Catching up

It is somehow extremely difficult to resume blogging after a long break, and everybody needed a break after the intensity of April-May rallies.

Nothing seems worth writing about in comparison and certainly not worth spending several hundreds words on.

Still, life is going on, so let me sum up what has happened in the past couple of months.

Bangkok by-election

PTP has chosen a jailed candidate, then, as expected, its fan club started whining about how Korkaew was at a disadvantage. It doesn’t make any sense, of course, but being red is not about sense, it’s about making noise.

During the campaign itself PTP was a lot more visible on the road, they had more trucks, more people, more posters, louder music and so on.

I’ve heard of a woman who is registered in one of the new moobans in that constituency but lives mostly downtown, she was dragged to vote by her family but was not very interested herself. She drove to the polling station, got in a booth, and realized she doesn’t know what number to vote for. Once you are in there, there are no names and parties, only numbers, so she tried to remember and the first number that came to her was “4”, the biggest, most visible, red on white number that she saw most often, so she ticked it. Then, still in the booth, she asked her sister if she made the right choice (Dem). She changed her choice but I think it resulted in a spoiled ballot in the end.

This is a perfect example of how factors other than political ideology can influence voters’ decisions, easily.

The result itself presents quite a few explanations. On one hand it looks like both Reds and Dem supporters remain politicized active and they came out in masses – the drop in vote count for both parties was less than 10% comparing to 2007, that means that people who voted for other parties in 2007 couldn’t be bothered this time around, letting Dems and PTP to slug it out and causing a very low turnout overall.

Another explanation could be that voters across the spectrum were equally apathetic and it’s a mere coincidence that both PTP and Dem tallies were close to 2007 numbers, in this case both parties picked up a lot of third choice voters. From Dems’ perspective it’s the worst case scenario – PTP were not expected to draw any new blood into its ranks.

Third explanation is that PTP rallied its troops and nobody else while Dems were trying to appeal to everyone who is non-red, including tens of thousands of people who didn’t vote for them last time, people who had a long weekend and less interest in supporting the government no matter what. Dems won, but not by a huge margin.

Bottom line – no party can say that it lost and both have good reasons to be hopeful when the general elections finally come.

Personally, I think PTP squeezed as much as it could and no red supporter skipped the voting, means they command only about 30% of the vote and would need not only to beat the Dems but also woo coalition partners away from them. Personally I think it won’t work, not on the red agenda.

Election preparations

It looks like Abhisit will call the elections in the first half of next year, parties are switching to election mood already. Bangkok is peppered with advertising for city council elections, I believe, and, for the first time, there’s a lot of New Politics posters everywhere. Bangkok is not Thailand but it’s the first testing ground for every party involved.

Elsewhere PTP is expelling a few rebel MPs with a few more said to be leaving for BJT. Come election time there could be a lot more defections if PTP can’t stop the bleeding. For months their North Eeastern MPs were complaining about how the party is run, particularly about Shinawatra clan members who are in charge. In the capital the rift between Chalerm and Sudarat has been reported many times over, and now they think about Mingkwan as the PM candidate. That won’t go well with Chalerm, too.

Mingkwan has zero appeal outside the party, he has been around for a long time now but has never achieved anything substantial. I remember his promise in 2007 to increase Thailand’s income from tourism four times. Can’t figure out how – four times more tourists, or making them spend four times more? Doesn’t matter, he is first class bullshitter, he doesn’t claim to have any connection to reality anyway.

“Third choice” parties are also preparing themselves. They realize they are too small to make any impact and need to join hands to get noticed by the electorate. Ideally they want to be the deal breakers, position now enjoyed by BJT and Chart Thai. BJT will probably be more successful, though, at the expense of Isan MPs from PTP and possibly some factions from Chart Thai itself.

Democrats will go with Abhisit, easily the best and most acceptable candidate in non-red eyes. They can’t go wrong with him, despite all the accusations.

Democrat Party Dissolution

Dissolution threat is like a swing. One day it looks like Dems are done, the next day it looks like they are off the hook. There are two cases here, one is about misusing official EC funds, another about illegal donation by Prachai of TPP fame.

Back in 2004 Prachai was hunted by Thaksin and it’s very likely that he turned to Democrats for political support. It is also very likely that he contributed to their campaign, too. Legally, however, the case is very shaky, for the lack of proof. DSI has dropped the case against TPP itself, ie no money has gone missing, so it would be more difficult to argue that Dems have “stolen” it.

