thaicables – It's Your Right to know the Truth!

05BANGKOK685 NORTHEAST THAILAND: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN OVERVIEW

leave a comment »

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000685

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV; US PACOM FOR FPA

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV PHUM TH

SUBJECT: NORTHEAST THAILAND: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION

CAMPAIGN OVERVIEW

 

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Poloffs recently (December 13-15, 2004)

traveled to the Northeastern Provinces of Nakhon Raatchasima

(Korat) and Chaiyaphum to visit with local politicians,

provincial election commission officials and NGO and academic

representatives. Pre-election campaigning and government

preparations for the first general election in four years

were already in full swing. The outcome in this region is

not in doubt: the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party will win a

majority of the votes and parliamentary seats; but the new

guy on the block, the Mahachon Party, may make some inroads

in the TRT Northeast stronghold. TRT promises of free

quality healthcare and education for all have created an

echoing chorus of populist campaign pledges from all the

political parties. This visit yielded insights into the

persistence of vote buying and intimidation as a campaign

techniques. Poloffs also found that interest in democratic

elections and reform persists. Worsening drought and

personal debt came high on the list of problems listed by

citizens. END SUMMARY.

 

NORTHEAST MPs IN CAMPAIGN MODE

 

¶2. (U) Driving three hours north of Bangkok on a cool, late

December afternoon, Poloffs and one Pol FSN arrived at the

provincial capital of Nakhon Ratchasima (known locally as

Korat) to find this city of over 200,000 replete with

campaign posters from the Thai Rak Thai (TRT), Democrat (DP),

Mahachon and Chart Thai (CT) parties prominently displayed

throughout the town and outlying areas. Particularly

noticeable was a series of four full color posters from all

the key parties promising free education through 12th grade

and free &quality8 healthcare for all. Others in the

series promised a social welfare system for all Thais over 60

years old and jobs for anyone with a college degree

(guaranteed!); all the posters feature color photographs of

smiling Thai citizens prospering under these benevolent

policies. TRT posters prominently displayed the picture of

PM Thaksin posing with local MP candidates and proclaiming,

(loosely translated) &In four years we fixed it, in four

more years we will build it up even more.8 Mahachon and

Chart Thai had populist themed posters similar to the

Democrats, but generally less prominently displayed.

 

MAHACHON MAKING THEIR MARK?

 

¶3. (SBU) MP Somsak Phankasem, the former Chart Pattana MP

from Korat, noted to poloffs that campaigning as a TRT party

member (Note: CP merged with TRT in August of this year) is a

challenge in that part of Northeast Thailand as the CP party

is more popular than TRT. He complained that TRT party

leaders have not provided him with enough of a budget to run

his campaign, but conceded that his election still won,t be

much of a race. He predicted that he will win handily on the

strength of his personal popularity with the people (he won

by over 50,000 votes in the last election).

 

¶4. (SBU) After Bangkok (37 seats), Korat, with 16 seats, has

more parliamentary constituencies at stake than any other

area in Thailand. Somsak stated that TRT has set a goal of

winning all of Korat,s 16 seats, but that it is likely that

four will go to the Mahachon party. Somsak noted that his

close political ally, Sanan Kajaornprasart, now a Mahachon

party adviser, had invited him to join Mahachon, but he

decided to stay with the mainstream CP and work with TRT.

Somsak predicted that Mahachon will become a sort of &spare

party8 for TRT once the election is over. If TRT finds it

useful to do so, they may let Mahachon into a coalition

government, depending on how many seats TRT wins nationally

(i.e. how comfortable Thaksin is with his coalition’s margin).

 

¶5. (SBU) Senator Boonton Dockthaisong proffered a more

pessimistic view of the on-going election process. Now 75

years old and one of 8 senators from Korat, the former local

political rival to ex-Prime Minister Chatchai Choonhavan

lamented the continuing increase in corruption among Thai

bureaucrats and politicians, many of whom are his former

graduate students at the nearby National Institute for

Development Administration (NIDA). He noted that many speak

about democracy on the outside, but inside all they think

about is money. Even worse, many who are now provincial or

district level officials get involved in mafia-type violence

over personal disputes turned political. Noting that

widespread vote buying has become commonplace, he claimed to

have said directly to fellow Korat Senator Kraisak

Choonhavan (a leading human rights champion and the son of

Boonton’s deceased political rival): &I,ve never seen you

on the campaign trail once, but you get elected so easily.

How does this happen?8

ELECTION COMMISSION OFFICIALS PREPARED BUT VOTE BUYING BEGINS

 

¶6. (SBU) In discussions with Provincial Election Committees

(EC) in both Korat and Chaiyaphum, local officials expressed

confidence that they could ensure a safe and well organized

election. Each province has a four-member committee composed

of mostly of retired RTG officials and usually one member of

the local business community. Members are appointed for

four-year terms and in turn appoint local election committees

for each constituency. The election officials did express

concerns about how they will have to handle complaints of

fraud or violations of the election commission rules. They

also admitted that pre-election vote buying is rampant, but

noted that under the rules this phenomena technically is not

illegal until the official campaign has been announced.

Candidates were allowed during the pre-election period to put

up posters and campaign door to door to solicit votes.

(Note: The official campaign began on January 6, 2005. End

Note.)

 

¶6. (U) Both election committees also complained generally

of unclear direction from the main EC office in Bangkok.

They explained that once complaints on electoral violations

are submitted to the Provincial offices, and after being

verified by the local committee, they are forwarded to

Bangkok EC officials who conduct an investigation. On a

positive note, the commissioners thought that the &quality8

of candidates has improved from four years ago and that

egregious election violations will be minimal as the

political parties are afraid of receiving a &red card8 or

&yellow card8 for violations. (Note: A “red card” given to

a winning or leading candidate eliminates them from the race

and rerun elections. A “yellow card” against a winning or

leading candidate paves the way for a rerun, but allows that

candidate to participate as the evidence of wrongdoing is not

sufficiently strong. End Note.)

