Thailand has an impressive track-record in the department of political coups. There has, in the country’s democratic history (since 1932) been 18 more or less successful coups in Thailand.
For this reason, whenever there is political instability, Thai media and followers of Thai politics very quickly start using the word “coup”. Will there be a coup? Will the military stage a coup?
With the current situation in Thailand, we certainly have all the components:
An angry mob in the streets – since November 2013, anti-government protesters have camped out in the streets of Bangkok, demanding that the government step down and the entire system be reformed. That could cause a coup.
A political divide –the current government and the opposition does not agree even on the basic democratic framework. The current government aims for elections – the opposition will actively obstruct any attempt to hold an election, unless there is a reform first. That too could cause a coup.
And lastly there is an all-round disrespect for the citizens and their right to co-decide what happens to their own country. What happens on the political scene today in Thailand is entirely a power struggle in between opposing elites. Top dog power struggles are the main ingredient in coups.
But despite all the political factors lining up we won’t have a classic coup in Thailand. Not this time.
What we MAY witness in Thailand right now is a whole new category: The Creeping Coup.
The Creeping Coup is a waiting game. Man, it’s slow!
It started all the way back in November 2013, when anti-government protesters started gathering in the streets of Bangkok, demanding the government step down. The protesters turned out to be surprisingly loud and stubborn – they put up roadblocks, built stages, erected tents everywhere, effectively shutting down most of central Bangkok.
With a capital that was largely ungovernable, and – it seemed – a never-ending stream of critical protesters pouring in from the south of Thailand, the Yingluck-government caved in and stepped down.
But it was already slowly becoming increasingly clear that that wasn’t the only thing the protesters – now formed into a form of political movement named People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) – wanted. They wanted their reform. So they stayed in the streets. And the government, excuse me, now the caretaker government, also stayed. For the next four months.
As the months went by, the numbers of the protesters dwindled. Now left with just a couple of small road-blocks, and an occupied park, the Creeping Coup went into the next phase:
In an impressive display of If-You-Can’t-Beat-Them-Join-Them, the opposition movement now started to use the very same system, they want reformed, to obtain their reform:
They started hurling lawsuits at the government. Lots of them.
The most substantial of those was the accusation of corruption within the government rice-scheme, a failed attempt to rake in additional foreign money by tampering with the global rice market. The National Anti-Corruption Committee just recently decided to impeach Yingluck Shinawatra over the issue, and the Senate will conduct thorough investigations on this matter.
Another recent one is the transfer of the chief of the National Security Council in 2011, Thawil Pliensri. A unanimous Constitutional Court voted caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of looking out for her own interests, when she gave the nod to the transfer, and that’s unconstitutional. She and nine ministers were ousted from government completely over the Thawil-case.
But the thing is, though, that Thailand’s different authorities are not all that impartial. The Constitutional Court, the Senate, the National Anti-Corruption Committee – these institutions are as much political players as the parties themselves are, but with the exception that they have juridical authority.
As of this writing, Thailand does not have an official government. Ten ministers, including the former Prime, have been ousted from their seats, there is no certainty how the next government will be put in place, Bangkok still has frequent mass-demonstrations AND the anti-government protesters still camp out in the streets of Bangkok, demanding their reform.
So there it is. Bit by bit, lawsuit by lawsuit, demonstration by demonstration, verdict by verdict, until there is no other way: The Creeping Coup.
Anya Palm, free-lance journalist based in Bangkok and NIAS Associate.
About a week ago, Thailand’s capital Bangkok, saw the largest demonstrations since the political turmoil that gripped the country in 2010. Back then, supporters of Thailand’s exiled former Premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, took the streets. That didn’t end well – when the smoke cleared after the demonstrations, 92 people had lost their lives and over 1000 people were badly wounded. So in these past few weeks, fear of repetition of the black days in spring 2010 has had the city on needles.
Tuesday last week, police where hurling gas canisters at protesters to stop them from entering the Government House by force. But then everything very suddenly stopped: Thursday was the King’s Birthday, and the fighting parties decided to hold a truce out of respect for the King. 24 hours later, police were receiving flowers and hugs from the very same protesters they just fought and peace befell the city for a little while.
After a short intermission celebrating the King’s Birthday together, Bangkok is now gearing up for a second round of demonstrations.
Demonstration leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, has repeatedly set several deadlines for toppling the government over the course of two weeks now, and calls for Monday to be “do or die” – the Big Battle day. Monday is the day where the protesters once and for all seize control of the Government House and bring down the redshirt-movement, current Prime Minister Yingluck, big brother Thaksin, the government and everyone else affiliated with the powerful siblings.
And once again, the tension rises and the police take their place on street corners and in formations protecting government offices. With five dead and 200 hurt last week, there is very valid concern of how things may play out now.
But actually that’s not what we need to be concerned about. There is little to do about that, other than keep calm and hope that everyone else does the same.
