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Cablegate: Brunei Political Parties Call for Rights Education Before

VZCZCXRO0017
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBD #0279/01 2610544
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 180544Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3953
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 000279

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MTS:FORSYTH AND DRL:TURNER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM BX
SUBJECT: BRUNEI POLITICAL PARTIES CALL FOR RIGHTS EDUCATION BEFORE
DEMOCRACY


-------
SUMMARY
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1. (SBU) In an effort to raise the level of political maturity in
Brunei, the country's two active political parties recently held
events designed to educate the public on political rights currently
available to Brunei citizens. Party leaders expressed concern that
some GOB officials still see their parties as threats to, rather
than supporters of the Sultan of Brunei, and worried that political
participation is still considered taboo by many Bruneians. Both
political parties' leaderships see a common interest in further
educating Bruneians about democratic political rights and processes,
in order to convince the Sultan that his subjects are ready to
handle democratic reforms in a responsible manner. END SUMMARY.

------------
NDP CONGRESS
------------

2. (SBU) About 500 members of the National Development Party (NDP)
attended the party's second congress on July 24, 2007. The congress
focused on local issues such as school overcrowding and the
availability of subsidized housing, as NDP officials sought to
portray a moderate image as proponents of a broader popular role in
government who nevertheless remained loyal and trustworthy subjects
of the Sultan. NDP officials told us that the party sees itself
both as a supporter of the Sultan's rule, as well as a mechanism for
raising public concerns to the palace when government channels are
inefficient or unresponsive. They expressed concerns that some GoB
officials view the party as a threat to the government, fearing that
the NDP will instigate a revolt similar to the 1962 revolt led by
current NDP President Yassin Affendi. (Affendi was a long term
detainee for his role in the revolt who was allowed to form the NDP
in 2005 after swearing an oath of allegiance to the Sultan.)

3. (SBU) The NDP currently has 1, 500 members and is focusing on
recruiting members of Brunei's minority groups -- non-Muslims, women
and youths. NDP Spokesperson Malai Hassan Othman told us that the
NDP is looking for quality people at this stage in its development,
not quantity. NDP leaders see this as necessary to build a core of
members who can then promote public awareness of political rights
and responsibilities on the path to building the party to a target
of 20,000 members.

-------------
NDP'S FUNDING
-------------

4. (SBU) Malai Hassan told Pol/ Mil Asst. that NDP Vice President
Mahmud Morshidi is a millionaire and is funding the NDP's
operations. According to Rosli Abidin Yahya, a local political
journalist, Morshidi's Malaysia-based company, 'Warisan Baiduri',
apart from dealing in agro business, is contracted to run youth
centers for Malaysia's youth national services. Morshidi is also a
major investor in the Brunei Times, along with prominent ethnic
Chinese businessmen Pehin Goh and others. Brunei Times Editor
Professor Chu told us that as a policy, the BT avoids any coverage
of political parties in Brunei.


----------------------
PPKB POLITICAL SEMINAR
----------------------

5. (U) On July 30, 2007, the new leadership of the National
Solidarity Party (Parti Perpaduan Kebangsaan Brunei, or PPKB) held a
seminar on political rights in Brunei. PPKB President Dr. Latiff
Chuchu, himself a former detainee under the Internal Security Act,
in his public remarks stressed that political participation in
Brunei still remains a cultural taboo. Locals still perceive that
political participation can lead to incarceration. Dr. Chuchu
encouraged members to exercise good and healthy politics in
accordance with what is permitted under the 1959 Constitution. He
cautioned that "if one has the intention to topple the Sultan, then
you'll get arrested." NDP President Yassin Affendi also spoke at
the PPKB seminar stressing that both the NDP and the PPKB are
fighting the same battle for democracy.

6. (U) Dr. Chuchu repeatedly referred to Sultan Hassanal Bokiah's
Independence Day speech that mentioned a "Malay Islamic Monarchical
and Democratic" Brunei. Dr Chuchu sees this as explicit permission
for Bruneians to participate in party politics. He said "it is our
own fault for not having the courage to practice this freedom." Dr.
Chuchu said the goal of this and future seminars is to disprove the
public perception that "political parties are just rubber-stamps"
and to empower party members with the right tools to be politically
active.

7. (SBU) On the sidelines of the seminar, Dr. Chuchu told Pol/Mil

BANDAR SER 00000279 002 OF 002


Assistant that even together, Brunei's two political parties cannot
effectively lobby the GoB for direct elections to the Legislative
Council, the members of which are currently appointed by the Sultan
or indirectly elected by village heads, due to their small size of
less than 2000 members total.

--------------------------------------------- -----
NO OVERT GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE IN PARTY ACTIVITY
--------------------------------------------- -----

8. (SBU) There was no overt government interference in either of
these political party events, nor any obvious intimidation of
attendees. NDP Spokesperson Malai Hassan Othman told Pol/Mil
Assistant he believes some party members could actually be Internal
Security Department (ISD) agents monitoring the party's development.
We have also heard reports that the government privately advised
party leaders to avoid discussion of particularly sensitive topics
such as border diputes with Malaysia. The party events were covered
in local print media, albeit with little detail regarding the issues
discussed.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Senior party officials tell us privately that most
Bruneians are "not ready" for full democracy. They maintain that a
comfortable, oil and gas export-funded lifestyle and a deep strain
of social conservatism keep most Bruneians from pressing harder for
political change in the 600 year old monarchy's top-down political
and social system. Brunei's two active political parties share a
common interest in educating their members and the general public on
political rights and democratic processes in the hope that their
growing political maturity will encourage Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to
grant more scope for bottom-up governance. The NDP and PPKB intend
to carry out educational and outreach efforts that will help prepare
the ground for a more active and politically aware population, and
help to convince the Sultan that the people are ready for the direct
elections for seats on the Legislative Council that he promised
would eventually come when he reinstated the Council in 2004.


SKODON

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