The witnesses have changed their minds, too, or have been made to change their minds, doesn’t really matter. I find the whole idea of prosecuting the party for offenses three elections and five years ago and under different management an abuse of the system. The only plausible reason is that when Abhisit became the party leader he had signed off the financial statements for the previous year, too, that makes him legally responsible and prosecutable even though he had nothing to do with it. No one cares about the rest of the Democrat team at that time.

There’s one very important point – the laws have been changed since 2004, it will be very tricky to prosecute Dems and impose penalties based on laws that didn’t exist at the time of the offense, and I don’t know how they are going to apply old lawbooks either. At this time finding one party executive guilty means disqualifying the whole board and dissolution, no leeway. That was not the case back then and I have no idea how the courts are going to solve this dilemma. The case could be just thrown out of the court.

The misuse of EC funds is even more ridiculous – Democrats are accused of printing posters that were one inch SHORTER than regulation. Now idiots like Chaturon insist the whole party must be dissolved. He, of course, doesn’t say the Democrat party must be dissolved for printing smaller posters, he just wants them dissolved, period. His main reason is that if TRT were caught cheating every other party must suffer, too. And he is referred to as the intelligent one in the opposition camp.

I can’t imagine how his brand of “rule of law” will develop should this poster boy for “progressives” ever lay his hands on power.

Thaksin, his shyster and red future

I mean, of course, Robert Amserdam. The man keeps plugging his stuff anywhere he can. He finally produced the “white paper” that has become quite a matter of contention when Somtow was asked to respond to it.

Lots of people, me included, dismiss all his efforts outright and think that his works are just mountains of garbage and are not worth wasting any time on. His point, however, is to try and engage the public in a debate at any cost. Get a foot in the door, then you can start extracting concessions.

Somtow saw it right through, The Nation got caught for a second and posted both of them on the same front page, giving Amsterdam the publicity he so badly needs. That was one off, though, they are not going to engage Amsterdam any more, I think.

I haven’t read the white paper itself but I’ve read enough of Amsterdam’s to see that the man has absolutely no consciousness and no moral or ethical constraints when it comes to manipulating the facts.

Once he accused Abhisit of personal and groundless attacks on him when, in fact, Abhisit hasn’t said a word at all. The accusation could have been, if stretched to the limit, applied to Abhisit spokesman but Amsterdam put it into Huffington Post anyway, with “supporting evidence” being an untranslated page from a Thai newspaper. No shame in misleading unsuspected readers whatsoever.

In the “white paper” itself the first paragraph states that the coup overthrew an elected Prime Minister and that TRT had won 2006 elections. I can see where he is coming from but this is just plain untrue. Thaksin wasn’t elected, he lost the status when he dismissed the parliament, he was merely an interim PM, and no one won 2006 elections, there were annulled before they were even completed.

It’s just garbage.

There’s no benefit in dissecting the whole paper, as long as he remains on Thaksin’s payroll no one would pay any attention to what he says, no matter how many times he issues his trademark “Let me be clear on this” denial. As a total newbie to Thailand Amsterdam doesn’t realize what declaring yourself as someone’s proxy does to one’s strength and arguments. Samak could pull it off, Amsterdam has no chance. No one in Thailand would ever listen to him, which makes me question the wisdom of hiring him in the first place.

He has never had a shot at influencing domestic opinions and internationally no one pays attention to Thailand anymore, one paper or one article or even one editorial here and there won’t persuade anyone, international opinion makers on this country are spread too far and between and are not going to be swayed by his paid presentations, and it’s them who’ll set the tone next time Thailand gets in the spotlight.

There’s simply no market for his crap.

Meanwhile, Jakrapob is hinting that Thaksin himself is reconsidering his strategy of trying to defeat the whole country. Thaksin’s a bit of a slow learner in that respect.

While Somtow claims Thaksin can be easily forgiven if he shows enough remorse I somehow doubt that now, not after all that has happened, and paying Amsterdam’s is not helping here at all.

Avatar change

I’ve watched Uncle Boonmee a couple of weeks ago. Absolutely delightful.

