Thailand: poaching of candidates, and clientelism on the menu for the next elections

Thaïlande: débauchage de candidats et clientélisme au menu des prochaines élections

The approach to the coup of 2014 in Thailand, Suporn, then leader of the red Shirts, had urged the peasants to defend at any price the democracy. Since then, he has done a volte-face and presents himself to the party of pro-junta elections of 24 march.

In the kingdom, where political patronage is the order of the pragmatism often trumps ideology and those reversals are frequent.

In his time, Suporn Attawong was dubbed the “Rambo” of Isaan.

In this vast region of the north-east of Thailand, to dry lands, early voting began on Sunday, with thousands of voters taking the path of the ballot in the first elections for eight years.

This region has long been acquired to the Prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, overthrown respectively, in 2006 and 2014.

It is crucial to ensure victory in the coming election since it is going to fill 116 of the 500 seats in Parliament, against only 30 for Bangkok.

Since the coup, the kingdom was governed by a military junta headed by general Prayut Chan-O-Cha. The latter is a candidate for the post of Prime minister for the palang shak Pracharath, a party that is pro-junta in 2018 by its affiliates.

And on the 24th of march, in the first elections since 2011, Suporn, the ex-red Shirt close to Shinawatra, will compete under the colors of the palang shak Pracharath.

“Politics is a competition (…) We are now on the other side,” says he to the AFP, without a look of apology to his volte-face.

My new party “will allow my country to be reconciled”, he says.

“Rambo” is not the only one to have been hired by the military who seek to earn new votes, particularly in rural areas traditionally acquired in the clan Shinawatra.

Throughout the country, a quarantine of ex-veterans of the Pheu Thai, the main opposition party, created by the Shinawatra, have deserted the movement to defend the colors of the party pro-military.

These defectors should allow d'”garner many votes because they are the ones who help the inhabitants of the district in their daily lives,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

– “Money changes everything”-

The patronage will be in effect for a given non-negligible for the ballot. The practice, which exists in various forms in many countries, is particularly well implanted in Thailand.

The system is well established: the applicant has goons whose mission is to convince the voters to give their votes to a small amount of money. It is often delivered to the voters through the village heads or local decision-makers.

Vote-buying is punishable by one to ten years imprisonment, heavy fines and a prohibition of political activity in Thailand.

But the cronyism is practiced for a long time by the parties of any edge. The clan Shinawatra has been accused by its critics of promoting it, through its health programs or subsidies to rice farmers.

We are “as vendors that are approaching the customers,” says the man of confidence of a candidate, under the guise of anonymity.

“Even if a person show loyalty (to a party, editor’s note), the money can change everything”, he says.

In some areas where competition is particularly strong, each voter can receive up to 1,000 baht, about thirty euros, according to him. A significant amount of money as the monthly income of some residents is well below 100 euros.

In addition, up to 500 baht (15 euro) can still be paid the eve of the election, dubbed the country the “night of the barking dogs” because the touts are moving traditionally from house to house.

Apart from Bangkok, the “vast majority” of the country is already under the control of these men, writes Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

“The more the region is poor, the more it is exposed to the purchase of votes”, he adds.

Some inhabitants of the Isaan ensure that the money will not buy their votes.

“We’ll take it, but we will vote for the one that will improve the economic situation of our region,” says a voter under the guise of anonymity.

He tells of having received 2,000 baht (sixty euros) on the part of several parties during the last election of 2011.