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Election 2007: Battle for Isaan
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  1. #1
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    Election 2007: Battle for Isaan

    Election 2007: Battle for Isaan

    "I'm Kraisak, son of Chatchai," said Kraisak Choonhavan, giving the traditional Thai "wai" greeting to a shop owner whose vote he's wooing in the town of Ban Thai, Nakorn Ratchasima province.

    Kraisak has Thailand's recent political history running in his veins. His father, Chatchai Choonhavan, was prime minister from 1988 to 1991, before being ousted by a military coup d'etat on charges of running a corrupt "buffet cabinet." His grandfather, Field Marshal Pin Choonhavan, led a military coup in 1947.

    Chatchai was a politician of the classic provincial mold, whose power base was Nakorn Ratchasima, the largest city in north-east Thailand, also known as Isaan. He was not above vote-buying and other forms of pork-barrel politicking.

    "He started the whole thing," joked Kraisak. "But admittedly my father's reputation has helped me. He was extremely popular for having built one of the most advanced universities here, for bringing in a four-lane highway, industry and growth to the province."

    After a diverse career that has included college lecturer, foreign policy adviser to his father and most recently the outspoken head of the Senate's foreign affairs committee, Kraisak now faces one of the biggest challenges in his life - winning the North-east for the Democrat Party in the December 23 election.

    It is an uphill battle, especially as Kraisak's campaign is woefully under-funded compared with the parties he is fighting, and he claims to be shunning vote-buying.

    Kraisak is seeking votes on a platform of pro-poor policies such as free education, including lunches, books and uniforms through high school, land distribution and universal health care.

    While the Democrat Party, headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, has strong support in Thailand's southern provinces and parts of Bangkok, it has traditionally lost heavily in the North-east, Thailand's poorest, most populous region where "money politics" is the norm.

    Accounting for almost one-third of the contested Lower House seats, Isaan's vote has decided the outcome of past elections.

    The region was a stronghold for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra whose Thai Rak Thai (TRT - Thais Love Thais) Party won landslide victories at the 2001 and 2005 polls on populist policies that promised a better deal for the rural poor.

    The Thaksin administration delivered the goods on many of the promises, winning the loyalty of Thailand's underclass that handed his party an unprecedented majority in parliament and undermined all checks and balances against his rule.

    Ultimately, the political monopoly paved the way for corruption scandals and a political crisis that led to the September 19, 2006, coup that ousted Thaksin.

    While the coup was largely supported by the Bangkok-based middle classes and elite, it was not welcomed in Isaan.

    Although Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon, is now in exile, his party disbanded and 111 of its top members including himself barred from politics for the next five years, his support base remains strong in Isaan.

    Dislike for the Democrats, seen as Thaksin's arch rival, is also strong. "The Democrats did nothing but criticize Thaksin, but now they are imitating all his populist policies to win votes," said Apisala Wanwanichthakul, manager of the Ban Bali bungalows.

    The People Power Party (PPP), headed by Samak Sundaravej, is selling itself as the reincarnation of TRT, with open support from Thaksin. The strategy appears to be working.

    Opinion polls show the PPP leading the Democrats by a significant margin. Even an internal Democrat poll has the PPP winning at least 178 of the 400 contested seats compared with their own 134. There are another 80 party-list seats up for grabs.

    According to PPP estimates, they will win at least 200 non-party list seats. The margin of the PPP win is crucial, since it is clear that the military does not want the pro-Thaksin party back in power to exact revenge on the coup makers.

    If PPP wins by a landslide, something Isaan could hand them, they are likely to be blocked from assuming power by the military, probably via a disqualification for vote-buying or other violations of election rules. If they win by less than a landslide, they are likely to lose in the post-election alliance-making stratagems, according to political observers.

    "It is widely known in political circles that the Democrats will join with the other medium-sized parties to form a post election alliance," said Chaturon Chaisaeng, a former leader of the TRT.

    That may explain why the Democrats are not pumping money into their Isaan campaign like the other parties, both through legitimate methods and via vote-buying schemes.

    But the medium-sized parties the Democrats are destined to form a post-election coalition government with are backed by either former TRT politicians or provincial patrons, a recipe for more political instability after the polls.

    "The poor Thai people, I really pity them," said Kraisak. "There are many good politicians out there but half of them are purely in politics for business interests, so the huge amount of money they are spending on the election will lead to a frantic rush for returns on their so-called investments and that will lead to another crisis after a few months in government." (dpa)

    Bangkok Post

  2. #2
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    Re: Election 2007: Battle for Isaan

    If PPP wins by a landslide, something Isaan could hand them, they are likely to be blocked from assuming power by the military, probably via a disqualification for vote-buying or other violations of election rules.
    Wow, so close to what is happening it is creepy.

    I missed this article when it came throught the first time.
    The Heart determines what is Possible by the Mind

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