Why did Abhisit go to Buriram?

13 07 2009

In an earlier post, PPT reported on newspaper reaction to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s foray into Buriram, the Newin Chidchob stronghold. Bangkok Post columnist Achara Ashayagchat (13 July 2009) provides some commentary on why Abhisit went outside the air-conditioning.

The headline to Achara’s article suggests where she is coming from: “PM reaches out to the poor on daring visit to Isan.” Achara is pro-Democrat Party and an Abhisit fan. The article has several shortcomings but also an interesting perspective.

To the shortcomings first. When Abhisit came to power under the wings of PAD and the military, some friendly columnists compared him with US President Obama. That was silly,but Achara seems to go further, implying that Obama sent others on populist missions in his stead but that Abhisit goes to the poor himself.

She’s not well informed about Obama, but that aside, what has Abhisit done. As she points out, the Buriram foray was only Abhisit’s second visit to the northeast. The first was to Ubon, where the party holds some seats.

Achara says that Abhisit’s “daring visit” was a “challenging mission” into the Peua Thai Party (PTP) stronghold. Of course, Buriram is the headquarters of the Chidchob family of chao pho. How “daring” was it? The only challenges were: to keep a few red shirts away and this was achieved with thousands of police and blue-shirted vigilantes; to overcome opposition in the Democrat Party to a visit to the stronghold of coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai Party; and to defeat the psychological and class barriers that keep privileged people like Abhisit in the city.

Now the interesting perspective on why Abhisit went to Buriram. Achara makes it clear that Abhisit has decided to abandon his talk about compromise and solidarity. Political realities have shown the Democrats that a tougher line is required if they are to ever defeat PTP in an election and “dislodge Thaksin from the minds of voters…”. Achara notes that the domestic issues have become more important than Abhisit’s multiple international jaunts and that the political divisions have deepened. She also suggests that the complaints that Abhisit is ignoring the rural poor have rung true for many voters.

Achara notes that the government’s ratings are spiralling ever lower. It seems that, even with the backing of the military and the conservative elite, these figures can no longer be ignored. She adds that this is also a reason why Abhisit can’t afford to let Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya resign. Achara seems to imply that Abhisit has been whiling away his time and now he needs to get to work.

What should he do? First, Achara says, he needs to dole out loot to the electorate. Then, she says, “Mr Abhisit needs to take the bull by the horns in dealing with … issues such as narrowing social and economic disparities, bringing together political parties on the constitutional amendments, and thwarting … [the] million signatures to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin.”

That’s an interesting combination of ideas, indicating yet again the great fear that drives the Democrat Party and its conservative supporters. The Democrat Party is responding with an arsenal that includes the hugely well-funded ISOC, the military, internal security measures, propaganda, the saga of the international hunt for Thaksin, and lese majeste accusations. Now throw in bags of money – look at the promises made in Buriram – and politics is looking pretty grim at least until the Democrats and their backers think they can actually win an election.

A footnote: The Nation’s Daily Xpress has a report that can be read as cheeky or a triumph of PAD’s “new politics’ (13 July 2009: “Poll triumph for Abhisit”). It says, “People who gripe that Abhisit … has never won an election will be chagrined to know that the staff at women’s magazine Dichan voted for him overwhelmingly as cover boy for their 777th issue.” Dichan is a magazine that thrives on stories about royals and the rich.



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