Saturday, April 19, 2014

Malaysia: Political economy of FELDA and South Johor & GE-13 voting behaviour

Research done mid-2013, paper to
be published in Kajian Malaysia in 2014

The importance of Felda
• This paper is about the political economy of FELDA and its important place in
the electoral politics of the 13th General Election held on 5 May 2013. In a
heavily contested election, the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional has held on to
power by winning by a 22-seat majority, despite its worst performance with
the loss of the national popular vote and questions about irregularities.
• However, the hope of Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition, to make
inroads in BN’s proverbial FELDA “fortress” vote bank was disappointed.
Instead, there were swings toward BN.
• Winning FELDA areas is important to building up its rural base, in order to win
enough seats to govern. In the midst of urban rejection, UMNO has retained
stronger control in key rural areas, turfing out and keeping out the opposition
coalition from its FELDA stronghold, with Mazlan Aliman of PAS reporting on
the difficulties of reaching FELDA women voters and in allaying rural voter
fears about DAP Chinese rule.
Felda issues & voting
• In FELDA settlement areas the ruling coalition is seen to have preferential access
by way of its links with FELDA’s administration. The windfall from the FELDA
Global public listing seems to have been an important boon.
• However, there are interesting regional differences, notably between Pahang and
Johore. Here, the parallels between oil palm replanting economic decision making
and voting behaviour of FELDA settlers is intriguing.
• Efforts to lure the FELDA youth vote seems to have been flummoxed with socalled
money politics, including the offer of new lands for homes for younger
• At the same time, UMNO-BN may want to repeat its FELDA electoral success by
performing IPO “encores” to generate financial bonuses with two other key land
development agencies – FELCRA and RISDA. Combined with FELDA, these three
agencies may have control and influence of up to 19% of Malaysia’s voters.
INTEGRATION: Malaysian stakeholders
contest within a pro-development
continuum in Johor GE-13
Research done end-2013, paper to
be published as chapter in a book by ISEAS in 2014/2015
Johor voting in GE13 – a looking glass world
• The Opposition coalition sought to make significant gains against the
Barisan Nasional coalition in its stronghold of Johor, but the Chinese
18.3% swing against Barisan Nasional is associated with a 1.9%
increased Malay vote for it. Racial and religious issues were
apparently dominant. Johor Malays and Chinese voted in an
ethnically divided manner. Future contests will be for the Malay vote.
On economic issues such as Iskandar Malaysia, the benefits to the
Johor Malay population (especially its below-40 voters) is likely to be
in sharper focus in future political contestation.
It’s all about the Malay vote• Thus, former ‘safe-deposit’ states for BN, such as Johor and Sabah are
now considered as the front-line for the next general election.
• The contest will be for the Malay vote. Will the Malay vote be
contested mostly on economic or non-economic issues?
• On economic projects such as Iskandar Malaysia, the benefits to the
Johor Malay population (especially its below-40 voters) is likely to be
in sharper focus. If so, the rhetoric used by PAS in GE-13 and BN’s
post GE-13 policy reactions may be good indicators of future political
contestation over the grand project of Johor-Singapore integration

The above is extracted from my presentation material on the topics. Please contact me for more info.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Indonesia electoral politics and palm oil in 2014

I am keeping an eye on this.

Please refer to posting at Khor Report's Palm Oil blog here:

I'll also note other less obviously palm oil impactful items here.

