Green Party in Kazakhstan is first party registered in 20 years. Is President Tokayev sincere about allowing a real opposition? One Hopes …

The Eurasianet story posted below has to be allowed to speak for itself. The Baytaq “Green” Party has secured its registration from the Ministry of Justice where the more active opposition parties, such as the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan led by journalist Zhanbolat Mamay, have failed to do so. The Greens leader, Azamatkhan Amirtai, is in the charmed circles around President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Having won a snap presidential poll, Tokayev has said new parties will be registered, and political reform will come.

Caution suggests two responses. One, continued scrutiny as to whether the President’s democratic words are but clouds. Two, if he is sincere even to a limited agenda, then encouraging him makes sense.

Most observers would not guess until they heard from those closest to the situation.

We hope to hear in days to come the discussion among Kazakh leaders in the most important experiment in democratization in the region.

The State of the Myanmar Opposition- A House Divided

The United States Institute for Peace has just published a significant article on the composition of the opposition to the military junta in Myanmar. Kudos to Billy Ford, a USIP program officer, and Ye Myo Hein, a visiting scholar at the Wilson Center, DC. As they say at the ballpark, you can’t know the players until you buy the program.”

Opposition International has asked a correspondent to look further into the available tools and mechanics to build a more effective opposition coalition in Myanmar.

Malaysian Coalition Talks may set pattern for ASEAN

An arc stretches from Bangladesh through Malaysia and Indonesia to Mindanao in the Philippines. Within that arc, there is now playing out politically the relative strengths of ethnic nationalism, Islamic cultural revival, merchant and industrial interests, and a deepening crust of educated liberals.

In short, that it is being done peacefully and professionally gives reason for cautious optimism in a sustainable result.

IDEAS is holding a discussion that will discuss GE15 and the coalition discussions.

Bangladesh and Indonesia have reason to follow the arguments closely. They may be using them in the upcoming 2023 and 2024 elections.

The creative political foment in the southern ASEAN arc stands juxtaposed to the democratic stasis in the northern arc.

Singapore appears as an outlier due to its prosperity. But is it unaffected?

The Kuala Lumpur talks deserve special attention as potentially significant across all straits.

Listen to the podcast. IDEAS CEO Tricia Yeoh is the discussion leader.

Malaysia General Election 15: Who will be Opposition?

Nikkei Asia today 12/11/22 is running a Special Edition on GE15 that will help readers trying to figure out who’s who and what’s a stake. It’s accessible, fair and with enough depth for Democracy types.

Opposition International does not handicap elections: we endorse no parties, but do point out exceptional candidates as persons. All parties should benefit from free and fair elections, but especially opposition parties who face “incumbency bias” from nominally civil service-run electoral bodies and, increasingly, international election observers. The Harvard Electoral Integrity project questions whether now numerous election observation bodies are skewing reports to maintain their institutional access at the cost of clear identification of abuses.

OI’s focus concentrates on the mechanism for post-election complaints and the access to it by opposition parties.

GE15 is a milestone in Malaysia’s electoral history for being the first election in which it is possible that any of the three major coalitions could form government or the official opposition. Most eyes are on the long-standing UMNO and the upstart DAP, Democratic Action Party.

A new factor to consider will be the 6 million voters under the age of 30, which 2.1 million will be first-time voters (18-21). As Nikkei Asia’s report details younger voters are not as wedded to traditional patterns.

Political analysts are looking now at various scenarios for that Minimum Viable Coalition plus 1. The goal is not to under bid or over pay. Conclusion: Malaysia may not know for a time who will be government and who will be opposition.

Our team will reach out to the new (or same again) opposition parties when the dealings done.

Australia’s Story of Opposition/Change Helps Democracy in Asia Pacific

Kevin Casos-Zamora, Secretary General of IDEA International, correctly calls on Australia to more for democracy in Asia. He points out the valuable role of “secondary contributors” such as civil society, media, and academe. They are important. Yet, the history of democracy in Australia succeeds because new voices and views continue to arise in Opposition coalitions to challenge cultural inheritance, wealth, power, class, and public entitlement and persuade voters to trust them with office. Australia’s dynamic of change can seem irreverent. It is what keeps Australia’s proving Disraeli correct, good government requires a strong Opposition.

