Myanmar–Taking New Paths

November 14, 2015

Myanmar–Taking New Paths

by Bridget Welsh

Aung San Su Kyi wins

The NLD’s decisive victory in Myanmar’s election is being labeled a victory for democracy. On many levels this is correct.

Myanmar citizens emphatically embraced the freedom to vote in a free election after decades of exclusion. The sense of joy and empowerment the experience and collective message of change provided cannot be adequately captured in words. Across Myanmar, there is still a sense of post-election euphoria.

It is also widely understood that the struggle for democracy and the country’s political transition is far from over. In fact, the post-election environment arguably will be more difficult than the tasks of managing and winning an election.

Most attention has focused on the military and whether it will accept the results. There is worry over a repeat of history in 1990, when similar NLD landslide-like results were dismissed. On many levels conditions are radically different from they were 25 years ago.

The military has vested economic interests in a more globally integrated Myanmar and opportunities for institutional capacity-building that can enhance the professionalism of the organisation. Many in the Tatmadaw (although not all) understand that repeating history will cause more damage to the military’s position and standing than it did in the past, and erode the legitimization process that the military itself initiated. It is important to acknowledge that these elections were part of the military’s ‘road map to democracy’ started in 2003. The reality is that the military has little to gain from turning back.

On other levels, conditions hauntingly echo the past.Suspicions persist. The presence of hardliners within the system ready to derail further opening and inclusion add to these doubts. Distrust especially permeates the relationship between the military and the National League for Democracy, including with its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Actions around the election, including the pre-campaign purge of Thura Shwe Mann and responses to criticisms during the campaign itself, as well as talk of pedestal-like political positioning to date have featured poles rather than bridges.

What will foster a positive outcome for acceptance of the results is an appreciation of the lessons from history. Humility will have to overshadow hubris. Compromise will have to be an essential element in any viable solution, as this has been the pattern in other top-down transitions from Brazil to South Africa. The military’s congratulations of the NLD this week send positive signals.

The role of the military connects closely to the second major challenge, addressing ethnic conflict and religious strife. It is not a coincidence that violent clashes occurred immediately after Sunday’s polls. The 2015 election involved a larger disenfranchised area than in 2010. Conflict has long been intertwined with the Tatmadaw’s political role.  The military justifies its prominence due to conflict. At the same time, it is party and catalyst to long-standing divisions.

At times, the military is also the only institution that can control tensions, as illustrated in military management post-2012 in Rakhine. The path the Tatmadaw takes in the months ahead, regarding different ethnic armed groups and its approach to accepting a larger NLD role will shape the trajectory for potential bloodshed. The arduous negotiations over ceasefires and the mixed gains associated with the peace process shows it will be more difficult to move the military away from the path of conflict.

The Tatmadaw is not the only stakeholder in the conflicts. Armed groups have vested interest in controlling territory and autonomy, tied to lucrative resources and legitimation of their political roles. What has not yet been fully appreciated is how much the ethnic political landscape has shifted in Sunday’s election.

While the results are not finalised, ethnic parties have performed below expectations, with the exception of the Arakan National Party in Rakhine and the Shan National League for Democracy.

Myanmar primarily voted for the national future rather than their specific nation. While it is not as clear-cut at this, as they often voted for representatives from their ethnic communities under the NLD banner, there will be challenges in assuring ethnic representation within the Bamar-majority party, especially given the reality that the NLD lacks experience in managing interests either in a party organisation or importantly in government. Everyone is asking the executive question of who will be president, but from the perspective of ethnic communities and representatives the key answers involve how states and regions will be governed, and how ethnic interests will be served.

The role that political parties will play and the challenges they face ahead should not be underestimated. The lens of the media has centered on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose persona and leadership was the main factor in contributing to the NLD victory, along with long-standing resentment toward military rule.

The NLD candidate profile was uneven, dominated with those who are fighters and loyalists rather than technocrats or problem-solvers. The distrustful opposition mindset of the NLD runs deep, with obstacles ahead in transforming their role into one of government. The party is hierarchical and tied to a charismatic leader and is relying on this dynamic to push ahead, with the model of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress illustrative.

The key will be the NLD’s viability as an institution, and cohesiveness – managing large numbers of members now in office and some disgruntled members denied this opportunity will be a major challenge.

Staving off deepening patronage politics – corruption and cronyism – will be particularly demanding, as to reducing internal factionalism and personal divisions. This will be complicated by the fact that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s direct involvement in party affairs will be minimised by other leadership priorities, and as yet an ambiguous and untested second-level NLD leadership. Questions surround the ability of the NLD to work together, cooperate with others, and to govern.

As the NLD’s role is changing, so will that of the Union Solidarity and Development Party.Results so far show that the USDP’s worst-case scenario has materialised, with the former ruling party securing a low number of seats. The final count is not yet in, but it should be acknowledged that the first-past-the-post system accentuates the results toward the victor, the NLD. The detailed numbers also show that the USDP has supporters, and they cannot be dismissed in any inclusive national reconciliation process.

The USDP was in the unenviable position of being caught between the military that represented the past and an alternative party that captured the hopes of the future. They could not get out of the shadow darkening their present, and their conflicting strategies of mobilising religious intolerance and trying to capitalise on goodwill from reform did not gain traction.

