The People’s Alliance for Democracy’s “Vote No” campaign adds an interesting twist to Thailand’s pre-election drama. Although voting “no” is not new for Thai electorates, the PAD’s new campaign should be viewed as a strategy to create a “protest vote movement” that supporters believe could lead to real change in Thai politics. Even if we set aside the fact that the campaign is unlikely to solicit enough support to have any major impact on the electoral outcome this July, its raison d’├кtre, unfortunately, still lacks clarity and depth.

FacePAD – one of the Yellow Shirts’ driving force behind the “Vote No” campaign headquartered on Facebook that boasts some 7,000 fans online – has one mission this upcoming election: to convince as many people as possible to vote “no” at the ballot. A FacePAD’s lead organizer argues in an interview with Thai PBS “We want people to say no to crooked politicians and the defunct political system that sustains them…Voting “no” in the election means we say “no” to the system, to the electoral process as it stands. If enough people vote no, we could do away with the current political system and start over from scratch.”

Not entirely convinced, I listened in on a PAD “Vote No” rally led by Maj. Gen. Chamlong Srimuoung this past week. Here is a summary of their arguments:

For the PAD, there are two types of politicians: 1. Bad politicians and 2. Seemingly “good” politicians, who allow the bad ones to run the show.

We should vote “no” in the next election because…

  • Some politicians burn our country, others allow criminals to continue burning our homes and support their bail
  • Some politicians cheat and steal from the people to feed their cronies, others give concessions to their friends
  • Some politicians give away our territories to Cambodia, others allow Cambodia to occupy our land and hurt our people
  • Whichever group becomes government, the people will still come out in droves to protest

In sum, you should vote “no” if: a) you’re sick of politics, b) don’t know who to vote for, c) sick of protests and d) don’t condone violence. By voting “no”, we send a message to politicians that we’re fed up with them and the political system and this shall open ways for a major political reform.

The “Vote No” campaign logic is flawed on at least three grounds. First, when a voter checks the vote no box on the ballot, we can’t assume he/she wants reform. In fact, the ECT categorizes vote no ballots, incorrectly filled ballots and any other problematic ballots as “wasted ballots”. It’s not plausible to pinpoint a voter’s preference based exclusively on his/her no vote. The relationship between voting no and being pro-reform is tentative at best.

Second, it is unclear whether enough no votes could lead to a reform. Examples of vote no campaigns elsewhere prove to be a disappointment. Third, the PAD’s reform proposal remains vague. While their speeches at rallies are filled with reasons why existing politicians are like dumb animals who we shouldn’t let into parliament, they’re short on the specifics of those who should be replacing these “crooks”. “Politicians are bastards,” claims the PAD, “….we need ‘good’ people to run the country.” But who gets to say who is good or bad?

I came back from the rally with one clear thing in my mind: more protests ahead.