What Does An Opposition want in Bangladesh? A Paradox Revisited

“What made them defy the odds? What does the BNP want to achieve through such mass mobilisation? What message do they want to give to the Awami League? Answers to these questions are crucial to understanding the future course of Bangladesh politics.” so asks Mohammad Al-Masum Molla in The Daily Star, Dhaka’s leading English language newspaper, “Is BNP emerging as a worthy opposition?”

Reporter Molla’s questions are good ones. Here follow reflections to date gathered from many observers.

The “Bangladesh Paradox” describes A culture of confrontation that pervades politics among the major parties in Bangladesh coexisting with dramatic socio-economic improvement.

What is the Bangladesh Paradox? U.S. Ambassador and scholar, William Milam, wrote wisely:

“The paradox is that, in traditional development theory, Bangladesh should have become, over the past 25 years, a modernized democracy, knocking on the door of entry into the middle-income category of developing countries. Its economy has grown for most of the last two decades by around 5-6 % per year, and its social development indices have improved rapidly and now are better than most other South Asian countries except Sri Lanka. Instead, over those same two decades, Bangladesh has regressed along the democracy/authoritarian axis no matter which of the two major parties was in power.”

At the end of the Millennium Development Goals era, Bangladesh outranks several developing countries, including India and Pakistan. Gender and health indicators improved significantly by the early 2000s and the trend continues. “Contextual factors such as high population density facilitated the easy adoption of low-cost solutions and the quick spread of good practices.” (“Growth Governance and Corruption and Corruption in …”) Political commitments to social development ensured policy continuity across political regimes. The government of Sheikh Hasina in the last decade has made important reforms in power, indusrial growth, and in food production.

Political parties have a history of animosity and mistrust; parties often focus more on attacking their opponents than on addressing the needs of constituents. Bangladesh’s parties also tend to be hierarchical, internally undemocratic, and personality or family-based, creating minimal opportunity for party members and members of parliament to develop the innovative tools and skills needed to accurately represent their constituencies.

As individuals, political leaders in Bangladesh are exemplary, but it is a difficult environment.

Bangladesh keeps highly adaptable political economy arrangements driven by elite accommodation and informal rules of the game. The head of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Debapriya Bhattacharya, described the current situation elliptically. 

“The history of elite commitment to development reminds me of an anecdote. There was a time when governments changed, the policy changed, and projects were cancelled. Then a time came when governments changed, policy remained unchained, but projects got cancelled. Then governments changed, the policy did not change, and projects did not get cancelled. Then governments changed, neither policy changed, nor projects got cancelled but contractors changed. Then we saw governments change but policy, projects and contractors do not change, contractors change parties.” 

The dynamic of the Bangladesh Paradox lies in the demarcation of formal and informal “rules of conduct,” the difference between formal law and informal practices. What is not always appreciated is that weak enforcement of the Rule of Law, and its accountability, means informal rules take precedence, no matter the level of “black letter” reform.

Bangladesh has problems though it is a long way from a “failed state.” In the judgment of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Bangladesh scores rank Bangladesh as a “hybrid regime” between a “flawed democracy” and an “authoritarian state.” My view. Bangladesh is a vibrant democratic state, whether all its elected officials appreciate it or not.

The list of major stakeholders in policy formation would include the following:

  • The political parties,
  • The civil service,
  • The military
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (civil society),
  • Private sector,
  • The media as aggregators of public opinion, and
  • The donor community.

Stakeholders can be identified on several criteria. Policy influence derives from the potential attraction of ideas and analysis. Such persuasiveness does not necessarily equate with political importance. The two most influential poles of policy entrepreneurship in Bangladesh are Civil Society and the now banned Jamaat-I-Islami, yet neither possesses hugely significant political strength. Overall, the policy and political values of the two will come into conflict but be moderated, interpreted and to a degree implemented through the more dominant political rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP.

