How Cambodia’s prime minister rigged an election

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published August 14, 2018 on The Conversation


Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a recent landslide victory in the Southeast Asian country.

After outlawing the main opposition party that challenged the ruling CPP, Hun Sen secured more than 80 per cent of the popular vote and well over 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly. Despite calls to boycott the election, voter turnout was around 82 per cent, or about 6.88 million people.

The response from the international community has been split.

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How Malaysian voters defied the odds and ousted corruption

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published May 15, 2018 on The Conversation


Nobody saw it coming. Malaysia’s 14th general election brought a shocking end to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 60 years of coalition rule.

Against all odds, Pakatan Harapan (PH) — the opposition coalition of four parties led by onetime prime minister Mahathir Mohamad — won 113 out of 222 seats in parliament and in doing so set in motion the prison release of the onetime political enemy of the country’s newest — and oldest — leader.

The stunning election saw the return of strongman Mahatir, 92, who joined the opposition coalition to unseat his former protégé, Najib Razak — who has been embroiled in a massive state investment fund corruption scandal.The BN coalition took a serious beating, retaining only 79 seats. It lost eight cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers, among them the leaders of the Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957.

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Anti-Fake News Remedies Worse than the Disease in Asia

Netina Tan

Originally published May 3, 2018 on Asia Global Online


False information sways elections, and social media makes it worse. So governments are rushing through laws to block “fake news.” But in Southeast Asia, these laws will do more harm to elections than fake news.

Asia is the new battleground for the digitization of elections and social media use. Social networking platforms are remaking the idea of what is public in democracies and autocracies alike. Social media, data scraping, and algorithmic learning are all modern tools that influence electoral campaigns and have cross-border effects. As the recent Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal shows, a lack of regulation and good practices leads to confusion, chaos, and unfair electoral outcomes. But in many Southeast Asian countries, the remedies are worse than the disease.

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Malaysia’s dire democratic crisis

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published March 25, 2018 on The Conversation


Malaysia is gearing up for its 14th general elections, to be held by Aug. 24, 2018. Its parliament is expected to be dissolved within weeks.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), are pulling out all the stops to tilt the level playing field, making them likely to win despite a strong opposition coalition led by former strongman prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organization Party(UMNO), has ruled through a coalition alliance under BN for 60 uninterrupted years since the country declared independence from the British Empire.

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Why did it take so long for Canada to kill the Philippines helicopter sale?

Netina Tan and Marvin Mercado

Originally published February 25, 2018 on The Conversation


Canadian trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne recently announced the cancellation of a $300 million trade deal to transport 16 helicopters to the Philippines in early 2019.

The cancellation was spurred by a Canadian government review that found the helicopters were likely to be used for anti-terrorism and internal security purposes and not for humanitarian missions as agreed upon. Canada had previously sold eight Bell helicopters to to the Philippines in 2015.

But it wasn’t Canada that finally scrubbed the deal. Enraged by the delay and review of the sale, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the cancellation. Continue reading

Are gender quotas helping female politicians in Asia?

Netina Tan

Originally published June 24, 2016 on East Asia Forum


In January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen made history after being elected as Taiwan’s first female president. Several women before her such as Park Geun-hye in South Korea, Ying-luck Shinawatra in Thailand and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar have all risen to top political leadership in recent years. With these high-profile female politicians featured in the media, it may appear that the political glass ceiling has been shattered in East Asia.

Yet, the success of these elite women belies the fact that the overall number of female politicians in Asia remains low. Continue reading

PAP’s win silences its critics

Netina Tan

Originally published September 16, 2015 on East Asia Forum


In the 2015 election, Singaporeans strongly endorsed the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and gave Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a strong mandate to lead for the next five years. Despite the online dissent and the large crowds that thronged the opposition rallies, the PAP won a handsome 70.1 per cent of the popular vote.The PAP strengthened its hold over Punggol East ward, which it lost in the 2013 by-election, and improved its performance in all constituencies across the island — earning more than 70 per cent of vote share in 15 out of 29 constituencies.

Remarkably, the PAP consolidated its hold over Potong Pasir, formerly held by long-time opposition leader Chiam See Tong. Continue reading

Singapore’s 2015 Election: Can the People’s Action Party Strengthen Its Mandate to Rule?

Netina Tan

Originally published September 8, 2015 on Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada


Singapore will hold a snap general election on September 11, 2015. Unlike Canada’s 78-days campaign period, Singapore only has nine short days.[1] Described as a “watershed election,” this will be the country’s first election without its influential former leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in March this year. Lee’s elder son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in power since 2004, is seeking a mandate to tackle the growing problems of immigration, housing costs, transportation, and income gap. Continue reading