The only spoilers were a few “movie experts” who were clapping hands and laughing at “jokes” in the most inappropriate moments. I see how lots of people would try to “understand” the movie and express their “success” with emotional outbursts, but, come on, it’s not your traditional Hollywood/Channel 7 storyline, things do not follow each other in a simple, logical progression there.

Yet they are all inexplicably connected, affecting and complementing each other in a myriad different ways. It would take days to try and explain what exactly the connections are, what the background for each scene and dialogue is, which part are new and original by local standards and which parts are totally conventional.

So, when the “experts” clapped hands at calling Bangkok a “City from Hell” I hope it’s not out of joke appreciation, I hope they at least understood Thai word play here – “maha nakorn” vs “maha narok”. That is an example of a totally conventional, stale joke and a widely held view. Everyone here has heard this kind of joke at least ten times in their lives., nothing to get excited about. The Bangkok woman in the movie hardly reacted at all, and that’s how most Thai would react, too. It “works” only on the uninitiated.

In the end I walked out convinced that foreigners who claim that there’s nothing special about Thailand and dismiss any “you don’t understand this country” arguments out of hand have no idea how really complex and intricate Thai society is.

Is he movie red or yellow? What a daft question! That’s a totally alien, artificial juxtaposition. Not only in the movie, but in the society in general.

In the end I thought that monkey ghost from the movie was pretty cool so I changed my avatar here. In case you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a mysterious ghost that quietly flows through the whole story, at one point luring an enthusiastic photographer to abandon civilization, marry a monkey woman, and go live in the jungle.

Don’t know what we have in common but the image is visually stunning.


Who is missing in this chaos

The red shirts, that’s who.

Ever since they’ve been told not to wear red at Rajprasong so that soldiers wouldn’t know who to shoot, they’ve been wearing anything but red even outside their camp.

Methinks the real reason was the emergence of anti-red/multi-color movement. It was an awakening for reds who previously thought the population was firmly behind them.

In late March lots of people were driving around with “Dissolve the House” stickers and red ribbons on their antennas. Don’t tell me they took them off because they were afraid the army would shoot them.

Reds went “underground” the moment they gave up on their symbols in public. They fully, even if unconsciously realized that they were no longer welcome in the society.

I say unconsciously because they never admitted this change. Not to the degree that it was acknowledged through their usual communications channels. If it was filtered out intentionally from the red stage or red media that were supposed to reflect the general red feelings, no one protested and no one demanded the truth. If the thought ever occurred to them, they just let it go, keeping it tormenting them from inside. They knew they were wrong, they just didn’t want to admit it.

And so pent up fury and rage had blown off the lid in the past week’s anarchy. Very few of the protesters could be identified as reds. Interestingly, it appears that only hard core, armed protesters wore any signs of distinction, not paying much attention to what others think of them. The majority, the innocent/harmless/unarmed ones didn’t want to flaunt their affiliation anymore.

I bet the trend will continue with everybody and his dog denying flat out any connection to yesterday’s burning of Bangkok or tire burning of the days before. No one would admit any responsibility.

“I WAS red but not this kind of red”, they’d say.

Who will represent the political aspirations of this movement, I wonder? If PTP has never been trusted as pursuing people’s interests before it would be even less so now, when they disown the movement. Ideally PTP politicians should go through some serious soul-searching and accept both the burden of yesterday’s violence AND the burden of responsibility to carry on with the people’s agenda, but, seriously, they don’t do soul-searching, waste of time to speculate what they’d say if they did.

Practically it means that the grassroots red shirts will be left out, again, betrayed by their leaders and political representatives.

What’s more – they don’t seem to realize that yesterday marked the beginning of their election campaign and no one, no one would vote for them anymore.

Their slogan seems to be “Other parties promise to build. We promise to BURN, and we deliver”

In the end, only Abhisit is left to address their real needs and grievances. He is the only one ready to overlook the hostility from the red side and ignore pleas from his own supporters to erase them from the face of the Earth.

If he doesn’t look after the red ramp, no one else will.

Bits and pieces

Some things that caught my attention, not in a particular order.

Red ideologists

From Pravit’s interview with a red cyber warrior on Prachatai. This cyber warrior is described as “Luke Chao Na Thai” or “Thai Peasant’s Son”, an influential red-shirt intellectual whose articles under the pen name is widely followed by many middle-class red shirts. “Luke Chao Na Thai” was educated in Thailand and England. He is a bureaucrat in his mid forties who kept his real identity secret due to his bureaucratic status.”

