Debunking Democrat Dominance in the South: Could the three “restive” border provinces hold the key to success in the July 3 election?
Recent polls seem to confirm what everyone already knows about electoral politics in Southern Thailand: the Democrats dominate. The most recent Dusit poll (asking respondents which party they would vote for on the party list) indicates 76% of southerners support the Democrat party while 11% support Peua Thai. This holds consistent with the results of elections going back to the 1990s, but is there more to the story of voting patterns in Southern Thailand than overwhelming Democratic popularity? Is the South sufficiently homogenous to be treated usefully as a single analytical unit? The obvious answer to the second question is that there exists a sub-region along the Thai-Malay border with a markedly distinct political climate and history. Indeed, if we begin comparing patterns of voting in the three “restive” provinces of the Deep South with those of the rest of the South, clear differences emerge. These differences are of potentially significant consequence for the outcome of the current election.
The 2005 election
As a starting point, I looked at the historical distribution of votes for various parties across the South. The information regarding the 2005 general election available through the ECT website, however, does not disaggregate party list voting by region (party list voting was changed from a national tally to a 10 region system in the 2007 constitution). Instead, by tallying the votes cast for various candidates in the constituency elections according to party we can get some idea of the distribution party support.
In 2005, 48 of the 50 constituency seats won in the south went to Democrats, while one went to Chart Thai (Narathiwat) and one to Thai Rak Thai (Phang Nga) .The Democrats won 64% of the constituency votes across those 12 southern provinces while the TRT gained 28% (Mahachorn came third with 5.6%). These numbers take on a different character, however, when disaggregated between the three southern border provinces and the 9 remaining “others.” In 2005 the Democrats gained 67% of the constituency votes in the 9 “other” provinces of the South, but only 48.5% in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Thai Rak Thai gained 28% of ballots cast in the 9 “other” provinces and 23% in the “restive 3”. Also of note, the Mahachorn party gained 19.4% of the vote in the three border provinces and only 2.3% in “the rest”. This suggest that, while the Democrats remained the most popular party in the Deep South as well as the South more generally, the picture of the total dominance in the South held less true in the Deep South than it did for the rest.
The 2007 election
Figures on the 2007 election made available through the ECT websites include party list voting disaggregated by region. For the Southern Region (see footnote 2) these figures show 80% of party list votes going to the Democrats and 8.3% going to the PPP (A further 4% were cast in favour of Peua Pandin). Of the 50 constituency MPs elected from this 12-province region, 43 were Democrats, 3 were Peua Pandin (Narathiwat 1, Pattani 2), 2 PPP (Narathiwat 1, Yala 1) and 2 Chart Thai (Narathiwat). Democrats gained 70% of the constituency votes across these three provinces (notably less than in the party list voting) while PPP gained 13% and Peua Pandin gained 8%. Ruam Jai Thai gained a further 6%.
Again, by disaggregating the data between the 3 restive border provinces and the remaining 9 southern provinces some interesting trends can be observed. In the 9 “other” southern provinces, the Democrats gained 78% of the constituency vote. In the 3 border provinces they gained only 36%. At the same time, the PPP gained 23% of the constituency vote in the 3 border provinces of the Deep South (identical to the TRT’s 2005 tally) while the democrats slipped to 10.5% of the vote in those provinces. Ruam Jai Thai gained 21% of the constituency vote in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, while only gaining 4% of the vote in the remaining 9 southern provinces. Again, these disaggregated figures indicate that the notion of Democrat dominance in the South does not hold for the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Of course, in the case of the 2007 election this is rather more obvious as all seven of the non-democrat constituency MPs elected from the South came from districts in those three provinces.
The 2011 Election
Conventional wisdom on Thai electoral politics has it that the democrats “own” the South. To some extent, the figures from the 2005 and 2007 elections bear this out. But what a more nuanced look at the numbers also shows is a considerable divergence between the electoral preferences of the three troubled border provinces and the rest of the South. From Surath Thani to Songkla the Democrats are truly dominant. Further south from there, however, electoral politics is considerably more competitive. When Dusit, NIDA and, indeed, the ECT provide polls and election results at the aggregated level of “the South” this divergence is obscured and so too with it, the electoral significance of the Deep South.
Tomorrow’s election is widely predicted to be a vey close one, not so much in terms of who will win (it seems ever more likely Peua Thai will come out on top), but in terms of whether the winning party will gain enough seats to form a government. The three southern border provinces represent 12 constituency seats and competition for those seats is likely to be much more stiff than regionally aggregated polls indicate. It is conceivable that the ability of either the Peua Thai or the Democrats to form a coalition government after Sunday’s election could hinge on the outcome of constituency elections in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. Surely this would represent an unprecedented exercise of influence on national politics from these three provinces that have for so long been marginalized from the political consciousness of the nation.
All the figures upon which this analysis is based are available online at: http://www.ect.go.th/newweb/th/election/index4.php
 This is not an unproblematic approach: We can expect the numbers to skew in favour of large national parties like the TRT and Democrats which field candidates in every electoral district. As can be seen in the 2007 results, however, the percentage of votes gained by the large parties in the selection of constituency candidates was actually lower than what they received in the party list vote. A second concern is the obvious one that voters often select candidates based on criteria other than their party affiliation. I have as yet no methodological answer to that.
 For ease of comparison, I use the 12-province definition of the south used in the 2007 ECT election statistics. This excludes Chumporn, Prajuabkirikan and Ranong.