The Chatchart factor and the changing trends in Thai politics
It was proved that there is no such thing as "strategic voting". People simply cast their votes using their own judgement, experience, understanding and for a reason.
Special to The Nation
Prior to the gubernatorial election on May 22, I had often heard people talk about "strategic voting". Some media predicted that a large number of Bangkokians, who were afraid of the return of the ousted PM's factions, would cast their votes to help some contenders in order to lower Chadchart Sitthiphan's victory margin. No matter how hard they tried, Chadchart won by a landslide along with a large majority of city council members from the opposition, both Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties.
It was proved that there is no such thing as "strategic voting". People simply cast their votes using their own judgement, experience, understanding and for a reason. The idea of "strategic voting" implied that some Bangkokians could be controlled or influenced by others. I do not think so.
Certainly, people could vote for someone due to sentiment (emotional matter). Like what happened in Australia when the newcomer, Anthony Albanese or ‘Albo’, defeated former PM Scott Morrison because of his humble family background. His campaign raised awareness about the disparities in society and focused on equal opportunities. He used himself as an example to show how someone like him, who was born poor, could come this far. If we carelessly accuse people without compassion and understanding, we might unnecessarily push them away to the other side.
Such ignorance often brings about a sudden political turmoil.
The authorities almost always have a misperception that they have the power to treat people any way they want. The Arab Spring uprising began in Tunisia where the police routinely treated street vendors as second class citizens. It sparked a wave of protests and spread to many countries throughout the Middle East. The same thing happened in the US when George Floyd was suffocated to death by a policeman. This led to the rise of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that finally brought down President Donald Trump and hoisted Democrat Joe Biden to power. These should be some lessons for us.
We cannot undermine the power of the people; we need to heed their voices of concern with utmost respect.
As much as 60 per cent of the eligible voters came out to cast their votes for both the gubernatorial and the council member elections, a phenomenal turnout, and pointing to the people’s sentiment towards the government in power.
Several government figures denied and tried to play down that the gubernatorial result had nothing to do with the upcoming general election.
Politically, they need to say that in order to save the morale of their own supporters. In fact, they felt and realised very well what the results would be from their pollsters. The strategic voting plot believed by several media did not really work. All efforts and tactics such as direct phone calls to supporters failed.
Chadchart’s landslide victory provided a clear evidence that eight years of General Prayut's administration had not blended in very well with the majority of citizenry. One thing is clear; there has been no real success in pushing forward full reforms. The government set up a number of national reform committees but most of them failed to push through their reform agenda. The effort was criticised as "mere verbal reform, but no action taken".
In the beginning, the junta might have really wanted to see some significant changes in terms of people’s beliefs and mindset to help move the country out of the old evil cycle. Some had very high hopes that the then coup de’tat would be the last and would bring a new light and political awakening to our society.
Following the emancipation of the present Constitution, in which I also took part as a commissioner and a spokesperson, we 21 people spent nearly two years drafting the highest law of the land. We suggested many proposals to eradicate corrupt practices, empower the citizens in terms of rights and freedom. We created the Constitution to ensure there is no such thing as a deadlock on any issue.
I do not want to blame the government, but the inception of Palang Pracharat Party was not really the formula we had set up. We were very surprised to see a political party spring up in a few days and manage to become a giant party overnight simply by employing merger methods like a business corporation. This kind of unscrupulous deal-making was used to make way for the military coup. But then again they never learned the lesson. They brought in many politicians into the party from the opposition whom they used to blame, and had even arrested many of them. But they had no qualms in welcoming every one of them only to build up a strong coalition government.
I believe the ordinary people came to the realisation that they could not have high expectations of anyone but themselves. Another four years of Chadchart would be a crucial period for Prayut and company, if they decide to remain in power. Chadchart’s stronghold and supporters will spread out beyond Bangkok. May be former PM Thaksin has nothing to do with Chadchart’s success, but the election results show some sort of dissatisfaction with the government.
People realise that Chadchart's victory is also a victory for those who stood in opposition to the government. The Chadchart factor will of course haunt the powers that be not only for now but for long.
(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)