Going to jail after losing power; Western political party system encounters Waterloo in Asia?
(Just read this article today from Guancha site. Original is in Chinese, and following is mine and Google’s translation.)
According to media reports, Malaysia’s ‘new’ Prime Minister Mahathir on June 20 said that investigators have found solid evidence to bring criminal charges against former Prime Minister Najib. Within 10 days after being defeated in the general election, Najib has fallen into disgrace from prime minister into a suspected criminal.
The divisive politics in Asia
In Asia, Najib is not the only example. On April 6, 2018, former South Korean president Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment and a fine of 18 billion won. Another former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is also facing a trial of related crimes. Earlier, the former Prime Minister of Thailand Yingla was sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Thai Supreme Court, and her elder brother and also former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was forced into exile. On July 15, 2017, the Philippine Ombudsman’s Office ordered the prosecution of Aquino III on the basis of criminal law and anti-corruption laws, and Aquino III’s predecessor, Arroyo, had been involved in corruption and plundering government funds for five years. She was indicted and detained, was acquitted only after Duterte came into power.
When so many leaders of Asian countries become imprisoned after their respective political parties lost powers, it is not hard to deduce that the political system adopted in these countries have problems. For a long time, Western democratic theory uses “loyal opposition parties” to describe opposition parties in multi-party systems, and this peaceful alternation of political powers achieved through elections is seen as an important advantage of Western political models. However, why do some Asian countries and regions that have also adopted Western party politics appear to have this problem of leaders going into prison when they step down from office? Is it because they have not really established enough f Western-style party politics, or is that the Western party politics they adopted is too divisive?
Judging from the time, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia have implemented Western-style political systems for more than half a century. It is difficult to say that their political systems are not yet Western enough. What is more important is that after decades of development of the western party system established in these countries, the situation of political divisiveness has become more serious. From an intuitive point of view, the Western party politics they adopted is inherently problematic.
Political Party’s Western Soil
Western political parties originate in parliamentary politics. Only through political elections can one elite faction win against other factions to garner state power. Therefore, the original intention of Western political parties is to divide the existing state power, and factionalism has pretty much the same meaning as the Western political system. Western societies usually call the early political party a caucus party. At the beginning of the United States, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all saw political parties as synonymous with factionalism. Therefore, from the day of its creation, Western political party system laid the ground for contentious and divisive politics and society.
However, the disintegrative disadvantages of western party politics have been greatly suppressed and restricted in the early days of Western society. In general, Western countries all belong to the preemptive countries. Before the formation of political parties, sovereign states have formed. However, during this period, the general public has not yet awakened and the political struggle is mainly manifested in the struggle between the political elite’s internal factions. This elite circle of a few people has a common interest, a homogeneous culture, and a social circle that blends in with each other. Although there are competing interests in the elite circle, almost all elites are very clear that they have common interests, which differs from most people. Therefore, during this period, it was easier for the elite circle to reach basic consensus. The concept of the “Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” was born under this condition. Here, “Her Majesty, the National Interest” is actually synonymous with the common interests of elite groups.
With changes brought about by industrialization, the general public began to be awakened. Their willingness to participate in politics has become increasingly strong, and the disintegrative genes of political parties in the West have begun to show up. Party politics that were monopolized by the elite circles was seriously challenged. In order to gain public support to win elections, political parties in Western countries have gradually moved from factional parties within the political elite circle to formal inclusive parties or “all-people political parties” to represent the interest of the entire society. Hence it is no longer possible for the elite factions to form a consensus within the elite circle that was different from the general public. After the Cold War, there emerged a new phenomenon in party politics in Western countries. This is what Francis Fukuyama referred to as “veto politics.”
Overall, with the change of time and society, the tradition of “loyal opposition” still exists in today’s Western countries, but it is no longer as pervasive. Fighting between political parties has become more intense, and populist and ‘extreme’ views have risen rapidly.
Why is the divisive tendency in political system worst in non-Western countries and regions? This is due to how these were created, the historical as well as cultural reasons. Family politics has a long tradition in Asia. The combination of family politics and western party politics will intensify the factional struggle in society. In addition, among the above-mentioned Asian countries mentioned above, except for Thailand, most of them gained independence after the war. The establishment of party politics and the establishment of national sovereignty are almost in sync with each other. There has never been a basic consensus among elite factions in the country. Therefore the concept of “loyal opposition” in Western party politics is difficult to take root in Asian countries. Under such a social condition, implementing a Western-style competitive multi-party system will undoubtedly aggravate the social division.
In Western countries, the divisive tendency of a competitive multi-party system leads to “veto politics” and it leads to governing inefficiency. However, in some Asian countries, “factional politics” and “family politics” have been spawned, and political parties have been replaced by the factions in life and death struggles. From this point of view, although Western party politics originated in Western countries, although Western countries also have serious drawbacks they need to overcome, the most serious failures in Western party politics is the introduction of Western models to non-Western countries. This is a political phenomenon that requires much needed attention.