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A Week in Review: February 26 - March 4, 2011

Put on your sarcasm glasses now!

In the second instalment of our Thai Politics 101 series, we look at how to choose sides and how to acquire votes in Thailand. And last week there was a radical new development in this area. What was it?

Phuea Thai Party spokesperson Prompong Nopparit and Khon Kaen University political lecturer Samphan Techa-atik accused Thailand’s Democrat Party of playing dirty and trying to buy votes last week.


While vote buying is nothing new in Thailand, Prompong and Samphan were upset that the Democrats had employed a dastardly new twist that gave them an unfair advantage.

Instead of following the recognised procedure of placing 500 baht notes in Styrofoam lunch boxes, handing over 1 million baht to each village (so that they all buy mobile phones and use the service of which your company has a 20-year monopoly concession), or bribing village headmen to make sure that all villagers in their district are taken to the booths and instructed on how to vote, the Democrats broke with tradition by making some promises of what they would do to help the people of Thailand if they won the next election.

Although quite common in democratic countries, this strategy is apparently so alien in Thailand that a major political party’s spokesperson and a political lecturer at a university have never heard of it.

In democracies, a list of promises made before an election is called a ‘manifesto’ and is part of a radical concept called ‘electioneering’ or ‘campaigning’. Political parties develop a manifesto that is aligned with their party ideology and outlines how they will serve the people if they are elected.

Voters can then analyse the manifestoes of the different parties and choose to vote for whichever party they feel is most likely to serve their interests.

It is not a perfect system as sometimes not all of the manifesto promises are fulfilled when a party wins an election, but it is at least voter-centred rather than politician-centred.

Of course the real role of a Thai politician is to make sure his party forms the next government so that he can steal as much money as possible from the country – including the people who voted for him. However, this must be done discreetly, and the public role of a Thai politician is to attack the opposition at every possible opportunity so as to create an illusion of public service and divert attention away from his own party’s shortcomings.


This destructive rather than constructive political strategy is employed with particular gusto by Phuea Thai. The Democrat Party issues its manifesto, and Phuea Thai attacks it rather than countering with its own manifesto. Phuea Thai supporters are encouraged to support Phuea Thai on the sole basis that the Democrat Party is a worse option than Phuea Thai, rather than because Phuea Thai is a better option than the Democrats.

Far from ensuring government transparency and making sure that the needs of the people are being served, the endless censure debates instigated by Phuea Thai end up as nothing more than childish slanging matches and do nothing to prevent the rampant corruption within the Democrat Party and its coalition partners.

It is no wonder that, whichever side wins, the good people of Thailand lose in such a system.

Thai parties’ failure to develop meaningful manifestoes can also be attributed to their lack of an ideological stance. While – superficially at least – Phuea Thai and the Democrats look like the perfect ideological opposites, scratch beneath that shiny veneer and the truth is uglier than a bulldog chewing wasps.

Writing in his weekly column in the Bangkok Post (5/3/11), Arglit Boonyai gave a perfect example of this lack of ideology when he pointed out how Worachit Chayanant, son of Democrat MP Therdpong Chayanant, explained that he joined Phuea Thai rather than the Democrats because there were no candidacy spots available in the Democrat Party!!!

Politicians regularly change sides in Thailand, but usually for personal financial gain and almost never because of ideological conflict. Indicating that Thai politics is more about personality cults than ideology, established politicians also tend to take their supporters with them when they defect (the more supporters they have, the higher price they can command).

Again, it is the good people of Thailand who lose out under such a system.

Another reason why politicians change sides in Thailand is because of a personal conflict or as a bitter act of revenge.

The growing conflict between Phuea Thai and the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) provided a good example last week. Following the recent news that the seven red shirt leaders who were released on bail are set to stand for election as Phuea Thai list MPs, several more UDD members attempted to jump on the bandwagon.

However, apparently worried about the damage to its image that admitting red shirts en masse would cause, Phuea Thai rejected most of the red shirt candidates as it aimed to distance itself from the UDD and its mob tactics.

One person who is definitely not being considered is Payap Pankate, a red shirt leader who – despite the fact that he is currently on the run – was proposed by Yaowapa Wongsawat, sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

While these rejections may protect Phuea Thai’s image, they angered many of its supporters in the red shirt movement, some of whom are now vowing to join opposition parties to get their own back.

Again, it is the good people of Thailand who lose out under such hypocritical politics.

If true democracy is to flourish in Thailand, it needs to begin with a strong 2-party system built on ideology. Voters should be wooed by policies – even populist ones – rather than bribes or the power of personality.

But none of this will succeed until ALL the good people of Thailand are educated to understand how democracy works. And therein lies the problem…

The snakes are responsible for cutting the grass.

Paul Snowdon – March 5, 2011

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Have your say...

James Grant
12 Mar 2011, 05:21
Did I miss something? What happened to that thread with Ben, NF and Paul? I'm still waiting for Ben's response.
Naked Farang
23 Mar 2011, 00:12
James: In updating the website, I changed the title of this section from 'naked news' to 'Thai news'. As a result, the thread you are talking about is not here. However, you can still find it on the old page, which I'm keeping for a while. This is the extension:
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