Right now, the society is already divided into red and yellow. There are no more non-partisan people left. Why should we care for yellow shirts since they…

That is straight from horse’s mouth – any non-red is yellow, and we don’t care about them. Enough said.

And another quote:

If they abandon [Thaksin] their power will diminish by 60 per cent.

I always thought exactly the same thing – red ideologists have zero credibility on their own, without Thaksin’s fans they’d have zero following, yet they boast of speaking for the majority.

Weasels and jackals, that’s what first comes to mind. They want Thaksin to win his war, destroy his opponents, so that they can come and declare a victory for themselves. Hyenas is another fitting animal.

Luke Chao Na wasn’t speaking of himself there, btw, he was speaking of middle class reds with socialist thinking, and he gave some names, too – Ji Ungpakorn and Dr Weng.

I hope there are some “reds” who really want to ditch Thaksin and fight on the strength of their own convictions but it’s been three years already, without Thaksin they remain unknown and unheard of.

PTP pitches in

PTP has called for House dissolution, too. That must put more pressure on Abhisit, though it’s not clear yet if these calls are genuine. First it was Chavalit’s initiative, then their paper leader, Wichaidit, came with the call of his own. It might get traction within the party ranks, it might not. Neither of these two mean very much in PTP power pyramid.

Income growth

Saw this article about Thailand’s income gap on Bangkok Post. The link won’t stay for very long, even the image link might get eventually broken.

The key point is that TRT and its populist policies are not the solution to poverty at all. Look at the numbers, from 1995 to 2006:

Income growth 1995-2006

People on the Eastern Seaboard had 125% growth, more than a double of that for Isan, and people in non-TRT areas, South and Central, still grew faster. North made good gains but from a much lower baseline.

Look at the difference between Isan and the East, 36k per year comparing to 290k! No amount of easy loans or 30 baht health-care can ever breach this gap. Never.

What they need is actual broad based development, guided and guaranteed by the state.

Or how about this message to Isanese themselves – if you had voted for Democrats all these years you could have made three times more money than now, everybody else did, but you stuck with Thaksin instead and so remain hopelessly poor.

Red reception

Right now reds are still on high from their Saturday show, but what they might overlook is that they all they saw was only a bunch of reds. It was “if a you don’t go to a rally, then the rally comes to you” moment, but the reception among the general population remains unknown.

People are not hostile, largely indifferent, imo, but that might change to being annoyed if reds keep going on like that, and they plan to. So far Bangokians let reds express themselves to their satisfaction but, I suspect, the perception gap only keeps growing, with moderates failing to give their approval to the red cause while reds celebrating like they’ve already won the elections.

Another point that is forgotten by the media – exactly a year ago reds were a bunch of merry men, too. They kept singing and dancing through the first days of Songkran and they were largely tolerated, just like now. They overestimated their support, or rather mistook tolerance for blessings.

It seems they are making the same mistake again.

Bloodletting day

Yesterday it was supposed to be day 4, though Prawit writes it’s a day 3. With blood flowing everywhere no one is counting anymore.

I was wrong about lack of nurses, I forgot Dr Weng was actually a doctor with his own clinic and probably enough friends to get supplies and nurses, and there must have been quite a few trained professionals among the reds shirts themselves.

In the end they got a lot less than 500 nurses Weng promised but checking numbers here is a futile task. Weng himself said to have collected 500 liters from 50,000 protesters while the Nation reporter said there were 300 liters from 70,000 people. Note: the link to AP story from Bangkok Pundit doesn’t have Weng’s numbers anymore.

Nation’s guy said they poured blood in 40-gallon drums. Haven’t seen these drums in any pictures, and they needed less then two drums for their entire 300 liter collection.

Nevermind the numbers, what struck me most was this monk:

“To make a monk bleed is one of the worst sins,” said Phol Chanthasaro, a monk in orange robes who stood at the gates of Government House. “I want the government to understand right and wrong.”

No one made that dude bleed. He shouldn’t be at a political rally in the first place, ok, he could splash sacred water to bless people, but no one made him donate his blood, and now he blames it on Abhisit!

There was a brahmin performing some ritual during the blood pouring at the govt house. Today the chief royal brahmin reported as saying:

…the anointing of the blood at Government House’s gates carried out by a man clad in white yesterday was not an auspicious ceremony.