The former backfired and the latter fell flat, with Myanmar just not satisfied with the changes that have occurred, especially in the economy and in improving livelihoods. Attempts to rely on advance votes for seats also were inadequate to offset close races due to high swell of NLD support, whose campaign was more successful in winning over undecided voters. The USDP now has to make way, with concessions in defeat sending good signals and precedents in this regard.

On many levels the USDP has shown strong national leadership, with still President U Thein Sein’s and Speaker of the House Thura Shwe Mann’s legacy roles being defined now more than ever. Stepping aside is not easy and faces resistance. It is more complicated that is sounds, as the USDP has to take on new roles and continue to lead. The USDP’s role as a bridge remains vital.

The Myanmar people, who spoke out emphatically for change, have perhaps the greatest challenge of all.They are waiting for their leaders and the institutions they control to do the right thing, to listen to the call-for-change message they have clearly sent, and to deliver on the hopes and dreams they want fulfilled. History has shown that the Myanmar people are patient, but today’s context is one where rumor and social media play a role and expectations have risen.

Myanmar’s leaders will choose how they balance meaningful public engagement, transparency and statesmanlike statements with constructive backroom negotiations. Time will tell whether the public arena will become a place for posturing or trust-building.

Myanmar’s post-election environment of uncertainty will be shaped by the lessons learned from its past, but it will also take on new forms and trajectories as history is being reshaped with potential new paths to be taken ahead.

Bridget Welsh is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, and University Fellow of Charles Darwin University.

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi wants to rule from above, but how?

November 12, 2015

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi wants to rule from above, but how?

by Chit Win, Guest Contributor

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are photographed with Aung San Suu Kyi and her staff at her residence in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 19, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.Ê

How to rule is Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s Dilemma. Elections are over and her NLD wins, but the game is far from over. Mynamar enters a new period of uncertainty. Will democracy work for the country since the military junta will not hand over power? So do not get too excited.–Din Merican

Myanmar’s people have decided they want change.The reds, the National League for Democracy (NLD) have repudiated the greens, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a historic election that was largely peaceful.

The USDP leadership, custodians of Myanmar’s political transformation since the introduction of a quasi-civilian government and new constitution in 2008, have publicly conceded defeat. The government and the military have also declared their acceptance of the election results.

At a glance, it looks like a smooth transition for Myanmar and high hopes for democratic change under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The problem is, it is not that simple.The main complication is that, despite leading her party to what looks like a resounding victory, Aung San Suu Kyi is not going to be the next president of Myanmar. She is constitutionally barred from the office because of her two sons, who are not Myanmar citizens.

Last week she publicly declared that the next president of Myanmar would be an NLD member and she would direct him or her, should her party win the election and be able to form government. Since then there has been some speculation about who she might pick as her ‘notional president’ and exactly what this arrangement may entail.

So who will be the new president of Myanmar? And in what way can Aung San Suu Kyi influence a role that is constitutionally prohibited from being influenced?  Most importantly, will the country’s military obey this new president?

These are puzzles for the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi to solve as Myanmar enters its post-election phase.But with the above questions in mind, we can already sketch out some likely scenarios and key challenges.

For Aung San Suu Kyi to get her way, the optimal choice would be a NLD member in his late 50s or 60s with a legislative background.

Myanmar’s constitution says the president has to be over 45 and acquainted with politics, the administration, economics and the military. Though it is not necessarily expected, based on the fact that only 13 per cent of election candidates were women, the new president will also most likely be male.

And while Aung San Suu Kyi may be thinking of a younger president in order to exert maximum influence, she may opt for someone older, in order to appeal to the Myanmar people and their innate respect for their elders.

Clearly then, a man in his late 50s or 60s would be a strong possibility.Aung San Suu Kyi’s vision of a presidential proxy can also be fulfilled if she appoints an NLD member who comes from a bureaucratic background or is a member of the current legislature (which maintains power until March 2016).

Such a person would be ideal, because the military would have worked with him for the past three years and he would know how the system operates. Her vast international experience may also persuade her to choose someone who is internationally competent.  This reduces the possible candidate to a just handful of people.

There are two key challenges to all of this; one internal and the other external.

The external challenge is the need to secure the support of the military, in particular the 11-member National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) that overseas day-to-day political and security affairs. Six panel members are linked to the military, given it a lot of muscle. These include the vice-president (elected by the military), the military’s Commander-in-Chief, the deputy Commander-in-Chief and three Union Ministers appointed by the Commander-in-Chief and who are active military personnel.

Stiff resistance from the military through the NDSC is expected should the NLD appoint the wrong person. However, this challenge can be overcome by co-opting the military and by forming an inclusive government – something Aung San Suu Kyi has already hinted at.

The greater challenge comes from within her own party, and in particular the question of how Aung San Suu Kyi is going to influence the new president over their whole five-year term. Will she micro-manage the president or allow a certain degree of independence?

There are two recent examples of a similar situation: India and Indonesia. Some experts are predicting that Aung San Suu Kyi will take the role of Sonia Gandhi in India, who as a party chairperson effectively ran the government while also maintaining good relations with the prime minister.

On the other hand Aung San Suu Kyi would not want to sour her relationship with her president, as is the case between President Joko Widodo and his party chief Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia. Can she do it? It could come down to the individual she chooses. When people obtain power, they change, and so does their loyalties.