Table 3: Stakeholders

StakeholdersPolicy InfluencePolitical ImportanceUnique factsAgenda
The Awami LeagueHighHighCurrently, form a government and have a broad, secular, agendaFocused on social improvement and maintenance of its network
Bangladesh Nationalist PartyModerateHighForm the Opposition but have a potential veto through the ability to organize public opinionPolicy agenda perceived as more pro-business than others
Jatiya PartyLowLowA legacy party of General M. ErshadOn occasion produces interesting positions in foreign affairs
Jamaat-I-Islami (Banned but sub rosa)HighModerateHas an extensive network of supporters within the civil serviceA long-term strategy of “Islamic values”
The GOB civil serviceHighHighCan control the pace of implementationDoes not have an agenda of its own per se beyond the maintenance of its standing
The militaryModerateHighAs demonstrated in the recent CTG, it has the ultimate veto over the governmentNo specific agenda beyond maintaining order and its privileges
Non-Governmental Organizations (civil society),ModerateModerateExceptionally large, comprises a substantial section of the educated middle class, at least the secular componentHas varied and specific agendas in all policy areas
Private sectorOccasionalModerateConcentrated in a few key export sectorsSeeks tax and subsidy advantages and increasing government intervention to control worker unrest
The mediaModerateHighProvides a highly independent voice in an authoritarian societyGenerally aligned to the social expectations of Civil Society
The donor community.OccasionalModerately HighWhile its economic role has decreased, it remains the voice of the “outside” worldA sometimes too-varied agenda of social and economic improvement
IntelligentsiaLowLowAligned and subsumed by Civil SocietyA social welfare agenda

Political Parties

Political parties control the political discourse and subsequent policy decisions in Bangladesh to a degree far beyond the practice in the U.K. and most Commonwealth countries. They are capable of about any form of coalition, except in extreme circumstances between the two major parties. At one time or another, they have all been in coalition with each other. Core values often appear malleable.

There are four major political parties in Bangladesh.

  • The Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina,
  • The Bangladesh Nationalist Party headed by Khaleda Zia,
  • The Jatiya Party formerly headed by Mohammad Ershad, and
  • Jamaat-E-Islami headed by Emir Nizami. (Banned but sub rosa).    

 In short, the Awami League is the inheritor of the pre-independence Muslim League affiliated with the Congress Party of India. While originally a broad-based coalition party supporting an agenda, it has gradually evolved into a family-based party focused on the family of Sheikh Mujib Rahman represented by Sheikh Hasina.

The BNP is a “cantonment” party started by General Zia Rahman after he had come to power in a military coup. It has enjoyed broad support from nationalist elements within the military, businesspeople who disliked the socialism of the original Awaji League government and intellectuals alienated by the Baksal one-party movement of Sheik Mujib.

The Jatiya Party is the original “cantonment” party started by General Ershad after he seized power in a military coup in 1991. The party retains a following but has not undergone any major renewal since it left office in 2000.

(Banned but sub rosa) Jamaat-E-Islami is a cadre party rather than a coalition. It does not seek a mass membership but a dedicated group of followers. It is a fundamentalist Islamic party but also one that practices internal democracy. It does not seek an overall majority but to influence policy through strategic coalitions.

Legitimacy unresolved

The central political issue seems policy, but the continuing fierce battle over the history of who has the legitimate right to rule the country. Sheikh Hasina claims residual legitimacy (as well as her election victories) in her father’s name. Khaleda Zia claims the same in the name of her husband whom it is asserted truly declared Bangladesh independent. The two major parties have yet to reach an accommodation.

If the political contest follows along the axis of legitimacy, neither the performance of the government nor the policy alternatives of the Opposition have great relevance. Mythmaking and symbols assume greater political significance than policy action or inaction and its consequences. This may explain why successive governments have paid greater attention to the content of textbooks than to the dropout rate. If parties cannot agree on a single version of the founding of the nation, it bodes ill.

Bangladesh’s political leaders strive to move beyond the question of legitimacy to questions of performance and policy. It is a paradox that there appears only a small political price for not dealing with policy and its implementation. To borrow a metaphor from Game Theory economics, the political leadership in Bangladesh has found a stable institutional equilibrium in non-cooperation.   If one party cooperated with the other then it risks appearing to concede the opponent’s legitimacy and, therefore, calling into question its own.   Institutional survival demands the denial of any political space to the other side.

