Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Democrats treading on eggshells as they lose support


IF the ruling Democrat party wants to know why it is losing support of Bangkokians who usually vote for the party, it should conduct its forensic investigation at the supermarket.

Better still, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva could whip out a frying pan and fry an egg while pondering why loyal voters in the Thai capital would abandon his party on the July 3rd polls.

“Never in my life have I gone to a supermarket looking for cooking oil and found none on the shelf,” related Pimrapaat Dusadeeisariyakul, a programme manager with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Bangkok.

Last year, even if cooking oil was available, a family could only buy one bottle each at a price that had tripled. Some families opted to buy the more expensive olive oil.

The fact that cooking oil is produced from oil palm plantations in the Democrat's stronghold in the south aggravated Bangkokian anger towards the party.

The price of cooking oil went down just after Abhisit dissolved parliament.

Last year Abhisit also had an egg crisis. The price of eggs was soaring.

“Eggs used to be cheap. And the (urban) poor could at least buy an egg for his meal,” related Pimra-paat.

The government of the Democrats (which has been stereotyped as elite technocrats who do not understand the plight of the common people) decided that eggs should be sold by weight.

“People made a joke that never in their life they had to by eggs by the kilo,” Pimrapaat said.

Before the price went up, an average-sized egg cost about 3 baht (RM0.30). Now it is about to 4 baht (RM0.40).

After many protests, Abhisit's government abandoned its unpopular egg policy.

The two economic boo-boos will cause the Democrats to lose votes among its supporters.

“The way they handled the cooking oil and egg situations reflects how insensible they are in seeing the people's everyday problems,” explained Pitch Pongsawat, who teaches political science in Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

“People on the streets regardless whether they are (pro-Thaksin Shinawatra) Red Shirts are fed up with the Democrats' handling of the economy,”

Democrat spokesperson Buranaj Smutharaks admitted that his party might lose votes from its handling of the cooking oil and egg problems.

“But the price of goods is rising everywhere in the world. Even Malaysia is facing that situation,” he ex-plained.

Although the rising cost of living is a big issue among Democrat supporters, Pitch says the other reason it is losing support is its clash with the Yellow Shirts.

“Upfront, the Democrats and the Yellow Shirts are bickering over the Thai/Cambodia border issue,” he said. “But some of the Yellow Shirt leaders are angry they were not rewarded for bringing down the government of Somchai (Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin) in 2009.”

The Yellow Shirts are campaigning for a “Vote No”. Its posters have the heads of monkey, buffalo, dog, tiger and monitor lizard wearing suits and its message is: “Mark no' so that animals do not enter parliament”.

In the 2007 Thai elections, the Democrats won 30 out of the 33 constituency seats in Bangkok.

Opinion polls show that pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai, which is led by his youngest sister Yingluck, will win 18 seats in Bangkok, Democrats six seat, and the remaining nine seats still undecided.

“My guess is the vote for the Democrat party will go to a smaller party,” opined Pimrapaat.

Among the favourite is Chuvit Kamolvisit, Thailand's angriest politician.

The chatter among Bangkokians aged 18 to 35 on Facebook and Twitter is they are fed up with politics as they perceive politicians to be corrupt.

“When you ask them who they would vote for they would say Chuvit because he is anti-corruption,” noted Pimrapaat.

“It is also because of his appealing campaign message, which echoes the young's anti-politician sentiment.”

The young, according to her, perceive the Democrats as “slow and non-performers” and the Red Shirts (Pheu Thai) as “trouble-makers”.

Last year's bloody political chaos in the Thai capital, which saw 91 people killed and several buildings razed, will play in the mind of the voters.

“People born in Bangkok will remember the tragedy (and vote against Pheu Thai),” related Pimrapaat. “But not those who come from different parts of the country to work (in Bangkok).

Translation: It is a political divide between the Bangkok middle class and the working class from Thailand's poverty-stricken northeast.

Bangkokians red at heart, according to Pitch, will vote for Pheu Thai.

There is no need to convince them that the elitist Abhisit has never fried an egg in his life. If he did, he probably used olive oil.