Institutionally, the situation is more complex than it looks. Her presence in the legislature will enhance the legislative role in Myanmar’s democratic consolidation. But, her mentor role over the president will undermine constitutional checks and balances, particularly if Aung San Suu Kyi assumes the role of the speaker of the legislature, as some have predicted she will.

The Constitutional Tribunal may also interfere with her role, and the military may not like it full stop. If she takes an executive post, then she will have to relinquish the party leadership. And with Aung San Suu Kyi as a de facto leader of the country, the new president will be in an awkward position, especially in the international arena.

It’s complicated, to say the least.  With a major victory in her sights, it’s imperative that Aung San Suu Kyi finds an institutionally acceptable way to overcome these potential pitfalls.

Legislative oversight provides a possible solution to her predicament.With an overwhelming majority in the legislature, it is likely that the NLD’s proposed laws will go through parliament unopposed. Therefore, one possible solution is to make the executive more accountable to the legislature and let the president freely take charge of government.

There are a number of legislative tools for executive oversight and they can effectively control the government. Myanmar’s current legislature is very much familiar with this arrangement; the new legislature will just need to fine tune it.

Rather than overseeing the president and their day-to-day business, Aung San Suu Kyi should control the executive through the legislature, setting an example of how the executive can be tamed by the people’s representatives.

As someone who has finally tamed Myanmar’s military masters, it should be a cinch.

Chit Win is a PhD student at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs, and currently a visiting scholar at Indiana University.

This article forms part of New Mandala’s ‘Myanmar and the vote‘ series.

2016 Presidential Race–Who will emerge the Winner come next November

November 8, 2016

Early days.  Vice President Joe Bidden has yet to decide whether he will join the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee race. At present Hilary Clinton is the favorite since that her rival Mr. Bernie Sanders is a lightweight given her credentials,  formidable campaign team and financial resources.

The question is will Bidden’s entry into the race make any difference to Mrs. Clinton’s chance of becoming the Presidential nominee for her party. Should we not be worrying who will be the Republican Party’s flagbearer coming next November. Vice President Bidden is a more credible challenger than Mr. Sanders. Mrs. Clinton could have a good fight in hand if  Mr. Bidden chooses to throw his hat in the race. Then it will be interesting to know who President Obama will endorse, his Vice President or his former Secretary of State?

American Presidential elections are always a spectacle to watch. I was privileged to be a witness to the 1968 Election when Richard Milhous Nixon of the Republican candidate took on his Democratic Party counterpart, Hubert Horatio Humphrey and won that intensely contested and close race to The White House.–Din Merican

Sunday Review | Letters

2016 Presidential Race–Who will emerge the Winner come next November

We asked readers to offer their predictions (not necessarily preferences) for the 2016 nominees of both parties and received almost 700 responses. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Marco Rubio were most often mentioned — until a social media campaign by supporters of Bernie Sanders led to a flood of endorsements of his candidacy. Trailing Mr. Rubio were Donald Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush. A few readers suggested that the G.O.P. convention would be deadlocked and that Mitt Romney or Michael R. Bloomberg would be drafted.

John Kasich and Carly Fiorina led the V.P. predictions for the Republicans. Among others mentioned were Representative Paul Ryan, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. One reader, Heather Spitzberg, predicted that Donald Trump would be his own running mate: “He wouldn’t have it any other way. He’ll just use all his money to clone himself.”

For the Democrats, Julián Castro and Martin O’Malley were most frequently named for the V.P. spot. Others mentioned included Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mr. Sanders, Joe Biden for a repeat performance, and Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, current and former senators from Virginia.

Here is a sampling of the responses, which is intended simply to stimulate thought and conversation and not as a scientific poll.

My prediction for the Democrats is Hillary Rodham Clinton (president) and Julián Castro (vice president). Mr. Castro would add youth to the ticket and draw the Latino voters to the Democrats, not that they need much of an incentive. Also, Mr. Castro would add sex appeal to the ticket.

Rubio and KasichFor the Republicans, assuming that the grown-ups get a hold of the helm, I would predict Marco Rubio (for president) and John Kasich (vice president). Mr. Rubio would appeal to conservatives and Latinos and get some of the youth vote. Mr. Kasich would provide gravitas and common sense. Mr. Kasich would also, I think, appeal to the more moderate Republicans and independents.


Palm Springs, Calif.

A Donald Trump-Marco Rubio ticket is exactly what the RepublicanTrump-Rubio Party needs. Mr. Trump is a prepackaged star who excites the masses more than recent G.O.P. candidates. Mr. Trump’s rejection of political correctness is winning the respect of Americans. Mr. Rubio would aid Mr. Trump’s image among minority voters and provide him with a young, charismatic V.P. skilled in politics as usual.

A Bernie Sanders-Cory Booker ticket would appeal to many Democrats. Democrats often rally around the candidates who embody integrity and a commitment to the average American. Mr. Sanders’s refusal of big money and his progressive voting record, coupled with Mr. Booker’s history of selfless public service, provide the ethos necessary to inspire a large voter turnout.


Chris Christie will be at the top of the Republican ticket once people realize that while Donald Trump’s way of telling it like it is may be much more entertaining, Mr. Christie has a similar demeanor and confidence without the nonsense. Oh, and some capacity to govern. John Kasich will become his vice president, sealing their moderation, because of his ability to show empathy and kindness — two qualities that Mr. Christie lacks.

