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A Week in Review: July 9-15, 2011

Blue flag anyone?

Apart from the odd canvasser being shot, the election went relatively smoothly in Thailand. But why does it feel like this is the calm before the storm? Find out here…

As the dust begins to settle on what appeared to be a straightforward Phuea Thai victory at the polls, the fallout begins.

Thailand’s Election Commission has been bombarded with hundreds of complaints that range from the blatantly obvious to the downright ridiculous. The problem is that so many bad precedents have been set, even the plausible complaints are likely to be swept under the carpet.

In addition to the expected accusations of vote-buying, questions have been asked about the suitability of certain candidates and the roles of banned politicians, while some groups of voters claim they were denied their right to vote.

Several claims of vote-buying have been made by all sides. While some of these relate to 100 baht notes changing hands, others are a little more creative, such as Phuea Thai’s Prime Minister elect, Yingluck Shinawatra, cooking up a batch of noodles which were then distributed to hungry and seemingly easily manipulated voters.

Meanwhile, departing PM Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party is also accused of vote-buying for selling ‘blue flag’ products on the campaign trail. Quite aside from having no idea what ‘blue flag’ products are, I’m not sure how you can ‘buy’ votes by ‘selling’ products.

There have also been complaints about the suitability of some candidates. Unsurprisingly, some complainants have said that red shirts charged with terrorism offences related to last year's unrest should have been stripped of their right to run in the election. What is surprising, however, is that this issue is only being raised now.

With investigations ongoing, Yingluck Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva and a number of red-shirt politicians were among the high profile figures not included among the 358 out of 500 MPs endorsed by the Election Commission last week.

However, it was not only individual politicians against whom complaints were being laid. There have been calls for the EC to dissolve parties because banned politicians were still actively involved in helping the parties to plan policies and woo voters.

While Thaksin’s role in Phuea Thai springs to mind, the increasingly bitter yellow shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and their ally the People's Council of Thailand have asked the EC to disband a total of six parties, including Phuea Thai, the Democrats, Bhum Jai Thai, Chartthaipattana, Chart Pattana Puea Pandin and Phalang Chon.

In fact, not content with wanting to ban politicians and entire political parties, the PAD, which set up its own political party, then denounced it, and started a "Vote No" campaign instead of promoting its own "good" candidates, has decided that it wants the EC to nullify the results of Thailand’s general election. They just can not be happy, whichever side wins, it seems.

In its final complaint, the PAD said that at least five political parties presented populist policies, and this could be considered promises to reward people for voting for them which is a violation of election law.

There were certainly some outrageous promises made, particularly by Phuea Thai. While the party has enough time on its side for people to forget its claims to eradicate drugs from society in 12 months and poverty in 4 years, some of Phuea Thai’s other election promises are already coming back to haunt them. As Phuea Thai starts to backtrack on its election promises, even some of the party’s staunchest supporters are starting to question its integrity.

One of Phuea Thai’s big vote winners was its promise to raise the minimum wage to 300 baht per day across the country.

However, Pheua Thai deputy leader Plodprasop Suraswadi conceded last week that it would be impossible for Pheua Thai to instantly enforce the 300-baht flat rate increase across the nation.

"We can't increase the minimum wage to 300 baht in all provinces immediately [as the party said during the election campaign],” he said. "You have to understand that it was a campaign speech.”

Even by Thai standards, that last comment beggars belief. Are Phuea Thai politicians freely admitting that they will say anything to win votes regardless of whether they intend to make good on their promises? It would seem so.

Here are three more ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of Phuea Thai’s election promises:

Oil Funds

Before: “If Phuea Thai becomes the government, we will solve the rising cost of living by scrapping the oil fund to lower fuel prices. This will bring down the price of premium petrol by 7.5 baht a litre, regular petrol by 6.7 baht, and diesel by 2.2 baht.”

After: “We have no plans to jettison the oil fund after all. Phuea Thai is only looking at halting contributions to the fund temporarily.”

Land Reclamation and Flood Prevention

Before: “We will build a dam (across the Gulf of Thailand) and reclaim 300 sq km of land. This will form the base of a new city.”

After: “Phuea Thai didn’t announce that we will do the projects. We said only that we will conduct studies to find means to handle rising sea water which causes flooding in Bangkok.”

Reinstatement of Rice Mortgage Scheme

Before: “Under Phuea Thai’s rice management policy and rice mortgage scheme, farmers would enjoy prices of 15,000 baht a tonne for regular paddy and 20,000 baht a tonne for hom mali rice.”

After: “Only farmers holding a farmer credit card issued by the government will be eligible to take part in the rice mortgage scheme.”

Expect Phuea Thai to ride out the complaints lodged against the party and its members at the Election Commission. However, whether it can retain its popularity among the poor as it breaks its election promises one by one and marginalises the red shirts is another matter entirely.

Paul Snowdon – July 16, 2011

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