“It was not a Brahmin ritual either,”

In another development Jatuporn was reported as urging Phue Thai MPs to resign en masse, but not starting with himself, to which PTP replied that they’ve donated their blood for the cause already, one bloody liter, and that’s all they can do at the moment.

The real shocker, for me, came early this morning, a few seconds before I completely woke up – Sorrayuth in his morning news program said that Jatuporn promised to set himself on fire if the government doesn’t give in. No confirmation of this anywhere yet, maybe he didn’t really mean it, but then the earlier mentioned Nation’s report has this:

A 47-year-old Kalasin resident, Pian Thonpanya, said she was proud to be part of the donation. She vowed to do anything, even give her life, to help the red shirts achieve their goal of ousting the government.

Clearly some of the reds have opened up to the idea and now they are just negotiating the price, if you remember Shaw’s “will you sleep with me for a thousand pounds?” question.

Mass suicide would probably the natural course for this movement, they’ve done it politically already as even PTP does not support the call for house dissolution anymore:

Pheu Thai MP Paijit Srivorakan said the call for mass resignation was mere rhetoric designed to sway the crowds rather than a demand aimed at his party.

He added that Pheu Thai was not planning to push for House dissolution and also reminded parties involved that MPs vacating House seats was not an effective manner to pave the way for a snap election.

Well, that’s the first one, probably was misquoted by the Nation, but, honestly, people have long suspected that PTP were too comfortable with their salaries to call for new elections, to hell with Thaksin and red agitators. The split between PTP, red shirts, and other red groups is the main theme of Tuslathit’s analysis today, the front page story that is strangely not on their website. There’s probably a lof of truth in it, the evidence has been widely reported elsewhere, it’s not just The Nation’s conspiracy.

War on ammart – what’s it all about?

Ammart, the “bureacratic polity”, has been red movement primary target for a while now, possibly eclipsed only by war on “double standards”, so let’s see what it means as reds are approaching their do or die weekend of shutting down Bangkok.

Despite educating their followers on ammart evils for over a year now it’s still difficult to find any authentic red rationale behind the whole idea, at least in English. What we know about this war mostly comes from secondary sources.

What is ammart? Why it needs to be fought and defeated? What would be the means in this war? What would constitute a victory?

Let’s start with what ammart is. There’s no one accepted definition and even within the red camp there are probably differences of opinions on this. Everybody in Thailand kind of understands the concept but it’s when reds decided to fight it the vision becomes very blurry. Anyway, Jakrapob Penkair’s “state within the state” is probably as good starting point as any, also he was privy to intimate works of the government and the power distribution so his knowledge must not be purely theoretic. Here it goes, according to first New Mandala translation from his article in a red magazine:

1. Senior government civil and military officers nurtured under the patronage system of the previous authority. These officers take turns to be in power, sharing wealth and privilege. They sometimes compete and even fight among themselves.

2.Mechanism of absolute control by the state as among certain bodies and authorities such as Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), Special Branch of Royal Thai Police, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Royal Thai Army, Thai Airways, PTT, etc.

3. Income and revenue responsible groups including both the new rich and the old establishment rich as well as development of centrifugal networks to draw either old or new capital into the center.

4. Elements of academia, in particular those who know how to control the nation-state through the process of law – as among those academics with knowledge and skill to draft a constitution and other minor laws that have a hidden agenda or clauses that allow the status quo ante powers and elite privilege to continue.

5. Agreement with the superpower nations, in particular the USA in regards to protecting mutual benefits and to make sure areas of authority/interest doesn’t overlap.

That’s quite an impressive membership – senior government officials, the military, businessmen, academics, all backed up by the US. Usually the reds confine ammart to senior bureaucrats aligned with Privy Council, plus senior judges (omitted by Jakrapob). That kind of ammart consists of senior bureaucrats who use royal recognition as both means and instruments of power, reds accuse them of usurping the monarchy and using it to advance their own, undemocratic agendas.

What is interesting to note is that Jakrapob describes this network as centrifugal, ie without clear power center, and even though he used the term only in relation to drawing new businesses I think it’s safe to say that there’s no singular dominant node on this power grid, just the usual Thai senior-junior relationships when it comes to interactions. He also mentions that members often fight and compete with each other.

It’s clear that ammart doesn’t have any institutionalized structure and it appears that ammart is united only by ideology – deference to the King and, in red opinion, Prem, too.

