Last night’s Democrat Party rally in Bangkok may well prove to be an important turning point in Thailand’s 2011 election campaign.
The predictable mix of nonsense, nostalgia, outrage and vilification was designed to frighten the electorate with images of the tragically violent consequences of political turmoil. The message may persuade some undecided voters that Abhisit represents a steady hand in a time of deep political division.
But for many others it may have exactly the opposite effect.
The harsh reality is that the only chance Thailand has for political stability after the July 3 election is a strong Pheua Thai victory. That has nothing to do with the political and personal virtues or failings of the Pheua Thai candidates. It’s all about electoral mathematics.
In what has become a standard electoral pattern over the past 10 years, the Democrat Party is campaigning to lose. Of course, they are not being as up front about it as they were in the face of the Thaksin juggernaut in 2005 but, after a flurry of hope in the lead up to the election, they now realise that they can’t compete with the Shinawatra brand. Victory is impossible.
The Democrat Party’s only hope is to get close enough to Pheua Thai to persuade most, if not all, of the smaller parties to join them in coalition.
But how close is close enough? It is likely that the two major parties will share about 400 of the 500 parliamentary seats between them. If it’s 250 to 150 in favour of Pheua Thai then it’s all over for Abhisit and the Democrats. With around 250 seats Pheua Thai should have no problem attracting coalition partners to give them a safe buffer in parliament.
200 seats each would be Abhisit’s dreams come true, but it’s not going to happen.
So all the Democrats can hope for is something around 175 seats, with Pheua Thai on about 225.
An outcome like that might give Abhisit a chance to pull together a workable coalition government. But for many Thai voters such a non-decisive result will be unattractive. It would open the way for further military meddling and royal interference. It would be a victory for the invisible hands. And, perhaps most alarming of all, it would create the perfect political opening for red and yellow hardliners who would like to settle the matter on the streets of Bangkok.
An ambiguous result — which it looks like is the best the Democrats can achieve — is a recipe for further turmoil and confrontation.
Democrat Party strategists may have thought it was a good idea to focus the electorate’s attention on the political pandemonium of April-May 2010. But an appeal to anxiety may not be such a smart move, given that their only chance depends on the election setting the stage for a new round of political turbulence.
The harsh words and confronting images at the Ratchaprasong rally may well encourage some Thai voters to give Thaksin’s allies an even stronger and more stable electoral mandate than they received in December 2007.