bo började 2007 bygga upp en populistisk flank genom att främja ”röd kultur” i Chongqing som är en av Kinas största städer.

Tillsammans med sin hårdföre polischef Wang Lijun krossande han mäktiga maffiagrupper utan att själv bry sig om lagen, beordrade stopp för tv-reklam, och ansåg att statstjänstemän skulle leva med fattiga och tillsammans med dem sjunga maoistiska revolutionssånger. Den populism som kom att kallas för ”Chongqing- modellen” liknande allt mer Bos personliga kampanj för att inväljas i politbyråns ständiga utskott. Självaste Xi Jinping besökte Chongqing och betygade krafttagen sin vördnad. Men reformfalangen och premiärministern Wen Jiabao oroades av Bo Xilais stigande popularitet som börjad anta drag av personkult.

Men så uppstod ett gyllene tillfälle att komma åt honom! Hans polischef Wang Lijun flydde plötsligt till det amerikanska konsulatet i Chengdu den 6 februari i år. Han sökte asyl och lämnade information om att Bos hustru Gu Kailai hade giftmördat den brittiske affärsmannen Neil Heywood. Premiärminister Wen varnade då inför statsmedierna om de risker för kaos som flirten med maoismen innebar. Kort därefter fråntogs Bo Xilai sina poster inom partiet, hans hustru Gu har sedan dömts för mord och polischefen Wang dömdes den 24 september till 15 års fängelse för sin inblandning. Och efter att kommunistpartiet rensat ut Bo ur såväl partiet som den nationella folkkongressen är det troligt att en rättegång mot Bo själv kommer att hållas under hösten.

Faktum är att processerna kan uppfattas som knytnävsslag riktade mot hela Kinas nyvänster och dess krav på ett jämlikare Kina. Slagen kan anses besvarade under de mycket uppmärksammade antijapanska protesterna över hela Kina under september. På ytan handlar det om den territoriella konflikten om ögruppen Senkaku i Östkinesiska havet. Men förekomsten av bilder i demonstrationstågen på den första generationens ledare landsfadern Mao Zedong var något nytt. Mao är en central del i kinesisk nationalism eftersom han symboliserar Kinas motstånd mot Japan under det andra världskriget.

Men Maoporträtten är också ett starkt uttryck för längtan tillbaka till ett ekonomiskt jämlikare Kina. Två tydliga signaler går från gatunivån till politbyråns höjder. För det första: Mao stod upp för fosterlandet och det förväntar vi oss av er också! För det andra: många av oss känner otrygghet inför den ekonomiska inbromsningen och ilska över att välfärd bara är för de rika!

De hårt regisserade rättegångarna mot klanen Bo utmynnade trots allt i relativt milda domar, vilket antyder någon form av kompromiss mellan olika intressen. Så även om Bo Xilai kanske är ute ur bilden, är nyvänsterns krav på ökad ekonomisk jämlikhet tillsammans med folklig nationalism definitivt starka krafter att räkna med under kommande år.

Under Hu Jintaos nu tioåriga maktinnehav har kinesers dröm om stormaktsstatus befästs, genom allt från eget rymdprogram till en moderniserad armé. Landet som nu är världens andra största ekonomi har fått en större betydelse för avgörande frågor om global handel, klimatförändring, och utvecklings- och säkerhetsfrågor.

Men i kölvattnet av global finanskris hopar sig allt fler problem för kinesisk ekonomi och sysselsättning. Såväl den skoningslösa maktkampen inom partiet som de framtida socioekonomiska utmaningarna faller i den inkommande generalsekreteraren Xi Jinpings knä. Han kommer som centralfigur att försöka inta en mittenposition liksom generalsekreterarna före honom sökte – för att kunna stabilisera både kommunistpartiet och ett mer spänningsfyllt samhälle.

Vid det vägskäl som Kina och det nya ledarskapet står inför måste ändå en ny vision formuleras. Xi Jinpings företrädare Hu Jintao myntade idén om det ”harmoniska samhället” och hans premiärminister Wen Jiabao har talat många gånger om nödvändigheten av att bryta de statliga företagens strypgrepp på ekonomin samt förordat politiska reformer. Men på grund av motstånd från andra partifalanger har deras mål inte uppnåtts. Det är därför högst osäkert om Xi kommer klara av att balansera en starkare nyvänster, en nationalistisk militärmakt, statskapitalistiska särintressen och den marginaliserade reformistfalangen. Som Bo Zhiyue hävdar i sin bok om den kinesiska elitpolitiken är Xi Jinping inte heller kärnan i den lösa konstellation som furstesönerna utgör. Han har alltså behov av allianser med många olika nätverk och även om han skulle sitta på en hemlig reformagenda åstadkommer han inte några reformer i en handvändning.