Was Samak Sundaravej part of ammart? Surely, as one of the power nodes. People were speculating he was selected to lead PPP precisely because his loyalties were unquestioned. Maybe the rest of the ammart viewed his last years as “gone rogue” but it’s more likely that reds define ammart as being pro or anti Thaksin rather than anything else.

So, what are they going to fight? People’s feeling of hatred for Thaksin? People’s loyalty to the King? People’s respect for Prem?

Do they think they can legislate people’s ideology once they gain control of the parliament?

That leads us to how this war is going to be fought. Forcing Abhisit to dissolve the parliament is obviously only the first step. Then they will need to form a new government. What next is fuzzy, however. They will probably need to amend the constitution as executive power is seriously restricted when it comes to confronting the bureaucracy, and amendments proved to be an elusive goal even when PPP was firmly in power.

After that they will most likely start serious purges within every public institution, getting rid of suspected “ammart” and replacing them with their own loyal elements. Majority of the reds will have absolutely no control of the process, it will all be in the hands of yet another Thaksin nominee.

Now, what will the victory look like, assuming it all goes without glitch and major human rights violations? Well, we’ll have all decision making power centered on the government without any power structure to counterbalance it at all. How does that compare to ammart system with no dominant power center? Favorably?

Will it be more democratic? Perhaps only in the sense that the government will derive its legitimacy from the elections, however flawed they might be. At best it will be a dictatorship of the majority, at worst we’ll have one single dictator acting in the name of the people.

Basically, Thaksin redux.

Realistically, though, fighting against royalist ideology in Thailand is impossible, support for ammart as reds see it goes deep, far and wide across the country, they can’t purge Thailand of its dominant ideology and replace it with cult worship of someone like Thaksin, for without alternative cult figure the society will quickly return to its present state with its present heroes.

Right now we are treated to rumors of a possible collusion between PTP, BJT, and Chat Thai Pattana to nominate Sanan Kachornprasart as an alternative PM during the censure debate. Sanan is an old Democrat sec-general now under Banharn’s wing.

That just underlines red crisis of leadership – without Thaksin they have no one to offer, and even if they get Sanan it will hardly advance their case at all. He is not going to fight ammart for them, at best he could dissolve the House.

Perhaps reds should concentrate on power balance between traditional bureaucratic polity, the bureaucrats themselves, and the elected government. They could argue that 2007 constitution was a swing too far to one side and elected government must be given more powers in getting the bureaucracy to comply with electorate supported policies. That would give them a lot more traction and clearer objectives than fighting an amorphous and humongous “ammart”, and that might actually do something good for the country, too.

Traditionally defined bureaucratic polity came to exist precisely because states (not only Thailand) didn’t have well developed democratic institutions to compete for decision making power. Perhaps reds should prove they are capable to replace the bureaucrats first. So far elected officials and ministers have been mostly a source of embarrassment rather then pride and hope. So far the cabinet is the weakest link, professionally speaking, in country’s management. Suppose reds can force bureaucrats to follow orders of a nurse working as an energy minister, but what good would it do to the country?

Perhaps reds should focus on the quality of their proposed alternatives before they decide to take down country’s governing structure once and for all.

Or, perhaps, it has nothing to do with governing at all, and the war on ammart is just a bone thrown to reds by Thaksin when he himself felt excluded. That is the simplest explanation for red fuzzy logic and elusive goals, and you know what they say about simple explanations.

Image boosters – Democrats vs PTP

The Banker magazine gives Finance Minister of the Year award to Democrat’s Korn.

They list a lot of his achievements during last year and praise him for having visions and instituting reforms and so on.

He must be doing something right.

PTP, on the other hand, had a panel discussion at a hotel with Thaksin speaking via video link. What is unusual, though, is that the meeting was organized by a group of young people from hi-so families which joined PTP last year.

That’s just what PTP needs in addition to a collection of retired generals – hi-so children. I can’t think of any more inappropriate group to join this “party for the poor”. They already have Chalerm, now they are getting his children, too? Did they sign up Kanpitak, beauty queen son who mowed a poor woman with his Benz at a bus stop because he was angry?

To be fair, the hi-so kids are mentioned only in the paper Nation, no sign of them anywhere in the Internet edition and nothing about them on Bangkok Post website either.