On the Democratic side Hillary Rodham Clinton will inevitably (sigh) take the crown with her vast amount of campaign funds, endorsements and media support. Even though the Democratic passion is behind Bernie Sanders, older generations refuse to support him because they view him as unelectable. Martin O’Malley will be Mrs. Clinton’s young and fresh face to play the role of her sidekick.

COLIN REIS, Portland, Ore.

The Republican electorate will conclude that it needs someone who can be attractive to conservatives while speaking to the political center. They will therefore nominate Marco Rubio. He won’t pick John Kasich despite Ohio’s electoral votes and instead seek to stoke conservative enthusiasm as well as going all-in for the Latino vote by selecting Ted Cruz as his running mate.

Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democrats’ nominee. She will be sorely tempted to go for the Latino vote by selecting Julián Castro as her running mate, but in the end will decide she is more in need of white working men and choose Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia, a moderate from a state with a Democratic governor who can appoint another Democrat to the Senate.


This is the season when outsiders are in, insiders are out and the electorate is restless. I predict that voters will decide that they don’t like their current candidates (or most of them, anyway) and draft the ones they want. On the Democratic side, a Biden for President movement will be relaunched. Joe Biden will change his mind and run, and he’ll select Ron Wyden, a liberal senator from Oregon, as his running mate. Besides, Biden-Wyden sounds so lyrical on a bumper sticker.

The Republicans will draft Paul Ryan to run as their nominee. Now that he has a track record of accepting a position he didn’t ask for, he readily agrees. Not to be outdone by the Biden-Wyden team, he selects Rand Paul as his running mate. His lawn signs read “Paul-Paul.”

EILEEN WEST, Pleasantville, N.Y.

I believe that Senator Marco Rubio will be selected in the primaries to run for president on the G.O.P. ticket, with Ben Carson as his vice president. Mr. Rubio represents the Republican Party’s best chances of capturing the presidency in 2016. He is young, smart and savvy — in short, the Republican Party’s fast-rising star. Mr. Carson will be his running mate as the G.O.P. will want to emphasize diversity and to show that it isn’t just the party of “old white men.”

Hilary -BernieFor the Democrats, it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton, with Bernie Sanders as her running mate. Mrs. Clinton is the strongest candidate on the Democratic side, and it wouldn’t hurt her chances if she ran with the very popular — yet not presidential — Mr. Sanders by her side.


The Democratic ticket will be Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Why: Voters will find Mrs. Clinton’s vast knowledge, focus and experience inspiring. And she has the donors. Mr. Brown is articulate, ultrasmart and charismatic. His straightforwardness will enthuse the Bernie Sanders voters — and he is from Ohio, a swing state.

The Republican ticket will be Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina. Why: Rubio-FiorinaHe is charismatic, youthful and quick on his feet, and speaks confidently, even when saying things that are false. But people like certainty. He’s also from Florida, a swing state. And Republicans will hope his background will attract some Latino voters. Mrs. Fiorina is factually challenged in the same way as Mr. Rubio, but, like Mr. Rubio, she speaks commandingly. Republicans will assume that she will take some of the female vote from Mrs. Clinton.

JEFFREY AINIS. Alhambra, Calif.

On the Republican ticket, I predict Marco Rubio, president; John Kasich, vice president. This is the ticket the Republicans need to have a chance of winning: popular politicians from the two key electoral swing states of Florida and Ohio and a Hispanic heading the ticket.

For the Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton, president; Elizabeth Warren, vice president. If you’re going to break the glass ceiling, why not smash it? Ms. Warren will bring the progressive, Bernie Sanders voice and energy to the campaign that Mrs. Clinton needs to mobilize the Obama coalition of young voters and minorities.

PAUL WORTMAN, East Setauket, N.Y.

Marco Rubio is the clear nominee on the Republican side: He’s telegenic, charming and moderately smart. He’s also somewhat sensible on immigration and has a great personal narrative. He would clearly give the Republicans the best chance of taking the White House. In terms of the veep, Mike Pence is a strong governor of an industrial state, Indiana. He could balance the ticket in a lot of ways.

There is no realistic chance of Bernie Sanders’s unseating Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic nominee. I think Gov. John Hickenlooper would be solid choice for vice president, as he’s a relatively popular governor from a must-win state (Colorado) and could balance out the things that make Democrats nervous about Mrs. Clinton.


Democrats: It will be Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I predict she will choose Julián Castro, the current secretary of Housing and Urban Development and past three-term mayor of San Antonio, as her running mate. He will balance her ticket with his youth, consolidate her support among Hispanics, and broaden her geographic reach to the West. They will be formidable.

Republicans: (Sigh …) Mostly likely it will be Marco Rubio. As things get serious, Donald Trump and Ben Carson will not stand up to real scrutiny, and as the primaries roll out they will fade. Mr. Rubio will succeed because he’s glib, and he will convince the party that his youth and ability to reach Hispanics make him the best shot at winning back the White House. He will pick Carly Fiorina as his running mate in a cynical effort to chip away at Mrs. Clinton’s support among women.

DAPHNE CASE, Norwalk, Conn.

In the face of public opinion that all the existing options are crazy, Republicans decide to draft Michael R. Bloomberg at the convention. He mulls Senators Rob Portman (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine) and Deb Fischer (Nebraska) and Gov. Mary Fallin (Oklahoma) as running mates, but selects Robert Gates, the former director of the C.I.A. and defense secretary. The pitch is “replace the crazies with mature adults.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s money and contacts overwhelm Bernie Sanders. She mulls Senator Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Govs. Tom Wolf (Pa.), Terry McAuliffe (Va.) and John Hickenlooper (Colo.) before settling on Julián Castro, HUD secretary.

