Thailand: PAD heralds ‘new politics’ as a new choice for voters

New politics, heralded by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, looked set to take root yesterday as the movement’s supporters decided it was time to set up a political party and offer a new choice for voters following long years of gutter politics ridden with vested interest groups.

The PAD has tested public reaction, specifically among its broad-based support, during its long protest rallies against the political cronyism and widespread corruption of the Thaksin Shinawatra years.Support for PAD to form a political party would not have been so strong had it not been for the current push by some politicians and their allies to amend the Constitution for their self-serving interests. Their demands would remove restrictions that bar House members from engaging in activities for self-enrichment and partisan interest.

The public sees clearly that the ongoing review of the Constitution also extends to a proposal to exonerate or provide amnesty to politicians barred from political activities for five years by the Constitution Court. Those placed under the restrictions are mostly the top cronies of Thaksin.

Many analyses have been made of the PAD’s move towards this new frontier. They include the pros and cons, blessings or misgivings, depending on the line taken by the protagonists or antagonists of the PAD. Of course, critics have tended to pre-judge the PAD leaders, believing they will not be successful without the help of big money, so inherent in our politics for decades.

Those who take a wait-and-see position do not discount the PAD’s potential for raising more support from the current base – which covers viewers of ASTV and the participants in PAD campaigns against Thaksin and his crony administrations of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat – which lasted less than a year.

Nobody can say accurately how many people will go along with the new PAD move. Certainly the supporters will want to see new politics get started and be free from the influence of big money.

The PAD leaders propose to seek campaign funding via donations from PAD supporters and ASTV viewers who will become members of the political party they intend to set up. Sondhi Limthongkul suggested on Sunday that if each member donated just Bt100 per month, it would be a substantial amount.

There are indications to gauge how much campaign funding could be raised. Sondhi says if the PAD reached one million members and each parted with the amount requested, it would amount to Bt100 million a month. Surely, he expects much more, judging from the number of ASTV viewers, mostly urban and educated, who can afford more than Bt100 each per month. Some would donate more, depending on their faith and confidence in the new party.

ASTV should have a pretty clear idea how many loyal viewers it has, based on the number of satellite subscribers. If the number ranges between 10-15 million, that could equate to an impressive force in the vote for party list candidates. The PAD political party would indeed be formidable.

If a primary system in selecting candidates is used by the PAD, the party can see trends and the possibilities of winning in certain constituencies. Under this method, PAD members would sound out among themselves in the primary vote who has the most potential to win, based on the votes the previous winner received in that particular constituency. There would no bickering among them since the primary selection is decided by popularity. A clear winner is known even before the election. Those who stood less chance of winning would be convinced by the early votes that it wasn’t yet their day.

There is a new element in the PAD party. Its members will vote on faith and trust, and not be seduced by money handed out by canvassers the night before judgement day for all candidates. If ASTV and the PAD can retain the loyalty of their supporters, they can rest assured of a solid block of voters that other parties cannot claim to have.

Surely, the number of votes for the Democrat Party and the PAD party would fluctuate and swing. The final decision of voters in this category will be based on the quality of candidates, their preferences, personal affiliation and loyalty.

This does not mean that big money will lose influence. On the contrary, if the restrictions and penalties on money dumping, vote-buying or other irregularities are diluted by constitutional amendment, big spenders will be tempted to invest heavily to win, because the stakes are high. The war chests dispensed could be recouped with hefty profits after the power grab.

Alas, nobody can say precisely when the next general election will take place. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva does not know yet, as he still lives day by day amidst the turbulence and adversity caused by temporary friends and permanent foes. Until then, the PAD has time to solidify its base and prepare for the chance to prove that new politics is possible and can replace gutter politics.


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