If you do the numbers it is clear that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leadership has chosen bloodshed over ballots.
The PAD has abandoned electoral politics. With no coherent or credible political platform their only hope is that sufficient blood will be spilt to prompt a military or royal strike against Thailand’s democratically elected government. But the army appears unwilling to act. The queen has publicly shown her support for the PAD, but the king himself has remained silent. And the international community, for its part, is standing firmly by the government.
Make no mistake, the PAD leadership wants blood on the streets and have rushed to turn the imagery of violence to their advantage.
The numerous well-intentioned statements and petitions that are circulating calling on “all sides to avoid violence” are missing this basic point. Violence is not an unfortunate by-product of the current political standoff. It is now the core plank in the PAD provocateur platform.
What occurred last Tuesday is the inevitable result of a deliberate strategy that the PAD has pursued since early 2008. In the wake of the disappointing 2007 election, which returned a Thaksin-esque government to power, the PAD has abandoned any pretence of respect for electoral decisions. Their central ideological claim has been that the “tyranny of the majority” can only be overcome by extraordinary action. Just how extraordinary remains to be seen.
The “tyranny of the majority” is a bogeyman that has been effectively deployed by the PAD to create an impression of a government that enjoys a hegemonic dictatorship of democracy.
But how firm are the electoral foundations of the government’s so-called tyranny?
Let’s take a look at the December 2007 election results. In that election there were two electoral components – a constituency vote in which 400 seats were up for grabs; and a “party-list” vote for an additional 80 seats.
The government’s People Power Party (PPP) won 199 constituency seats with about 37 percent of constituency votes cast. It was a solid victory over the Democrats who won 132 seats with about 30 percent of constituency votes cast. And that is where the electoral difference lay. In the party list system the vote was virtually even, with PPP gaining only one more party list seat than the Democrats.
Overall, PPP won 233 seats, just 7 short of an absolute majority. They clearly won a right to govern and it is unsurprising that minor parties joined with PPP to form a coalition. It was, under all the circumstances, a solid PPP victory. But does the result really form a basis for electoral tyranny? Is now the time for opposition forces to abandon electoral hope? Does a 7 percent victory in the constituency vote justify a street rebellion? Is there no other way of changing an elected government?
Just think about the figures for a moment. On the face of it, if four out of every hundred constituency voters had cast their votes for the Democrats instead of PPP the political landscape after December 2007 would have been very different. If the Democrats had managed to win just 34 more constituency seats they would have been the largest party in the parliament with, one must assume, a very strong claim to government.
And there were plenty of constituency seats that could have been won. We’ve taken a quick look at the constituency results, and some of the figures are very interesting indeed.
We have identified 22 close constituency contests where a Democrat was the highest ranked unsuccessful candidate (remember that most consistencies elect more than one MP). On average, across these 22 constituencies, an additional 6381 votes would have put an extra Democrat into parliament. Some contests were very close. One Democrat missed out by just 36 votes, another by 539. In many contests only a few thousand votes, less than a couple of percent of votes cast, were required for an additional Democrat seat in parliament. There were 12 seats where a Democrat candidate lost by less than 5000. Just over 140,000 votes, in total, would have delivered an additional Democrat MP in all of these 22 constituencies. This represents just over 1.25 % of the total constituency votes cast in these contests. Hardly an insurmountable target.
Note that this is a very preliminary analysis based on cases where a Democrat was the highest ranked unsuccessful candidate. There are other cases (we have identified 6) where lower ranked Democrats could have succeeded with similarly modest increases in their vote. Of course, there are also constituencies where PPP would have lost to minor parties with small shifts in voting patterns.
And, don’t forget, there is also a substantial percentage of the electorate (around 20 percent) that didn’t vote in 2007 that could probably be persuaded to enter the electoral fray by a well executed political campaign. Motivating just one in ten of these to get out and vote against the PPP could have an enormous impact.
The notion that the current government enjoys an unassailable electoral hegemony is simply wrong.
Like any elected government, PPP is electorally vulnerable and could be defeated. Its performance since the election has hardly been stunning. It has been pummelled by the courts and the media. It won’t escape the electoral backlash that follows the international economic crisis. Factions within the deeply divided PPP are flexing their muscle. Party dissolution and reformation will shift the political landscape yet again.
Plenty of parliamentary seats are there for the taking.
But the PAD leadership doesn’t want to embark on a broad based political campaign to unseat the government by electoral means, either in alliance with any existing party or independently. The PAD might not love the Democrats but they clearly represent a basis for an alternative government.
In October 2006 we saw Sondhi Limthongkul speak (at SOAS in London) about his plans for an education campaign to win over a vanguard of provincial middle-class voters as a counterweight to Thaksin’s populism. It was an elitist vision, but still an electoral one. But Sondhi’s electoral stamina was short-lived. Now it seems that persuading a small percentage of the electorate to vote against the government is beyond the wit of Sondhi, the PAD and their formidable public relations machine. Instead they have adopted an electorally unsaleable “new politics” in which some parliamentarians (perhaps 70 percent) would be appointed. There is simply no need for such electoral defeatism.
We can only conclude that Sondhi and the PAD leadership have deliberately chosen blood rather than ballots.
They will happily sacrifice the bodies of their hard-core supporters because they have neither the ability nor the will to shift the hearts and minds of even a small portion of Thailand’s swinging voters.