Thanks to Seng Keat for this one: Resurgent political Islam, or astute Islamic parties? By Greg Fealy – 14 April 2014;;
There were two main surprises in the 9 April legislative election in Indonesia, at least if the various quick count results are to be relied upon: the first was the poorer than expected performance of former president Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the second was the higher than predicted vote for Islamic parties..... In 2009, the total vote for Islamic parties was 29%, the lowest ever recorded.  All major pollsters had forecast an even worse result for the 2014 election, with the Islamic party-vote ranging from around 15% to 25%.  No survey had Islamic parties improving on their overall performance of five years ago.  But the quick count results from 9 April showed that the five Islamic parties contesting the election had gained about 31-32% of the national vote.  Most of the polls had four of the five parties experiencing falling support; only the National Awakening Party (PKB) was slated to increase its vote.  The quick count figures showed that in fact four of the five parties lifted their vote, and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which had been predicted to suffer the biggest drop of all—around 3-5%—ended up with just a 1% decline.... How are we to account for this unexpectedly good showing?  To being with, there is little to suggest that this was due to a rise in ideological Islam.  None of the four Islamic parties that passed the 3.5% parliamentary threshold campaigned using Islamic concepts or doctrines.  Rather, their appeals to their core constituencies emphasised the practical benefits that they had or would deliver to their supporters..... (they moved ot the ) centre of the political spectrum, and away from a doctrinaire Islamic position...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nature has no bank account

On ecosystem services and the moral gap

Patching up the economy by adding on ecosystem services does not make the economy sustainable but it makes it more efficient: you can more efficiently destroy nature. This is a “patch it up” approach. We should not look at ecological systems through the lens of economics. We need some institutions and moral social pressure to consume less rather than more. It may take this generation to consume less; especially the rich people of this generation. All the prices set by the ecosystem services approach is income to somebody. But nature has no bank account.

Source: Norgaard, Richard B. 2013. Ecological Economics and Energy Economics in Historical Context, Spring 2013, Lecture 17: Ecosystem Services - Neoliberal economic thinking invades conservation, biology and ecology. University of California, Berkeley: Unversity of California.

Richard Norgaard, professor of energy and resources;
Separate, but related is this... Occupy was right: capitalism has failed the world
One of the slogans of the 2011 Occupy protests was 'capitalism isn't working'. Now, in an epic, groundbreaking new book, French economist Thomas Piketty explains why they're right;

Interesting that neo-liberal hegemony says we should now seriously tackle the energy sector!

IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable;; Landmark UN analysis concludes global roll-out of clean energy would shave only a tiny fraction off economic growth... The new IPCC report warns that carbon emissions have soared in the last decade and are now growing at almost double the previous rate. But its comprehensive ­analysis found rapid action can still limit global warming to 2C, the internationally agreed safe limit, if low-carbon energy triples or quadruples by 2050... “It is actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” said Professor Jim Skea, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC report team. “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too,” Skea told the Guardian.... Nonetheless, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change at the lowest cost, the report envisages an energy revolution ending centuries of dominance by fossil fuels – which will require significant political and commercial change. On Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an anti-apartheid style campaign against ­fossil fuel companies, which he blames for the “injustice” of climate change... Biofuels, used in cars or power stations, could play a “critical role” in cutting emissions, the IPCC found, but it said the negative effects of some biofuels on food prices and wildlife remained unresolved... Kaisa Kosonen, at Greenpeace International, said: “Renewable energy is unstoppable. It’s becoming bigger, better and cheaper every day. Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Khaw family in Thailand

Discovering some grand distant and past relatives. Had the first inkling on some past sugar barons on Province Wellesley; and then mentioned it to some friends in academia. See below.

7 April 2014: I checked with Michael Montesano, expert on Thailand. A remarkable coincidence. He is working on a book project that addresses the place of the Khaw family in Thai historiography. They are linked to the Wellesley sugar barons and also to the current Thai finance minister, Kittiratt Na-Ranong.

6 April 2014: I was chatting with Tony Milner about this little history snippet, and he thought of a famous Khaw family in that part of the world. Are they related? Here's some links courtesy of Tony:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Profit, Power & Politics: Malaysia palm oil in the global and local political-economy (drafting in final stage)

Just to get myself more focused for the next two weeks of heavy duty work on book drafting, I've put together the new working title and chapter plan. This will be based on my work and contacts (mostly non-attributed interviews & public info only) as a research consultant in the palm oil industry in SE Asia. This will include material written up in Khor Reports' Palm Oil e-newsletter and blog. This book draft has been sponsored by ISEAS where I was Visiting Research Fellow for 2013.