Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chaos before calm can reign

Thai Takes

TOMORROW, Worapol Promigabutr, a 50-year-old Thai academician, will mark an “X” against the number 12, the party list ballot paper for Zone 6.

Twelve is the number drawn by Samak Sundaravej, the leader of the People Power Party (PPP), on Nov 14 during the lot drawings for party-list candidacy.

With the ‘X’ against 12, Warapol is voting for the PPP in the zone consisting of Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.

For the constituency seat, he can vote for three MPs to represent him in Bangkok constituency 1 (or is it constituency 2? It is all too confusing for him with the recent realignment of constituencies). “I don’t remember their number or name but I will vote for anyone with the PPP,” declares the associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

To Worapol, it is not who he will vote for but what he is voting against that is more important. He is backing the PPP, which has promised to bring back self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, because he opposes the coup that ousted the former prime minister on Sept 19 last year.

“I have to tell myself again that I believe in democracy and not in coups. We cannot allow a small number of people to steal sovereignty from the people through the barrel of a gun,” he declares.

His decision, he clarifies, is not based on a personal bias against any political leader.

“Personally, I know many people in almost every political party. For example, Abhisit (Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party) and I have worked together previously.”

The Democrat Party will not get his vote because he believes a clique within the party is linked to the coup makers.

How will Thais vote tomorrow? There are about 45 million eligible voters.

Most of the votes in the country’s north and northeast regions will go to the PPP, which is a pro-Thaksin party.

“The people from these two regions are poor by Bangkok standards. And they are impressed with the Thai Rak Thai (Thaksin’s disbanded party and the predecessor of the PPP) because in the party’s five years in power its policies have helped them,” explains the academician.

In Bangkok, Worapol believes the Democrats will not win as many seats as it expects. Some sections of the middle class, he observes, have grown unhappy over the coup as, on a micro level, the Thai economy is not as good as what the military-installed interim government is propagating.

“Many are saying that if they do get a one-month bonus, they would still be happy. They are trying to downplay their expectations. These middle class voters will be in a confused state on Sunday,” he says, adding that most of the Thai capital’s working class are partial to the PPP.

The south will remain the Democrat Party’s stronghold. “Through the process of socialisation, southerners will not vote for another party,” explains the sociologist.

Worapol predicts the PPP to win most of the 480 seats up for grabs – 400 MPs to represent Thailand’s 76 provinces and 80 party-list MPs).

But whether the PPP will form the next government will depend on the expected horse-trading between political parties in what is seen as an inconclusive polls. And there are many likely scenarios.

“Any party that can get Banharn Silpa-archa (the leader of Chart Thai Party) can be in a secure position for at least a year. But Banharn will ask for more and more,” he figures.

Worapol isn’t sure why Abhisit is so confident his party will team up with Banharn’s Chart Thai Party to form the next government. “Abhisit’s terms (that he becomes prime minister) will not be to Banharn’s interest,” he notes.

The possibility of a coup in case the PPP forms the next government is slim, according to Worapol. “Right now there are different factions within the military. The clique of coup makers has gotten smaller and less powerful,” he says.

However, the academician thinks that before the prime minister is named in parliament, chaos will rein.

Whatever the outcome, Worapol hopes future coup makers will learn that they cannot move Thailand back to the Cold War era.

(Published in The Star on Dec 22, 2007)