PETE LEWIS, Hollis, N.H.

At this time in 2007 Barack Obama was polling with a larger gap between him and Hillary Rodham Clinton than between her and Bernie Sanders today. As Mr. Obama did, Mr. Sanders is tapping into the frustration of the American people and building a movement based on “real change.” Mr. Sanders will win the nomination and will likely choose a progressively minded V.P. with a track record to back it up. Senator Cory Booker is a safe bet.

On the right, there is a similar frustration with “establishment politics.” The success of Donald Trump and Ben Carson are proof of this. A likely Republican ticket will have Mr. Trump at the head with Mr. Carson as V.P. Mr. Trump likes to win more than anything, and he knows Mr. Carson’s appeal will help him do that.


Marco Rubio’s rise in the polls will continue, and ultimately he’ll be the nominee. He’s young and attractive, and has foreign policy experience — a potent combination. With Gov. John Kasich adding some gravitas to the bottom of the ticket, the Republicans will appear more moderate than they have in the past, and, most important, will appeal to voters in Florida and Ohio.

For the Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton will continue her inevitable march to the nomination. Though Bernie Sanders may pull her to the left over the course of the primary campaigns, he won’t have enough political clout to win it all. Mrs. Clinton will then choose a running mate who can fill in the gaps in her base. A logical choice? Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

DANIEL KOAS, Waltham, Mass.

The Republican nominee for president will be Marco Rubio. The party will not nominate a candidate who has never held office, and assuming that Jeb Bush continues to falter, Mr. Rubio is the most likely mainstream conservative who is acceptable to the right-wing. He will pick a woman as his running mate: Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who shone in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting and the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol. As an Indian-American, she helps make the Republican ticket the most diverse ever.

Obviously, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the presidential nominee of the Democrats, and her vice-presidential candidate will be the youngish HUD secretary, Julián Castro, to help her get the Hispanic vote against the Cuban-American Rubio and win Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.


The writer was a Democratic candidate for Congress in Wyoming in 2014.

Marco Rubio has hardly put a foot wrong this campaign, consistently coming across as charismatic, presidential and mature and brushing off attacks against him with relative ease, as in the most recent debate. John Kasich has done similarly, acting the wise older statesman in the debates so far. He’ll do nicely to balance the younger, more conservative Mr. Rubio on the ticket.

While Hillary Rodham Clinton is the odds-on favorite right now, Bernie Sanders is within striking distance in Iowa and significantly ahead in New Hampshire, and can build momentum if he wins one or both of the early states. He has enormous grass-roots support and a reputation for honest consistency that can only help him going forward. Julián Castro will help with Mr. Sanders’s continued appeals to minority voters and serve as a counterweight to Mr. Sanders’s progressive views.

IAN BAIZE, Clinton, N.Y.

I predict that Carly Fiorina will emerge as the most levelheaded outsider, capturing the Republican nomination. Donald Trump will be offered the vice-presidential nomination, but will refuse and run as an independent candidate. Marco Rubio will be the vice-presidential pick.

Bernie-WarrenFor the Democrats, Bernie Sanders will reach a critical mass of support, where his consistent record and career of integrity will propel him over the establishment choice of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Elizabeth Warren will be his vice-presidential pick.

MATTHEW O’REILLY. Chicopee, Mass.

After Bernie Sanders finishes poorly in most of the early primary contests, Hillary Rodham Clinton will cruise to the Democratic nomination. But she will continue to attack the rich (and the Citizens United decision) to attract Mr. Sanders’s supporters. She will choose Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, as her V.P. because of his youth, exuberance and governing experience.

On the Republican side, Marco Rubio will emerge as the clear front-runner after he defeats Jeb Bush in the Florida primary. To counter his youth and add gravitas to his hawkish worldview, he will pick David Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director and four-star general, as his running mate. Republican voters will readily overlook Mr. Petraeus’s misdemeanor conviction for divulging classified information to his biographer/paramour, and will deify him as the last person to successfully assert American military power.


This is an unusual election with very strong anti-establishment subcurrents, making predictions problematic. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has demonstrated amazing resilience that has baffled the pundits, and that looks likely to carry him through. Expect a Marco Rubio V.P. slot to try to reach out to Latino voters.

On the Democratic side, expect an upset, as the highly enthusiastic progressive base inspired by honesty and integrity will carry Bernie Sanders to a narrow victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Sanders is registering legions of new voters who are often underrepresented in polls, but will push Mr. Sanders over the edge in many close states. Expect Mr. Sanders to build bridges with Clinton supporters and Latinos by asking Julián Castro to be his V.P.

SHAWN OLSON, Alexandria, Minn.

Hillary Rodham Clinton will choose as her running mate Julián Castro, currently Housing and Urban Development secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, rounding out her ticket with youth, vitality and Hispanic-voter appeal.

And when the Republican establishment candidates fade and the outsiders implode, Mitt Romney will enter the race, becoming the default G.O.P. nominee. Mr. Romney will tag Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina as his running mate, bringing women to the table and solidifying the South.

The game is on: two seasoned mainstream presidential candidates with up-and-coming running mates.


A version of this letter appears in print on November 8, 2015, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Predicting the Nominees. 