Political Debate is Largely Extra-parliamentary

The most visible symptom of the failure to move beyond the existential struggle for legitimacy has been the minor role of the Parliament as a forum either to debate policy choices or to enforce the accountability of the government to the public. While many countries have witnessed the growing power of the executive over the legislative branch, the symptom is most pronounced in Bangladesh.

However, just because the Parliament does not function well does not mean the institution is unimportant. On the contrary, election to the Parliament continues to bestow the primary sign of political authority. Party officials and advisors may have an important influence on the leaders, but they cannot act upon the fundamental political equation of power – a majority in the parliament. Though, to be sure, the Bangladeshi Constitution unwisely curtails the scope of independent parliamentary voices through Article 70 which prohibits MPs from voting against their party even on minor non-confidence issues.


An observation is that Bangladesh has an extraordinarily centralized policy process focused entirely on the party leader and her shifting coterie of top advisors. In short, only one coalition partner is needed for success thus vitiating the role and influence of other potential more socially constructive partnerships. The party leader decides everything from major budget issues to minor disputes among youth activists in district towns.

The high degree of centralization both slows down and speeds up the policy process. Every policy initiative remains in limbo until the party leader can get around to examining it. Yet, once she has decided the issue is settled irrevocably. Eceptions occur on technical matters. 

Far too many policy decisions are taken within the Prime Minister’s Office based on delegated authority from obsolete legislation. There is a fundamental problem of accountability when colonial-era legislation still provides the basis for the regulation of large swaths of Bangladesh’s economy and society. 

The Westminster ideal of collective decision-making and collective responsibility of the cabinet has limited traction in Bangladesh.  The former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, rarely met with her cabinet ministers and never, according to a press search, with her entire cabinet outside of party functions where she would give a speech and then leave. More important than the cabinet is, of course, the Prime Minister’s Office, but beyond that, the only substantive collective policy discussion takes place within the senior councils of the party. In this regard, the Awami League and the BNP are similar.

Role of Parliament

The role of the Parliament in the policy process is peripheral, yet still inherently important. Issues are rarely discussed in Parliament. The Committees if they meet at all are routinely ignored by the ministers who curiously hold the position of chair. The delinking of the ministers from the parliamentary committees has been an oft-raised potential reform. Opposition members, whether Awami League or BNP, boycott the chamber on a variety of pretexts. Question periods either is either a form of bitter invective if the Opposition is present or of near sycophancy if they are not.

Weakness in the Accountability

A weakness in Bangladesh’s political structures is that few oversight and accountability instruments exist. Compounding this is that the civil service by being removed from the policy process has little knowledge sometimes about the policies they are to implement and consequently has minimal commitment. A further weakness is that public opinion is only weakly heard through the media. Public consultations are rarely used, and public opinion surveys are rarely conducted or kept completely secret.

The Key is political accountability to constituents. Government safeguards fail because political safeguards fail. No more important safeguard exists than a credible and engaged Opposition. To answer the original questions by reporter Molla.

World Ethical Data Forum – day two

The WEDF, an online three day conference, bills itself as all about the use and future of data. It certainly covers a lot of technical, policy, and philosophical territory. Most participants are from Europe and North America. This year, the organizers put a special emphasis on Latin America. Bravo for the discussiones. The Asia Pacific region also has dedicated sessions.

As a trial run, I started a chat room for Opposition.International concerning the use of data in Opposition research. The challenge for data workers when using data in Opposition politics lies in their emotions: the hesitation and worry to draw attention and government criticism to oneself by honing data into evidence to accuse, criticize and confront. The first instinct is rather just put the data in the shop window, and somehow let it speak for itself. In an ideal world …

“The World Ethical Data Forum is the only event in the world that embraces the full range of interrelated issues around the use and future of data.”

“By addressing these concerns and encouraging the collaboration of apparently competing worlds, from technology and big business, government and security agencies, policy makers and the media, to human rights lawyers, whistleblowers, and privacy and transparency advocates, the World Ethical Data Forum is offering a unique and crucial perspective for the future.”