They are mentioned twice on the front page, though, in a caption under the photo from the meeting and in a short column on Thaksin’s latest speech.

Perhaps The Nation’s journos covering the event got his facts wrong and Nation was forced to take it down from their website. Pity, could have been a great story.

They could have been sponsors, not organizers, or maybe they could have been participants, or maybe they were guests and it’s not them but their families that joined PTP last year – the wording is confusing.

Let’s see if it becomes clearer in the coming days.

Constituency battles

So Democrats decided not to sponsor constituency size amendments but it’s not clear what is their stand on article 190 about foreign agreements yet.

Amending that article makes sense as there was a lot of discomfort at the Foreign ministry after Noppadon’s deal with Cambodia was ruled unconstitutional. On the other hand, it’s Democrats who control Foreign Ministry now and if they don’t think the article 190 makes it inconvenient, how’s that any of Banharn’s business? His party will never get the foreign ministry portfolio, what’s it to him?

Multi/singe constituency is trickier and it goes to the heart of what do they need parliamentarians for in the first place, what are their duties, who they represent and so on, then two systems need to be considered relative to each other and expected results.

Originally the country was carved into 400 constituencies, and I suspect no one remembers them all. People know 76 provinces and they address each MP as such and such from this or that province. People never relate to them as representatives of their minuscule geographical areas, so, from the national assembly point of view, those small constituencies practically don’t exist.

It was different on the local level, smaller constituencies meant the MPs knew everybody in their areas, or everybody important. One MP per constituency also meant “winner takes all”, and competition was fierce. Naturally candidates tried to be as close to the voters as possible, and while it is probably a good thing, it also means that people made their voting decisions on matters that have nothing to do with their jobs at the national assembly at all. When campaigns are localized, national agendas fade into the background. Not to mention that it’s easier to buy votes in smaller places, either by paying money or giving out rice bags or t-shirts or holding free food political rallies and so on.

2007 constitution brought in larger, multi seat constituencies. Candidates had a lot more ground to cover, they needed to appeal to broader spectrum of population and present broader issues, relevant to larger areas and larger groups. In a way it brought their electoral agendas closer to national issues, though the gap is still too big, I think. It’s also not easy to buy votes in large areas, you need more money and it’s more difficult to keep track of it all. Local poo yais and village had less persuasive power, too. You needed to show something more than just “everybody on that side of the river knows me”. Candidates had to have bigger profile, larger caliber.

Multi-seat also means that three candidates with highest number of votes are winners, and where some area was totally under one party control even if they had only 1% majority, now it has a possibility of being shared, giving better representation vis-a-vi voter proportions.

Personally I think it’s not a bad idea to have ALL candidates run on their national platform, not on local issues. Neither the government nor the parliament have any regional structures, they have committees and ministries based on industries or social issues, never on local ones. New politics proposal addresses this perfectly – if you want to be on the House Industrial Policies committee you should be elected by industrialists, not by some Ban Nok residents who have no idea what you are supposed to do there and want a new klong in their neighborhood instead, but that’s for another post.

Anyway, smaller parties have better chances under one-seat system, they don’t have resources to fight on a bigger scale, and being close to voters is their strong suit. They have build themselves on being close to their people and they have always provided for them, leaving their legislating duties to big boys in parliament.

Big boys, on their end, are busy with their big pictures, they want to leave local issues to local governments, Tamboon and Provincial Administrations, which are elected nowadays, and they should be the ones who to handle local issues, not MPs.

Apart from being a deadwood in parliament, big boys think that those small parties who win their cabinet quota don’t have qualified candidates to fill them. They appoint a nurse as a Commerce Minister and a retired teacher as a Deputy Health Minister – jobs way over their heads.

So now Democrats decided to stay with larger, multi-seat constituencies, and it must be noted that it was a decision by their executive board, not by the body of their MPs who had to fight it out on the ground and probably didn’t like large area campaigns very much. Anyway, they had a meeting and they delegated the decision to the executives, so that’s it.

Now it’s Phue Thai’s turn to make up their minds and they have exactly the same concerns as Democrats – they are being challenged by break away TRT factions that have excellent on the ground support while they have the legacy of running on attractive national policies, health care for all and so on that are not as attractive anymore as everybody offers the same national platform.

It would be interesting to see how it goes. They might support the amendment for now to get to the Democrats but regret it or even back off later.