Det finns alltså historiska förklaringar till det kinesiska kommunistpartiets hemlighetsmakeri runt den 18:e partikongressen. I stället för en vidare utveckling mot en interndemokrati inom kommunistpartiet tog en mer kampanjande kinesisk elitpolitik sin början med Bo Xilai i Chongqing 2007. Vissa bedömare tror att Kina efter en lång period av tråkiga teknokrater på kommandobryggan behöver mer karismatiska politiker som kan samla folk kring en gemensam agenda igen. Problemet är bara att den tydligaste sammanhållande visionen stavas kinesisk nationalism. Om den nye ledaren Xi Jinping lyckas hantera alla starka repellerande krafter i samhället och inom det politiska systemet kanske han lyckas sitta tiden ut för sina två partikongresser – fram till år 2022.

Johan Lagerkvist är docent i kinesiska och forskare vid Utrikespolitiska institutet i Stockholm.


Detta är en uppdaterad version av en artikel publicerad i Svenska Dagbladet 29 September 2012

What is happening in Korea? by Gabriel Jonsson

During the past week, South Korea held parliamentary elections whereas North Korea made a failed missile test and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the nation’s founder, eternal President Kim Il Sung (1912-1994).

In the April 11 elections, the ruling Saenuri party won 152 of 300 seats in the 300-member National Assembly. The main opposition party, the Democratic United Party, received 127 seats. Although it is difficult to predict the impact on the presidential elections to be held in December, the chances of Park Kun-hye, the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee (1963-1979), to become the ruling party’s candidate could have improved. Politics will increasingly focus on the elections, which means that it is unlikely that anything dramatic will happen in domestic politics or in inter-Korean relations throughout the year.

Since North Korea announced on March 16 that it will make a missile test between April 12-16 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15, there has been much concern regarding the announcement world-wide. The test was made on April 13 but it was a big failure: the rocket crushed into the sea just one minute after it was launched. Considering that the launch not only concurred with the commemoration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday but also was intended to strengthen the new leader Kim Jong-Un’s position, the crash was very embarrasing for the leadership. The North Korean authorities have admitted the failure and initiated investigations to find out the causes. It cannot be excluded that the failure will have an impact on power politics within the ruling Korean Worker’s Party (KWP).

At the military parade held in the capital Pyongyang on April 15, the leadership showed up in front of tens of thousands of citizens in order to show unity. The appointment of Kim Jong-Un as first secretary of KWP and chairman of the Central Military Commission on April 11 followed by the appointment as first chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission on April 13 clearly shows that the North Korean leadership wants to maintain status quo. This wish also became clear when Kim Jong-Un declared that the ”military-first” policy pursued by his father Kim Jong Il (1942-2011) will be enhanced.

Since the 1950s, North Korea has always emphasized the juche idea of self-reliance in politics, economics and defense, but the missile test is an indication that this policy has contributed to make the country backwards in terms of military technology. The admission of the failure shows that there is awareness of the backwardness within the party, but whether the failure will cause fissures or not is an open question. Considering that there since the struggle for power within the party ended in the late 1950s have been no known signs of fissures within the party, it is hard to expect that such a situation will develop now.

On the other hand, one difference now is that the legitimacy of power for a third generation Kim is weaker than for his predecessors. In fact, Kim Jong-Un’s only source of legitimacy is being son of Kim Jong Il, but how long will that impact last? What will happen if he cannot bring the country out of its economic difficulties that to a large extent are caused by the huge military expenditures? We do not know yet by sure how firm grip he has on power, but even if Korean politics is characterized by one-man rule the leader must have trusted advisers around him. Could the failed test cause distrust among his closest people?

North Korea is in contrast to what was the case in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe  extremely isolated from the outside world which makes it virtually impossible to change the system from outside. Domestic pressure for a change is at the present out of the question but should fissures arise within the leadership, along with disunity within the powerful military, an unpredictable situation could develop in the country.

Gabriel Jonsson

Associate Professor Korean Studies, Stockholm University