Singapore Elections 2015: The Rising Star?

September 15, 2015

COMMENT: It is rather unusual to me that Reuters should highlight Mr. Shanmugaratnam’s influence on the recent resounding victory in the recently concluded General Elections.

As someone who followed this election coverage on Channel News Asia, I get the distinct impression that voters in Singapore gave Mr. Lee Hsien Loong and his team a strong mandate because the PAP had a very outstanding track record of governance over the last 50 years, and because they believe that PAP will be able to guide their country through a period of uncertain and difficult times ahead. One man could not have made such a decisive difference. Even the affable and erudite Mr. Shanmugaratnam will acknowledge it.


Farewell, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (May Almighty God Bless his soul) left a very good system of recruiting talent for  the PAP (I read he used the Shell system which identifies people with character and a helicopter view on things). He ensured there was an abundance of brilliant talent (philosopher-king types) to take over from him. Mr. Shanmugaratnam happens to be among them.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is  the leader of the current crop of able and competent ministers.  By sheer talent, hard work and dogged determination, he is the first among equals (primus inter pares) and has the confidence to hold his own against the best in his Cabinet. That is what it takes to be a successful leader in a merit-based society like Singapore.

These men and women in PAP leader did not burst onto the political scene in Singapore by chance. They were carefully selected, nurtured, mentored, tested in practical politics and governance and evaluated over a period of time before they are placed in positions of high responsibility in government. That is what happens in a culture founded on meritocracy where integrity, honesty and competence matter.–Din Merican

 PAP’s rising star–Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Singapore’s ruling party is celebrating a resounding re-election victory, thanks partly to its economic Tsar, an ethnic Tamil politician whose voter appeal poses an awkward question for its leaders: can a non-Chinese ever become Prime Minister?

As the People’s Action Party (PAP) settles down to another five years in power, the guessing game of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has begun – and the name of keeps coming up.

DPM TharmanThe odds of Shanmugaratnam, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, making it to the top job should be long. All three of Singapore’s Prime Ministers to date have been of Chinese origin and, in a country where three-quarters of the residents are ethnic Chinese, it would be hard to break that tradition. Just one in 10 Singaporeans can, like Shanmugaratnam, trace their roots back to South Asia.

PAP officials declined to comment on the question of who will come after Lee, 63, who has hinted that he may step down by 2020, because it is a sensitive subject in a party that is in any case instinctively secretive.

Lee has said that the chances of a non-Chinese becoming Prime minister are better for the new generation of leaders but a lack of Mandarin, widely spoken here, could be a problem.

For some Singaporeans, though, the idea is as outlandish as a non-Malay Prime Minister in Malaysia or an Indonesian from outside the political heartland of Java becoming President.

In a book published two years before his death this year, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee’s father and the deeply respected first Prime Minister of this tropical city-state, listed four ethnic Chinese men as the new generation of up-and-coming leaders.

Still, Shanmugaratnam’s hustings performance in the run-up to last week’s election was so impressive that even an opposition candidate, Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party, openly longed for him to lead a grand coalition of parties.

“People would like to see Tharman around to set the tone for a new PAP leadership,” said Catherine Lim, a long-time political commentator and critic of Lee Kuan Yew.

“It’s time now for a completely different one, and the only person whom I can think of to set that tone convincingly and who can appeal to Singaporeans across ethnic groups would be Mr Tharman,” she said.

Shanmugaratnam, 58, said in July he was not keen on the Prime inister’s job, though he expected Singapore to have a leader from one of its minority ethnic groups at some point. He was not available to comment for this article.

A transitional Prime Minister?

The PAP won almost 70 percent of the popular vote in the election, a stunning recovery from its record low of 60.1 percent in 2011. In his own district, Shanmugaratnam led a handful of lawmakers to a win with about 80 percent of the vote.

Analysts say that rebound was helped by a wave of patriotism after the death of Lee Kuan Yew and independent Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations, but also by a slight shift from unbridled capitalism to Western welfarism that was led by Shanmugaratnam.

In his campaign speeches, Shanmugaratnam pressed the right buttons for an electorate that has in recent years begun to question the hard-nosed growth-at-all-costs policies of the PAP that left many marginalized and struggling to make ends meet.

In a calm baritone and with his trademark avuncular style, he crunched numbers to show how social welfare is working.He also explained changes the PAP has embraced after 50 years of unbroken rule, but conceded still more were needed.

“It used to be a top-down government, often quite heavy-handed,” he told one rally. “It’s no longer that way … Strong leadership is listening, engaging, moving with people.”

Shanmugaratnam spoke some Mandarin on the campaign, and when he quoted from an ancient Chinese poem at one rally the crowd exploded with cheers.

He was educated at the London School of Economics, Cambridge and Harvard, and spent most of his career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the island state’s central bank and financial regulator.

He got into a legal tangle in the 1990s when he was fined for failing to protect the secrecy of official information after economic data was published in a newspaper ahead of its release. Shanmugaratnam had pleaded not guilty.

He is also well known on international circuits: a darling of international investors, he was appointed chairman of the International Monetary Fund’s policy steering committee in 2011.

Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University and a political commentator, said one obstacle for Shanmugaratnam is that he is seen as part of the Prime Minister’s generation, when perhaps ideally a new generation would be coming forward.

“However, if it is assessed that a transitional prime minister is needed while the fourth generation is ready to take over, then … Tharman is well-positioned to step up,” Tan said.