Wikipedia: disinformation campaigns against Opposition parties; error correction=digital survival

The linked Wired story about Wikipedia’s 21-year-old struggle against state-sponsored disinformation provides valuable background to the question of campaigns against opposition parties, though not addressing it directly. Most disinformation campaigns are what an informed person would expect. Russian trolls fighting internecine ex-Soviet era battles against upstart nationalists. Chinese army battalions of computer hackers trying to whitewash the web on any criticism of the CCP. After a decade of this chicanery, few takes anything on the web as gospel: even gullibility has limits. Still, the Wikipedia organization has gone to great effort to maintain balance. Opposition parties do not have a large presence on Wikipedia by my research. They could and should. As with all things it requires people, training, and time. Opposition International specializes in Forensic Opposition Research – many of us are caucus research alumni. Wikipedia has an established process for data entry and correction. Their volunteers are superb. Make a donation to the Wiki Foundation and have volunteers spend a couple of days to check enter, edit, or correct your party’s profile and mentions.

Truss resigns, 1922 Committee saved, BB BoJo

Editorial by Owen Lippert

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has resigned. Pundits are busy parsing what it all means.

I report here only the good news. Her resignation saves the 1922 Committee from having to review its rule that a new Conservative leader has a year’s grace from backbench discontent.

Esther Webber in Politico’s delicious London Playbook reports the 1922 Committee met on October 19th at the Carlton Club for its centenary. “With exquisite timing, members of the 1922 executive met for dinner at the Carlton Club last night to mark 100 years since Conservative MPs assembled to demand withdrawal from the Tory-Liberal coalition, resulting in the resignation of David Lloyd George.” The Carlton Club is the SW1 canteen for the Conservative MPs. The 1922 Committee is the Tory caucus watchdog over its leader.

In the post-WWI 1918 election, the first mass electorate returned the coalition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his Liberal MP followers (not included were H. Asquith-led Liberals), the Conservative Party headed by New Brunswick-born Arthur Bonar Law, and the Labour Party led by Arthur Henderson (Ramsay MacDonald Labourites in Opposition). See the dissertation on the 1918 election by Dr. O.P. Lippert. Some backbench Tories wanted to ditch Lloyd George, figuring they could win on their own. The Red Tory leadership of Bonar Law and Austen Chamberlain were cautious as to appearing as conspirators.

By 1922, unhappy Tory backbenchers had devised a committee, to be headed by an MP so unlikely for high office as to be un-bribable, that would secretly canvass members as to leaving the coalition. A vote of confidence in the leader would be triggered if a “certain amount” of letters of no confidence were received. The leader might stay in the coalition, but without a party.

The 1922 Committee in time became the Test Selector of the party leader. Sir Graham Brady is the current chair. Committee rules state that the leader of the party can only face a vote of confidence once a year.

The once-a-year rule also applies to a newly elected leader for whom the initial election is deemed a ‘vote of confidence.’ According to this rule, Truss could have avoided a backbench vote of confidence until September 2023. She could remain Prime Minister, even without a party, until a money bill came to a vote. That is unless the 1922 Committee changed its rules, which a not insignificant number of MPs wanted.

The danger in changing the rules: all Tory leaders fear and loathe the 1922 Committee. A chance to defang that thorn in the side would be seized upon. In Canada, when reform-minded MP Michael Chong tried to squeeze a pale shadow of the 1922 Committee into his Reform Act, the leaders’ office was having none of it. The topic returned during Erin O’Toole’s exit. Any party leader would scheme to deny such power to whom P.E. Trudeau called “just nobodies” 50 feet off the Hill. True in Canada: true in the UK.

Liz Truss’s resignation ends the idle talk of “reforming” the 1922 Committee. Her sacrifice strengthens accountability in the Conservative Party and the UK Parliament. She deserves high praise.

For the record, if BB BoJo (bring back Boris Johnson) succeeds, he would start his second premiership with a year’s grace.

A year could see a more stable state of being. Today, Labour is serious but unready. Liberal Democrats are earnest but unwanted. Tories are dazed and unsteady. Some down-time free from crisis mis-management is needed to return the Commons to its higher purpose.