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Thailand: Reclaiming Democracy

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Bangkok & Ratchaburi (Thailand), 02 Juli 2011
photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Being accompanied by dozens of entourage, surrounded by a number of supporters competing in giving her followers, Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, the number one party list candidate of the opposition party Pueu Thai (“for Thais”), was traveling by Bangkok’s Metro (or MRT) early morning on July 17th. The MRT is said to be one of symbols of modernizing Thailand, partially addressing Bangkok’s hell-like traffic jam, launched under her brother Thaksin regime in 2004. The party has recently announced “31 policies”, in which a few points are all related to public transport, indicating the party has taken transport issues seriously ‘at least in a period of campaign’.

“We will proceed the planned MRT lines as soon as we came to power“ said Thanas Watanapongsakul, who chairs a committee of Transport & Economic of the Party.

The MRT campaign was on a day after a local politician shot dead at broad daylight in tourists touted Khaosan area. The Election Commission has categorized Bangkok as one of the high risk of election-related violence. 

Nevertheless Yingluck appeared with rather ‘invisible’ security, which contrasted her counter part Abhisit Vejajiva from Democrats, whose team are normally having security guards ‘in visible’.

If the opposition Pueu Thai would win the July 3rd election and form the government, Yingluch would be a first woman Prime Minister in Thailand, where male politicians are absolutely dominant.

She is seen by many as a proxy of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra despite her claim of ‘independence’. Over a month or so campaigning path, however, she seems to be shown her own ability as like a matured politician. In a campaign trails, she poses well at the camera with tireless smile.

photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

“In my view she is a hard worker and fast learner” said Ms. Pinpaka Ngamsom, a senior journalist from the independent website Prachatai. “At first I was disappointed with her speech. But last time when I listen to her, I feel amazed because she has been changed her performance and phonation a lot.” Pinpaka observed.  

Nepotism doesn’t matter to people like Somsak (name changed, 63), a Red Shirts living in Australia. “We are not looking at whose sister she is. We are only looking for someone who would be able to serve the people’s need.”

It is all but hard-earning election, for which more or less 100 people – mostly Red Shirts - had been on bloodshed in the past two years for their single demand : Democratic Election.

“I will go to my hometown Karasin province to vote for no.1 (Pueu Thai party)” said the 53 year-old taxi driver Suvin Arunmat. “I should pay lots of money and losing my daily income because of this travel. But I definitely will” The driver looked truly excited.

“There is more than hope in (Red Shirts stronghold) North-East” said an activist Sarayut Tangprasert, who has lived in the region for more than a decade.

When asked if the Pueu Thai would compromise with establishment in the name of reconciliation without seeking facts and truths, he replied :   

“That’s what I most fear.”

To a same question, Ms. Thida Thavornseth, a chairperson of UDD – the mainstream faction of Red Shirts – immediately answered, “We will fight”.

As a matter of facts most of Red Shirts leaders, including a wife of Arisman who’s on the run, are on the Pueu Thai party list. Among them is an eloquent speaker Nattaut Saikua with number nine.  At the stage in Ratchburi– central province – on June 17th, he introduced himself “Nattaut Prompan” in solidarity with the now jailed-leader Jatuporn Prompan who’s on number eight party list. Nattaut once said he believed the “product”, which is a unity of Pueu Thai Party, Thaksin and Red Shirts.

On the same stage Yingluck would appear in her turn, making short speech followed by ‘receiving followers’ time from a crowd. It seemed, she’s going to do over a night, unless her assistant mildly stop her to set her upright. It was a perfect campaign in ‘image politics’, whereby Thaksin’s populist legacy has been reincarnated. She and Pueu Thai have pledged to continue populist policies, adding some others such as a raise of minimum wage. Thus image politics on one hand, policy based addressing on the other, Pueu Thai has been leading not only most of opinion polls, but also an effective campaign which’s been penetrating into where ordinary people are.

photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

“In the past, the poor had been dying out at the hospital’s floor due to hospital fee. Thaksin is the one who changed this picture totally. I’ve never seen such Prime Minister in my life” said Chirapar Batsapanurat (65), a pro-claimed middle class woman living the capital’s business district Silom area. 

Even in the Muslim populated South, where Thaksin’t heavy-hand policy has left a terrible memory, Yingluck got welcomed by Muslim community.

“Surprisingly, Pueu Thai party is thought to be one of alternatives as Democrats hasn’t implemented what they pledged. Plus, people think big party could solve their problem better” said Noi Tamma, who has been a long time observer based in the restive South. 

“Considering their populist policy, I predict Pueu Thai Party would perform better than the others for the Party lists” said Kan Yuenyong, a director of a Siam Intelligence Unit. “But for the constituencies candidates, it’s left to see” he cautions.

Although every opinion poll has indicated Pueu Thai’s leading, there’s no guarantee for the winning party to form the government in Thailand, where the elected government has been overthrown by different types of coups.  

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