Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thai Politics - Vote on July 3!

      Thailand is going through a hot political interlude at the moment.  There will be an election on July 3 and things are a little tense. After being here three weeks I can’t claim to be an expert but here’s the deal as I understand it:

- There are 34 political parties in Thailand and they have all been given a random number by the elections board. It is compulsory to vote in Thailand, but, even though you must vote according to the law, when you do so you can choose to vote "no" - which means you are rejecting all 34 candidates and parties.

- The conservative party is in power and they favor the king. The king's color is yellow (since that's the color for the day on which he was born) and so these conservatives/royalists are called "yellow shirts" - although officially they are known as the Democrat Party.  They have been give the number 10 on the ballot. (The king himself stays out of politics, just as Queen Elizabeth does in England.)

- The main opposition to the incumbent government are called "red shirts" (appropriately, since they are sort of on the Marxist side) and the majority of them belong to the "Thai People's Party" (Pheu Thai) which has been given the number 1 on the ballot.  They support the former prime minister, who was ousted in a military coup a few years ago and is living in exile in Dubai.  He has appointed his sister (Yingluck Shinawatra who is young and beautiful and has NO political experience) as his representative and so if Party #1 wins she will be prime minister, and will surely pardon her brother who will return to Thailand to run things. 

- There is a big movement called "Vote No."  I'm a little hazy on this but I think that the party in power (yellow shirts, otherwise known as Party 10 or Democrats) has figured out that they are losing, so they have subversively encouraged the Vote No party because they surmise that if they can get enough people disgusted with politics to vote "No" that they can claim that there was no clear legitimate winner in the election and they can retain power.

- We haven't been able to buy alcohol today because it's against the law to drink during the election period.  Tomorrow is voting, though a lot of people have done early voting.  

- Most important:  Last year the red shirts had an uprising against the yellow shirt government and violence broke out.  I think about 60 people were killed in Bangkok when the party in power ordered the military into the streets to quell the uprising, so people are really tense as this election looms.   There is a rumor that the government is going to invade Cambodia (with whom there's been an ongoing border dispute) in order to delay/disrupt the election and maintain their rule.  

- My take is that, if the red shirt opposition party (#1) wins the election as they are predicted to do, then all will be well (at least for a while).  However, I get the feeling that if the current party (#10) wins there will be an outcry of dishonesty at the polls and all hell will break loose.  We "ferangi" (foreigners) can only watch and wait.
Trucks go through the towns and villages, blaring propaganda for their side.  This ad is for Party 1, the opposition "Thai People's Party" - since they are supposedly for the "common man" their ads tend to be less formal and show working people.

Party 10 (the party in power now) tends to be conservative, so their posters often depict people in uniform or business suits
It's pretty common to see these posters defaced, with their eyes or especially mouths cut out

I don't even know what this crazy party is for - they're #5 on the ballot and always have this demented looking guy on their posters.

These posters are for the "No" party.  They're encouraging the Thai people - who legally HAVE to vote - to go to the polls and vote "No" - which will skew the election results.  These posters basically say "Politicians are a bunch of animals, why would you vote for any of them?  Vote NO!"

**POSTSCRIPT:  The election went down as expected at the Pheu Thai (red shirt) party won.  There has been some talk that the Election Commission will refuse to certify the results because of allegations of bribery and breaking election laws, but so far it seems that Yingluck will become Thailand's first female prime minister.  But, it's expected that her brother will be pulling the strings of power and that she will pardon him and pave the way for him to return from his exile.