– Reuters

Singapore and the Future of Democracy

September 13, 2015

Singapore and the Future of Democracy

Is the landslide election victory of the long-ruling People’s Action Party’s a reverse for democracy?

The voters have spoken. In Singapore’s GE2015, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) won an overall vote share of 69.86 per cent of the votes, up almost 10 percentage points from their overall vote share in 2011.

In addition, the PAP also wrestled back the Punggol East Single-Member Constituency (SMC) from the main opposition Worker’s Party (WP). There will be only six elected opposition members of parliament, down from seven, out of a total of 89 MPs.

By all accounts, this was a totally unexpected landslide victory for the PAP.[1] Many close observers of Singapore politics had expected the PAP’s vote share to increase marginally by at most 5 percentage points, on account of the new and weak opposition political parties, and the “feel-good” feelings from the nation’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The passing of Lee Kuan Yew earlier in the year may also have brought the ruling party some votes from voters who were sympathetic to the argument for the need of a strong mandate for the PAP. But certainly no one expected a bumper increase of nearly 10 percentage points, much less contemplated the loss of one seat for the WP.[2]

The WP was actually expected to make further seat gains through Fengshan SMC and East Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC). In the end, the PAP won both constituencies comfortably, with its vote share at 57.52 per cent and 60.73 per cent in those constituencies respectively.

These results came against the odds of anecdotal readings of online media, as well as popular imaginations on the ground. The WP’s rallies were very well attended, with the final rally filling the entire Bedok Stadium.

Much was also made of the surprising rehabilitation of Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). His rally speeches posted online drew positive remarks, and there were long queues for his signature in his books after SDP’s rallies.

A four-part series of blog posts by writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh calling for greater opposition representation in parliament went viral on cooling off day.[3] Even an unofficial list of “bookies’ odds” that circulated widely on the popular messaging app Whatsapp predicted large WP gains.

So how did these surprising results came about? That is the key puzzle that will capture the attention of analysts over the next few days, weeks and months.

There is already speculation that the voters’ “flight to safety” herd behaviour was observed because of the broader context of regional and global economic uncertainties, among other reasons.[4] As always, in the absence of critical polling data, there will be plenty of theories but little evidence to adjudicate them.

In any case, these results call into question some of the claims that commentators and scholars have made recently about trends in Singapore politics. At the moment, there is no systematic evidence that the youth vote significantly affects political change in the country in any way.[5]

There is also scant evidence that Singaporeans support a gradual movement towards a more democratic society.[6] Moreover, Michael Barr’s recent claim[7] that the PAP’s elitist narrative of Singapore’s exceptionalism has “collapsed” or has been “mortally wounded” appears overwhelmingly premature. If anything, the results from GE2015 have demonstrated that Singaporeans are entirely comfortable with an elite group of “natural aristocrats” governing them for the next 50 years.[8]

The implications of these results are clear for the PAP.Singaporeans have fully bought into the trustee-ship model of political governance.[9] The party are legitimate stewards of the country.

Esteemed journalism Professor Cherian George suggests that the results should be interpreted as a “massive triumph” for the PAP, that it should stay its course in its economic policies, and that the results justify and legitimize its arbitrary powers in suppressing its liberal critics.[10]

More liberal commentators like Sudhir argue that PAP’s stronger mandate means “the continued dominance of the rich and the elites,” although it is also likely to be “the surest road to social instability in the country.”[11]

There are also major implications for the numerous opposition political parties in Singapore.The smaller opposition parties, like the National Solidarity Party, the SingFirst party, the People’s Power Party, the Singapore People’s Party, the Reform Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, and the Democratic Progressive Party, should openly recognise and admit their own flaws – unrecognisable party brands, niche policy platforms, an inability to attract credible candidates, and ill-disciplined internal organisation. They were simply no match for the PAP machine.

The respective party leaders will have to decide whether to coalesce to present a united front, or close shop altogether. Either way, it will be a difficult choice to make.

For the more ideologically coherent Singapore Democratic Party, its priorities lie in attracting more credible members and candidates like the well-respected Dr Paul Tambyah, Professor of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. If and when it is able to assemble a credible ‘A’ team, then it may snag a chance of winning its own GRC, just like the WP did in Aljunied.

The results have been most disappointing for the WP. It hung on to its prized Aljunied GRC only by a thread, garnering only 50.95 per cent of the votes in the constituency.

It is now back to the drawing board for them for the next five years.

Elvin Ong is a PhD graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Emory University. He can be reached at


End notes

[1]  and








[9] Kausikan, Bilahari. 1997. “Governance that Works.” Journal of Democracy. 8(2): 24-34




Singapore swing

September 13, 2015

Comment: Winning elections involve building an outstanding track record of governance, combined with a very astute sense of timing. Singapore’s elections are free and fair. I watched the coverage on Channel News Asia and was impressed with its balanced and thoroughly professional commentary and analysis.

Singaporeans realised that with a regional economic crisis looming, they could rely on the din and kamsiah at klinik2leadership of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his PAP team to guide them. I congratulate and wish them well. They can look forward to the future. 

I cannot say the same of Malaysia. We are in a state of political crisis led by a purposeless and corrupt Prime Minister and his team of incompetent ministers. It is going to drift into a state of chaos so that by 2018 when we are supposed to hold GE 14, we will be in a complete economic and political mess.