What we need to be concerned about is this:
There is in Thailand an elite of people with strong conservative, feudalistic values. They are high up, and they are powerful. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is one of them. The arch-enemies of the red-shirts – the yellow shirts – are also part of this elite. Several influential families. Parts of the Thai military, generals, decision makers, business leaders. All of them ready to fight for a complete break-down of the current system to rid it of the Shinawatra influence. Those are the people that are represented by 100.000 protesters marching around in Bangkok, taking over government offices these days.
Thaksin Shinawatra, on his side, is the leader of a movement, which has enormous power in Thailand due to a die-hard loyalty from red voters, particularly rural farmers from the North. At the same time, however, he is supported by enough money to keep voters happy and his affiliations are a spider’s web of powerful people reaching very far into the core of the system. Thaksin – or one of his affiliates – have won every single election they’ve ever participated in. If there was to be another election after these protests…they would win it once again. In short: Thaksin has effectively hijacked democracy in Thailand – he and his redshirts not afraid to put any disagreements to the vote, because they will always win.
This is what the protesters are trying to put a stop to, which is arguably a valid point. There is one problem, though: The alternative they present is even worse:
Their point is this: Because of the poor track record of voting in people who are corrupt (and always affiliated with Thaksin), the anti-government protesters argue that voting has to be suspended altogether. The electing must instead be taken care of by other means until the masses are educated enough to they know what they are doing. A minority with “higher moral standards” – presumably appointed by the King – must take care of governing the country instead.
Yup. That’s what the protesters in the street are out there fighting for. And with that fairly extreme stance, the options of what will happen next limit themselves to these three:
- If the government survives the current squatters’ siege, an administration with an eerily tight grip on majority – and a habit of taking corruption to a whole new level – will stay in seat.
- If there is an election, they will get re-elected.
- If the anti-protesters manage to take over, the country will then be led by an elite whose disregard for common people is so monumental they genuinely believe people are too stupid to vote.
Regardless of where the democratic dices land in Thailand this time, one thing is certain: All of these options lead to deeper divide in the nation. The split in between the redshirts and the opposition is only worsening over these re-occurring seemingly endless protests, and when the demands are so far from democracy that they are borderline unconstitutional, there is very little to work with. There has been no dialogue, no resolution, no common ground within the current political turmoil, so there is not really anything to drive the process of reconciliation forward. Well – maybe there is ONE thing: The fact that the entire country just days ago together in peace listened to the King’s annual speech in which he spoke beautifully of Thailand as a united nation of peace and prosperity.
So, Happy Birthday, King. Let’s hope Suthep and other destructive hotheads listened too.
By Anya Palm
Freelance journalist focusing on Southeast Asia and NIAS Associate.
At the time of writing, there is every sign that Japanese politics is at an historical crossroads. In December 2012 the Japanese electorate voted the conservative Liberal Democratic Party back to power after a three-year break from 2009. Before then, the LDP had governed the country almost uninterruptedly since the onset of the Cold War. With the help of a highly capable bureaucracy, the party presided over the country’s rapid economic recovery and consequent wealth creation in the 1960s and 1970s. Its long reign, however, has also created a rigid and inward-looking political culture, and a self-serving political class that is unwilling to carry out difficult but necessary reforms if they are deemed to threaten its vested interests. A policy that favours big business, ad-hoc pump-priming measures using public works projects, and various measures that hinder women’s fuller participation in work outside the home, are just three examples of this culture.
In Japan there was a real sense of euphoria when the party was ousted by the opposition Democratic Party three and a half years ago. However, a series of blunders, but also tough policies (such as an increase in the consumption tax, which some specialists asserted was necessary in order to balance the national budget) made the Democratic Party extremely unpopular, and the party was resoundingly defeated by the LDP in the general election of 2012. Backed by its simple majority in the House of Representatives, the LDP is now pursuing an aggressive monetary and fiscal policy, which some pundits regard as ‘a gamble’, and also, more alarmingly, flexing its muscles to revise the pacifist Constitution under the leadership of the hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Nationalistic rhetoric and provoking behaviour by some members of the party, such as their regular ceremonial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo which commemorates the Japanese war dead, are aggravating its already strained bilateral relationships with China and Korea.
This is happening against the backdrop of a myriad of domestic problems that the country now faces. These include the mounting national debt, the rapidly aging population, and the decline of local industry. All have been aggravated by the recent natural and man-made disasters, the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011, and come with international challenges, such as the rise of China and Korea as strong economic rivals amid unsettled regional security.
Some observers point to a general sense of malaise in today’s Japan, ‘a loss of hope’ as the Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe described it nearly two decades ago, a society which is still wealthy but unsure about its place and destiny. A most worrying sign is that many young people have become even more inward-looking and apolitical than previous generations.
