Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Deconstructing Tulsathit Taptim: Democrats, Party of Losers

PPP sympathy card working well despite Samak

Tulsathit Taptim

The Nation

Tulsie, in typical Nation fashion, has got the analysis all wrong in his column:

What has gone wrong for the Democrats, who, according to the survey, will win fewer than 130 seats? It's more about nothing having improved for them rather than the party making any mistakes. The situation now looks very much like when they lost a Bangkok gubernatorial election in the mid-1980s to Chamlong Srimuang, who elected to play a sympathy card and stuck with it to the very end to devastating effect.

It's fair to say that if the PPP's sympathy card will lead to a landslide success, it will be in spite of Samak, not because of him. His brutal outspokenness may be charming to some, but it's easier for arrogance to backfire. If the PPP wins the general election, only one conclusion can be drawn: Thaksin Shinawatra's clout and popularity remain impregnable. In many northeastern constituencies, it has been a clear-cut case of poor men campaigning to help their "champion".

From most polls and estimates so far, the PPP stands to sweep at least 170 seats. Optimistic projections raise the number up to the vicinity of 200. This means the Democrats require a very strong alliance with the other key players if they want to make Samak leader of the biggest opposition party in Thai history.

The problem, as far as the Democrats are concerned, is that a resounding PPP triumph will unshackle the likes of Banharn Silapa-acha. The Chart Thai leader will no longer be bound by the unspoken you-can't-support-Thaksin rule. Banharn may be condemned by some academics, but his constituents won't even care. On Monday, Samak gave this blatantly honest message to Banharn: "The Democrats won't give you the prime minister's post, and I won't, either. But will it be nicer to join someone who never dug up dirt on your ancestors?"

The best the Democrats can do is gun for a close runners-up spot, which will give them considerable legitimacy to compete with the PPP to become the core of the post-election coalition government.

And under current circumstances, it's a must for the Democrats to win impressively in the capital. If they lose to the PPP in Bangkok or merely edge Samak's party in the city, such legitimacy will simply be out of reach.

One may argue that attaching so much importance to how Bangkok votes is unfair. But the point here is that the Democrats don't have much to gain if they dominate the capital - but they have everything to lose otherwise. The PPP, on the other hand, has nothing to lose if it concedes the capital, but will have everything to gain if it manages to grab half of the cake.

Democrat insiders are saying that the most the party can withstand is letting the PPP win one-third of Bangkok seats. Anything more than that, and Thailand's oldest party most likely will have to sit in the opposition bloc once again.

1. This analysis is Soponesque in its idiocy. There is no way a party can win a landslide victory based upon the sympathy vote. I sure would love to read the polls that The Nation have done that have given him this crazy idea.

2. There is no way that more than half the Thai polity is uniform in a belief that they are voting for PPP because Thaksin is their champion. Again, I would love to read that poll.

3. You can't do serious political analysis based upon "well, the Democrats will lose, and it is all because of Thaksin populism."

4. Samak would have been a political nobody had it not been for the Democrats supporting him for governor of Bangkok back in 2001.

5. In the last senatorial elections, Samak won with an overwhelming landslide in Bangkok. Like him or not, he has a constituency outside of being a Thaksin lackey.

Let us be frank, shall we: The Democrat Party is a regional party. It is the party of the south. And it is the party of a handful of intellectuals in Bangkok. It has never been a majority party.

When has the Democrat Party ever been a serious competitor? Or a dominant political force?

The fact is that the Democrats have had the opportunity for a long time to do something different. They were in political exile for 6 years during the Thaksin administration.

What did they do? Boycott elections, complain, wring their hands, put Banyat into power.

While Thaksin was in power, they could have built relationships at the local level all over Thailand.

They could have built think tanks, they could have thought long-term, they could have acted like a shadow government, they could have proposed alternatives to Thaksinocracy and Thaksinomics, they could have reconfigured their marketing strategy and field operations.

Instead, they said, "We are Democrats, we are cute, we are clever, and we won't change our losing strategy, because we are Democrats and entitled to power without having to earn it."

Hate Thaksin, love Thaksin or indifferent to Thaksin, that doesn't change the fact that Thaksin at least had a viable plan to transform the political landscape of Thailand.

He had a strategy other than "I am cute, smart and clever." Thaksin had a strategy and he put policies in place to win.

Some Thaksin haters will say, "Thaksin had lots of money. He could do what he wanted because he bought off every vote. The Democrats were not competitive because they refused to be corrupt."

Well, what I find interesting is that the Democrats never made the effort to bring to the public eye all of this corruption. They could have monitored the elections, exposed all the corruption, made sure that the elections were free and fair by putting party operatives in place to take pictures of all this vote buying and selling going on. They could have gone to the EC and the media. They could have used the checks and balances mechanisms under the 1997 Constitution to uncover Thaksin's corruption.

Politically, they could have presented a viable alternative vision to what was happening during the Thaksin years. In fact, they can still do that.

Instead, what did they do? Complain, wring their hands, boycott elections, and support a coup because they couldn't win.

Now, they are about to lose again, and the conventional wisdom is not that the Democrats are incompetent and have always been incompetent in running political campaigns, but rather PPP will win because of sympathy for Thaksin.

Maybe it is time that Tulie start analysing why the Democrats are always losing rather than make up some idiotic theory about sympathy for Thaksin.

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