Our elections will be rigged again since we are stalling electoral reforms. We are of course assuming that we will have elections. In all likelihood, we could have emergency rule since UMNO-BN cannot win despite massive electoral fraud. I could be wrong since I am not a sage.  –Din Merican

Singapore swing

by Dr Bridget Welsh

The People’s Action Party’s election victory is the optimal pendulum swing, argues Bridget Welsh.

Victorious PM LeeHis Own Mandate

Singapore’s ruling party led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong secured a decisive victory in the country’s 12th General Elections overnight.

By all accounts – including my own – they won 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, cutting into the 2011 election gains of the Worker’s Party who lost one of its seats, as well as soundly defeating the opposition as a whole.

The result came as a surprise. My best scenario for the PAP was reaching 65 per cent of the popular vote and potentially picking up Punggol East. They exceeded this, almost winning back the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in a close margin.

The electoral outcome raises important questions ranging from why the election mood was misread to what the implications will be for the policy landscape. Here are some initial observations.

Silent majority speaks

The results show that a majority of Singaporeans want the PAP to be in government. Many of those are the ‘silent majority’. While not vocal or active in political life, they expressed themselves at the polling booths yesterday.

Singapore’s silent majority is especially large due to the compulsory voting required of all its citizens. It is large also because the political climate does not have a clear sense of their views. Despite considerable opening up in political discourse, a tradition of not speaking out about politics still permeates parts of Singaporeans society, especially among older generations.

Political polling remains limited. Yesterday this group made itself heard.

Opposition blowback

Campaigns in Singapore do shape the electorate, and this one was no exception.

As polling day approached, the opposition’s messages and prominence in the media gained traction. The prominent messages and large crowds provoked a counter-reaction that boosted the PAP performance, an opposition blowback.

For some this was about unease with the opposition itself, be it disappointment in performance or distrust. For others it was about balancing, as the PAP was seen to be less favoured and facing a tough challenge. The stronger the opposition became, the stronger the response against the opposition, especially among the silent majority.

Opposition blowback contributed to a greater pendulum swing in PAP’s favor, as the incumbent party took on the mantle of the disadvantaged. The PAP fanned this effectively by stoking fears that it might be replaced in government.

Right timing

Timing played a large part in enhancing the PAP victory. The obvious markers involve the impact of the passing of Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s 50th anniversary of nationhood this year, which evoked sentiment and appealed to the heartstrings of many Singaporeans.

In supporting the incumbent, this was an acknowledgement of the governance of the Lee family, as the father helped the son (in part) to secure a strong mandate.

There were other facets as well, notably economic conditions. Singaporeans are acutely aware of the dark clouds over the region’s economy and have experienced the slowdown themselves. In times of economic insecurity, as occurred in the 2001 election, Singaporean voters go where they are most secure and to whom they have the most trust in managing the uncertainties. This advantaged the PAP.

Anger dissipation

The interventions of the PAP in areas such as subsidies and health care made a difference among voters. This was credited at the polls, but the move in the electorate was a broader dynamic. The anger of voters had dissipated.

Even in opposition rallies, the pull of supporters was as much about the positive messaging of empowerment and a more open society that appealed to that segment of the electorate as it was about the negative anti-PAP messaging.

While anger still exists and nearly one-third of the electorate supports alternatives, the level of acrimony in the middle ground particularly reduced. It is not a coincidence that the opposition parties that adopted the most confrontational and angry stances in their campaigns performed comparatively the poorest.

His own mandate

The biggest winner in this campaign is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He has secured his own mandate and will have the space to carve his own legacy without his father’s shadow and to set the path ahead for the leadership transition in his party. He deserves to be congratulated on his victory.

The PAP leaders are now HIS team. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam – whose policy interventions in expanding social welfare contributed to Lee’s victory– will be particularly prominent.

The main attention however will focus on the younger entrants who now will define the fourth generation of PAP leadership. There will be intense competition among this group for position, and Lee will be able to use this to his own advantage to strengthen his governance and shape his own legacy.

Raising standards

For both sides of the political divide, the election has strengthened their engagement with a more demanding electorate and offers the promise of raising standards further.

While performing below expectations, the opposition has given voters clear choices. Worker’s Party and to a lesser extent the Singapore Democratic Party have resonated among a larger share of the electorate compared to other opposition parties. But their appeals failed to dent the PAP base and lost support in the middle ground, notably the silent majority.

The burden is now on the opposition to move beyond ‘walking the ground’ in specific constituencies and capitalising on anger, to developing a broader appeal that reaches those not politically active. Improving performance in parliament and focusing less on personality will be essential ingredients in this process.

For the PAP, one of the biggest challenges will be complacency. The effort that was invested in securing the outcome and the timing of the 2015 polls will not be replicable. The large margins in many seats – even mistakenly perceived close seats – and the almost 10 per cent swing toward the incumbent party should not be seen as an ‘easy win’.

Singaporeans expected to be heard and felt at least in part they were reasonably so. The PAP’s optimal victory in swinging the pendulum in its favour was hard work in an intense contest. It will also require hard work ahead.

If anything the 2015 election shows is that the pendulum can indeed swing back.

Bridget-Welsh-2Dr.Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate of the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University where she conducts research on democracy and politics in Southeast Asia. She is also an Associate Fellow at The Habibie Center and University Fellow at Charles Darwin University.