 

HOW ABOUT A FREE TRIP TO CHIANG MAI?

 

¶7. (U) NGO monitors were already in force monitoring

candidates and voters until Election Day. Poloffs met with

Somkiat Phongphaibun, a teacher at Korat Teacher,s College

(Nakon Ratchasima Rajabhat Institute), who works with Forum

of the Poor, a Northeastern farmers group. He stated that

over 50 NGOs had met in early December to organize citizen

groups and inform them about the election process and to

organize opposition to TRT,s effort to win 400 seats in

Parliament. Somkiat said that, in the previous week alone,

over 160 cases of pre-election vote buying had been reported

to some of the groups in his NGO network. The worst areas

for vote buying, they reported, typically have been in

Buriram, Khon Kaen, Nongkhai, and Korat provinces. (Note: The

Northeast has been the area with most notorious reputation in

Thailand for vote buying in past elections. End Note.)

 

¶8. (U) Somkiat explained some of the techniques parties used

to gain votes. Generally, the parties select 3 canvassers

per village. Each canvasser receives 1,000 baht and a mobile

phone. A list with the registered voters is then divided

among the three canvassers, who try to line up voters. Some

use outright cash payments to buy votes. Others strong-arm

voters by confiscating their Thai ID card, making photocopies

of the cards and tell them intimidatingly that their names

are being kept on a list. Some canvassers or party

operatives also organize free trips by bus to Chiang Mai or

to a popular theme park near Bangkok called Safari World. In

exchange, voters support the candidate who pays for the trip.

As noted by the EC, Somkiat reiterated that this activity in

the pre-election period technically is not illegal.

 

SOCIAL ISSUES: DROUGHT, HEALTH CARE, DEBT AND LOSING THE

YOUTH

 

¶9. (U) Harvest time in Northeast Thailand usually is a time

when laborers can be seen working hard in the fields and

trucks loaded with rice, corn, sugarcane and cassava fill the

highways. This year, over 2.5 million rai (1 million acres)

of mostly rain-fed rice have been affected by a shortened

rainy season and persistent drought conditions for the last

four to five years. In Chaiyaphum, only about 100,000 rai

(40,000 acres) have been affected. The government has

responded with emergency drought relief. But Poloffs were

told that the government was only recently distributed relief

from last year’s drought. An even larger budget for this

year has been proposed but not yet received by provincial

authorities. (Note: Somkiat of Forum of the Poor noted that

often these drought relief funds are used by candidates for

vote buying, with either straightforward cash payments or

in-kind goods inducements such as rice, clothes or household

items. End Note.) The drought issue appears to be more of a

concern to voters and officials in Korat than Chaiyaphum,

where it has become more of a fact of life.

 

¶10. (U) Poloffs asked about the 30-baht healthcare insurance

program, a pillar in the TRT election platform four years

ago, which still appears to be popular with people in general

in the Northeast. However some observers said that the

30-baht appeared to be having serious consequences for the

public health sector while providing only limited real

benefits to the health of Thai citizens. One contact related

how two surgeons at the Provincial hospital in Korat recently

resigned their government positions due to the increased

workload at the hospital. Centrally located provincial

hospitals seem to be the worst effected by increased

workload. Patients have learned to go directly to them.

Smaller district hospitals have fewer and fewer patients

because they tend to refrain from referring patients to the

larger provincial hospitals under the new system, which bills

them back for costs of treatment of referred cases.

Meanwhile, however, local private clinics are doing well as

they charge only 60 to 100 baht for simple procedures and

don’t require a long wait or lots of paperwork.

 

¶11. (U) Poloffs learned from interviews that personal debt

from an increasing ability of individuals to purchase

consumer items such as motorcycles and small household

electric appliances on credit is a major concern for

villagers. The Government Agricultural Bank is the main

source of “easy” credit for Thai villagers, but they often

are forced to rely on local loan sharks to make payments and

consequently sink deeper into debt. Many of the political

slogans Poloffs observed calling for a debt moratorium are

aimed at this concern.

 

¶12. (U) The 2003 war on drugs remains fresh in the memories

of all who poloffs spoke with. The MPs opined that popular

support for the crackdown, which the Embassy estimates may

have led to approximately 1,300 extra-judicial killings

nationwide, remains high. This support stems from reaction

against the social ills created by increased drug use and

dealing by Thai youth and their being drawn into subsequent

crimes. One interlocutor claimed that villages had

understood in 2003 that the loss in each village of two youth

in the government’s campaign against drugs might be necessary

to wipe out the problem. Somkiat of Forum of the Poor,

offering a sobering view from the other side, related a story

about the son of a Thai language daily newspaper reporter in

Korat who reportedly was kidnapped by plain-clothes police

and was being held on drug charges. He also told of how a

well-known principal of a Korat school posted bail for a

young cousin of his and went into hiding for fear of being

arrested himself on drug charges and cooperation with drug

gangs.

 

¶13. (U) COMMENT: Politicians, activists, teachers and the

public all seem to summarize their conclusions in the

pre-election environment in the same way. They say Thaksin

and TRT will win the election, hedging their bets (in some

cases literally) only on by how many seats. A frequent

refrain heard also surmises that vote buying is ever-present,

the novelty found only in how it’s done in order to sneak by

the Election Commission. Yet in the midst of this, there is

a spirit of volunteerism and genuine interest in the

democratic process found in weary local officials, in

students gearing up to help count votes, and in the

persistent calls for reform from NGOs and opposition

candidates. END COMMENT.

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

August 26, 2011 at 4:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: