By: Atiya Achakulwisut
Published: 9/06/2009
Bangkok Post

From the streets, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has finally found a new name and operational basis for itself as a political party under the name of Phak Karnmuang Mai, which incidentally can be read either mundanely as but a new political party, or more idealistically as a party of New Politics.

The double meaning in the party's name mirrors the dilemma when it comes to its parliamentary future.

While it remained in the streets, the PAD - a loose coalition of people from all walks of life and social strata united by the almost singular objective of deposing Thaksin Shinawatra - was a formidable force. The clarity of purpose might have helped, as the PAD - despite some of its controversial moves - was by all means a very well-organised pressure group.

It is only now that the amorphous movement is trying to force fit itself into the more definite mould of real politics that it seems less than sure-footed. In fact, most of what the New Politics party has revealed so far appears incoherent and provisional, even self-conflicting. Nothing shows a well-thought-out plan for the future. Even the current party chief, Somsak Kosaisuk, seems uncertain if he would be the real one.

Take for example the addition of the colour "green" into its formerly monochromatic yellow. Does this mean the party will be pursuing a "green" agenda, as in promoting environmentally friendly policy and development? How is this green platform - a whole new and different issue in itself - related to the PAD's main agenda of protecting the monarchy? After all, a political party that aims to protect the institution of monarchy or rid politics of corruption will be much different in its organisational structure, vision and concrete policy platform from the one that seeks to promote green growth.

At this point, I am not so sure if the New Politics party is more yellow than green, or whether it can realistically straddle both colours and purposes while retaining its viability as a strong political party.

With the conflicting green-and-yellow ideologies in the background, the party elected Mr Somsak, a well-known labour activist, as its leader. Nothing against the man personally. He is a veteran in Thai politics and certainly has his followers. Mr Somsak's background and reputation as a labour unionist, however, will precede him. And there will be questions if the choice of Mr Somsak speaks about the direction of the party. Considering his background and clout, will the New Politics party operate as a labour party? In fact, Mr Somsak said in an interview that the new party will be run like a labour union or cooperative.

The yellow-and-green mix is not yet settled and we have this hint that a shade of red may be in the blend, too. It sounds like a garish, if not impossible, colour scheme. It's a stretch to imagine how can this party embrace both conservative values, pollution-free agendas as well as progressive ideas into its fold, let alone translate them into practical policy action.

Unless the New Politics party works out these inconsistencies and comes up with a clearer concept of what it wants to be, its appeal will be limited to the known base of hard-core fans. The party will find it hard to expand and connect with other pools of voters. The result is simple: it will have only limited influence in the political arena.

For now, however, nothing is more troubling about the PAD's new party than its logo. I was startled the first time I saw it. It looks like a yellow-and-green swastika with a four-leaf clover at the heart. I mean, the lines are curved and the form right-facing (as opposed to the left-facing form used as the official emblem of the Nazi Party) but the overall impression is unmistakable.

The party knows it. Jirawat Nilkamhaeng, the ASTV graphic designer who made the logo, argued that the swastika is an ancient symbol of well-being and good luck used among religions around the world especially in the East. It was only stigmatised after WWII because of the association with Nazism.

I understand that the PAD has had its fair share of controversies and probably won't recoil from stirring some new ones, but why would it want what appears like a stylised swastika as its symbol? And what's the local relevance of the four-leaf clover? Is the startling effect worth the risk of being misunderstood?

There's still time before the next election is called. The New Politics party will have to do a lot of reviewing if it wants to be a serious contender.