For the past 12 days I’ve been out of email and internet contact. A very pleasant break! Today I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the stories coming of Thailand. I’ll be posting on some of them over the next few days.

First, the by-elections.

From my quick analysis there are two main messages coming from the 29 by-election contests held on 11 January.

First, there does not appear to be a strong groundswell of anger at the way in which the Democrats have come to power. This was only a small test of the electoral waters, but the results suggest that there is a common view that the Democrats should be given a chance to govern. Many voters were probably attracted by the prospect of political stability.

Second, the by-election results underline the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the campaign waged by the PAD over the past year. A few months ago, in the wake of the October 7 violence, we argued that the PAD had chosen “blood rather than ballots” in their campaign to overthrow the elected government. In defence of an electoral solution, we argued that only a relatively small proportion of the electorate would have had to change their 2007 general election vote to produce a very different political outcome. Based on a quick analysis of the 2007 constituency results we identified 22 constituencies where a small shift in votes would have sent a Democrat MP, instead of a People Power Party MP, to Parliament.

The by-election results add some support to this argument. The Democrats picked up seven seats. Five were formerly held by the People Power Party and two by Chart Thai. Six of these seven seats were in constituencies that had been closely fought in 2007. In Bangkok(10) in 2007 the highest ranked unsuccessful Democrat candidate lost by only 0.5%. In Lamphun(1) the 2007 margin was 1.4%; in Nakhon Pathom(1) it was 1.9%; in Samut Prakan(1) it was 3.9 percent; in Saraburi(2) it was 4.6%; and in Ratchaburi(1) it was 6.7%. The only “non-marginal” seat won by the Democrats was Singburi(1) where the 2007 margin was a massive 43%. But for the January 11 by-election the Democrats appear to have secured the services of a relative (same surname) of the disqualified Chart Thai MP.

Of course a more detailed statistical analysis combined with local studies of specific constituencies, would show up all sorts of nuance and subtlety. But, overall, the by-elections show that electoral contests are there to be won and lost. The provocative and violent campaign waged by the PAD throughout 2008 was backed by the argument that PPP/Thaksin had an insurmountable electoral stranglehold. The by-elections have shown this to be nonsense.