– July 3rd Thai election –
Lee Yu Kyung in Bangkok and Ratchaburi
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 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 campaign by traveling on MRT came 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 will 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 towards cameras with tireless smile.
“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 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 the 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 Pongruangrong 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 of the 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 has been penetrating into where ordinary people are.
“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-handed policy has left a terrible legacy, 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.
Leading on Image and Policy
Come over to the Democrats’ camp, the party’s spokesperson Dr.Buranaj Samutrak commented on Yingluck’s campaign : “People want contents, not the image”. “That’s why we have gained strength from online more than Pueu Thai” he added. So true in terms of a ‘figure’ shown on line. Abhisit Vejajiva has 692,728 fans on his Facebook, whereas Yingluck has 162,622 her own as of 00:51 on July 1st.
But jump to a ‘off-line world’, Abhisit’s campaign has been several times disturbed by protests on the street with exceptional occasions, among which was on 23rd at Ratchaprasong where Red Shirts were brutally crack downed. Instead of providing visions or policies for voters and supporters, the most of hours were allocated to terribly remind of what happened last year in Democrat’s view. In it, tends of thousands supporters were cheering, when the deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban has claimed “No one was killed at Ratchaprasong”.
Just an hour earlier Suthep said so, a 34 year-old woman who run a shop nearby told me, “I don’t think anyone was killed here”. And she kept saying she loved Abhisit so much. In his speech, Suthep tearfully declared “regret” the loss of lives, which was, according to him, caused by the protesters and men in black. This has enraged family members, whose loved ones were killed or injured.
“Suthep was pretending crying. I believe he never know about what ‘real tear’ is” one of family members, who testified at the event of One year anniversary : missing justice at Tammasat University on 25th, pointed out. This one was echoed by another family member, who was saying “Why have you pretending crying, while you didn’t cry at all when you saw dead bodies last year?”
Yet, it is a Democrat’s bid to woo supporters and the undecided particularly in Bangkok with a provocative slogan : “Do not let anyone burn our country again’
“Even before the election, the Red Shirts have threatened that there will be more chaos if Pueu Thai Party would not win. Then, what if they would win? They would feel more powerful to bring more chaos” The Democrat’s spokesperson Dr.Bunaraj Samutrak told me in an interview. It might be this context which made him frame out this election, at a panel discussion organized by Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand on 28th , as ‘Majoritism’ versus ‘Rule of law’
Another desperate bid has come from Gen. Prayut chan-o-cha, the country’s powerful army chief. In a televised-statement in the mid of June, he warned “vote for good people” “to do so that our nation and the institution are safe…”
A renowned academic Dr.Thitinan Pongsudhirak has called this “unfortunate turn event” “a sign of desperation”, saying :
“Let the result speak. If the result overturned again, more problems will come”
* Note : The variety of this article in Korean was published by <HanKyoReh21> here and
in German published by <Neues Deutschland> here