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A Week in Review: June 18-24, 2011

Drive safely, y'all!

One of election clown Chuwit Kamolvisit’s gimmicks is a steering wheel, supposedly to steer Thailand forwards. But Thailand proved it still needs some serious driving lessons last week. Find out why here...

Despite a Thai military bigwig (or perhaps a Thai military bigwig's son) losing his cool and running over a doctor in a fit of road rage, and despite the deliberately delayed and hushed-up court appearance of the underage, unlicensed, but over-privileged driver who caused a fatal accident last December by using her Blackberry phone will driving at high speed on an expressway, it was the drive for votes that made the headlines in Thailand last week.

And it is a drive that is anything but safe or careful.

The big news in Thailand last week was the Democrats’ rally at Ratchaprasong on Thursday evening. The red shirts claimed it was a provocative act, which of course it was. And if anybody should know about holding provocative rallies at Ratchaprasong, it is the red shirts.

For two months last year, red shirts brought the whole area to a standstill and prevented thousands of people from going about their daily business. The Ratchaprasong site was chosen by the red shirts specifically because they knew it would be highly provocative.

How could the government not react to the provocation of protestors and armed militia barricaded into a central business district of Thailand’s capital and refusing to negotiate?

How could the government not react to the shooting of soldiers armed at the time only with batons, the firing of grenades at commuters, the arson and burning of huge tyre fires, the obstruction of business, and the malicious lies and threats being spewed out daily on stages within the protest site?

As Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva explained during the Democrats’ rally last Thursday, “Any Government that does nothing in such a situation is not upholding the rule of law.”

But nobody won that battle. There were only losers. The red shirts’ occupation of the area did not topple the government as Thaksin had banked on; the government’s handling of the situation was very badly managed; and 91 people lost their lives. It was a very sad chapter in Thai history.

So yes, the Democrats rally at Ratchaprasong last week was provocative. But more than that, it signalled a dumbing down of the Democrats’ election campaign.

Last Thursday, the Democrats brought themselves down to the level of Phuea Thai by choosing to provoke and attack their opponents rather than continuing to present the benefits of their own manifesto.

The Democrats focused on attacking the red shirt leaders for inciting hatred and violence among their supporters. They attacked Thaksin for his corruption, his abuse of power, his contempt for justice, and his manipulation of the red shirts for his own personal gains. They attacked Phuea Thai for making an amnesty for Thaksin its top priority. And they reminded Thai voters that a vote for Phuea Thai is a vote for terrorism, corruption and lawlessness.

While these are all fair points, it is a sad state of affairs that the Democrats have allowed themselves to be dragged down to this level – to be destructive rather than constructive. But it seems that this is the only way to win votes in Thailand.

Most Thai voters have no idea of what the parties they support actually stand for. They know only the faces and numbers of the candidates they see on advertising boards up and down our streets. They do not know their policies.

This was clearly shown in the Phuea Thai / Thaksin / red shirt strongholds of Isaan in north-eastern Thailand last week when a "blind" poll was conducted among more than 1,200 people across the region by Khon Kaen University.

Participants were asked to pick the policies they preferred without being told which party had proposed them. The results showed that the majority of north-eastern voters in the sample selected the Democrat Party's policies on the economy, agriculture, education, transport and communications, and social issues, including drug suppression. Nevertheless, Phuea Thai remains the overwhelming favourite party in the region. Go figure.

In addition, most leading economists surveyed in a poll conducted by Bangkok University's Research Institute say the Democrat Party's economic policies are generally more feasible than those of Pheua Thai. Out of nine selected policies, the Democrat Party had seven that were considered viable, while only five Pheua Thai policies were deemed practical by a majority of the economists.

It is no wonder then that Phuea Thai’s proxy leader Yingluck Shinawatra has steadfastly avoided being drawn into a live debate.

To many Thai voters, the choices are simple – vote for Thaksin (Phuea Thai) or against him (the Democrats).

Of course, Phuea Thai did throw out a few ridiculous policies about eradicating poverty in 4 years and eliminating the drug problem in 12 months, but nobody took this seriously. Under its campaign slogan of “Thaksin thinks; Phuea Thai acts”, Phuea Thai has made it patently clear that an amnesty for Thaksin is its number one vote winner and its main priority. Chalerm Yubamrung has been charged with ironing out the details so that Thaksin can be home and “back on the streets” in time for his daughter’s wedding in December.

It was somewhat strange then to hear Thaksin’s proxy Yingluck’s designated hitter Yongyuth Wichaidit announcing during a live debate that Phuea Thai does not have an amnesty policy for any particular individual (Thaksin Shinawatra). “Neither party leader (Thaksin Shinawatra) nor executive members (Thaksin Shinawatra) have ever talked about that," he said. Perhaps it was  case of Chinese whispers as the message got passed down the chain of command.

And if you need any more proof that Thai politics is about a few greedy individuals manipulating gullible masses for their own personal greed, consider this: yellow shirt leaders set up a political party, then denounced it, and started a "Vote No" campaign instead of promoting its own "good" candidates. And all the while, its loyal followers tagged blindly along without questioning its motives.

Vote wisely, y'all.

Paul Snowdon – June 25, 2011

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