Some fear that the LDP’s aggressive spending policy and its populist and nationalistic rhetoric may be a sign of the party’s reluctance to tackle more fundamental questions. They fear that under the veneer of the determined posture of the party lies the working of an opportunistic and populist group, who are trying to preserve the old-style of politics, an economics-centred, big-business-friendly modern-day policy of ‘Fukoku Kyohei’ (Rich Nation and Strong Army), and to preserve the monopoly of power of a self-elected few. More generous observers might say that they cannot identify persuasive alternatives, so stick to familiar policies on a larger scale. Either way, the LDP’s nationalistic posture may be dangerous, as it may work to agitate and manipulate an already vulnerable population. And if it lasts too long, this belligerent policy is also detrimental to Japan’s further transformation into a fully participatory democracy and to a more open and cosmopolitan society.
At the moment, Japan resembles a boat drifting in a rough sea without a competent helmsman, an image that may conjure up the Japan of the late 1920s and 1930s for more pessimistic observers.
And yet the resources of Japanese civic life seem to remain intact. There are many signs of a more assertive citizens’ politics, as demonstrated by the large numbers who travelled to the quake-hit areas to help recovery operations, and by citizens’ anti-nuclear movements in the wake of the Fukushima Disaster. Shortly after the disaster struck, a group of citizens began to stage regular anti-nuclear demonstrations on Fridays in front of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence; these continue to this day. More importantly the Japanese judiciary, the heart of the Japanese politico-legal system, which has long been criticised for its inaction, has also begun to produce some noticeable rulings which are more in tune with the spirit of the Bill of Rights. As ever, however, progress here is slow.
At present Japanese democracy is facing one of its hardest tests, which has to be borne by the generations who have no first-hand experience of the major events that have shaped modern Japan, namely the Second World War and its aftermath, to say nothing of the remote, epoch-making, yet still crucial transformations and aspirations of the Meiji period (1868-1912).
At a time of such uncertainty, history is often a useful guide to gauge the present. It is high time to examine Japan’s democratic legacies (it is one of the oldest democracies in Asia) and to measure the strength of its foundations so as to judge where it is heading. What therefore were the major mistakes that the country made in the pre-war years that led it to war? What were the alternative paths that Japan could have taken so as to avoid it? How, in the past, did individuals learn to confront the state, and what principles sustained them in criticising their own government and society?
My forthcoming monograph, Power and Dissent in Imperial Japan , juggles with these questions with a deep concern for the present and future of the country. The Japanese tradition of dissent may also be relevant to other Asian countries which are also pursuing their own democratic futures. The claims of the rule of law, parliamentary politics, and individual rights, are intensely relevant to divided Korea, Burma, and elsewhere, too. The Japanese experience the book tries to recover is full of cautionary tales, but it can also provide inspiration and hope for a better and fairer future, both within and outside Japan.
BIO DETAILS: Dr Hiromi Sasamoto-Collins is a former lecturer in modern Japanese history at Durham University, and is currently a tutor in Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her monograph, “Power and Dissent in Imperial Japan: Three Forms of Political Engagement“, will be published by NIAS Press in August.
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.
This article was previously posted on the New Mandela website
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! 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.
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.
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 (Dawn.com 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. 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, www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008%5C02%5C27%5Cstory_27-2-2008_pg3_6
Beall, Jeffrey, “Predatory publishers are corrupting open access” Nature 489: 179, 13 September 2012, http://www.nature.com/news/predatory-publishers-are-corrupting-open-access-1.11385
Dawn.com, “Butt and Amir on TV as pundits during World T20”, 18 September 2012, http://dawn.com/2012/09/18/salman-butt-mohammad-amir-tv-experts/
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, www.thehindu.com/opinion/article3553558.ece?homepage=true
Noorani, AG, “A right to insult”, Frontline, 2 November 2012, pp. 80-86.
Rehman, IA, 2009, “Shariah Zone: One Solution for Pakistan?” Dawn.com, 12 February, http://archives.dawn.com/archives/142170
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”, Dawn.com, 16 February, http://archives.dawn.com/archives/124111
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, www.emel.com/article?id=9&a_id=1830
Sulehria, Farooq, “Pakistan awaiting the clerical tsunami: Pervez Hoodbhoy”. Viewpoint, online issue 125, November 2, 2012, www.viewpointonline.net/pakistan-awaiting-the-clerical-tsunami-pervez-hoodbhoy.html
Taqi, Mohammad, “Judging the Judges”, View from Pakistan”, Outlook India, 19 April 2012, www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280620
 Shaukat Aziz did complete his 5-years term as Prime Minister under Musharraf.
 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.
 For those conversant with Urdu, and even for those without such knowledge, watch “MQM & PML-N showing his Ethics & Character (Live on Talk shows)”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?=BKLpZ60u_Bo where two leaders trade insults, and “Malik Riaz Planted Leaked Interview with Mehar bukhari and Mubashir Lukman on dunya tv Part 1”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoNuNPMR5kI 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.
 From Crisis to Crisis was the title of Feldman’s 1972 book about Pakistan.
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