Populism? Vote buying?

22 12 2010

This was the cartoon in the Bangkok Post today. PPT uses it to illustrate a point. Not just that the Democrat Party under Abhisit Vejjajiva has adopted the so-called populist policies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra; that point has been well made.

The issue we want raise is related to curious double standards. Double standards amongst the Thaksin critics, almost all of whom signed up with the People’s Alliance for Democracy to damn “populist policies” as “corruption” or a form of “vote-buying.” Where are those critics now?

Why does PPT ask? The Bangkok Post says that the government “has given the green light for a pay raise for tambon administrative organisation [TAO] executives and staff, as proposed by the Interior Ministry.” Sawai Boonma in the Bangkok Post points out: “The principal reason for the coming together of these activities [described below] at this time should not be hard to discern: the government is planning on calling a new election sometime next year and these programmes are advanced payments for votes. Pure and simple.”

Newin (r) seeking a bit of help from Banharn Silpa-Archa

The Ministry of Interior is controlled by the minions of Newin Chidchob, and he has seldom been averse to a bit of corruption, vote-buying and influence peddling. He’s been in more parties than anyone we can think of. Now he’s shacked up with Abhisit because he’s the only one able to deliver votes from the northeast.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the TAO raise, which the Democrat Party initially sniffed at, now says that it is”intended to narrow the gap between the salaries of TAO staff and those of municipality workers and provincial administrative organisations’ employees.” Those latter groups already got pay raises. The newly-announced raise is to cost 1.06 billion baht.

When Abhisit initially criticized the call for a raise, he was threatened with demonstrations and billboards criticizing the Democrat Party, and the pay rise was quickly back on the agenda and passed.

His Newin allies know that having the TAO leaders on side is important for their electoral chances whenever Abhisit decides a election should be held. TAO leaders have broad connections in their areas and are critical for organizing elections and getting locals out to vote.

This may not be simple vote-buying, but is is a critical part of arranging for an election that the government and its allies believe they will win.

Leaving aside the support of the army, the purge of provincial administrations, the censorship, the jailing and deaths of red shirts, the harassment of the red shirt leadership, the repression and so on – yes, put that all aside just for a moment – to win seats in the north and northeast, the government and its coalition partners will need local organizers. Newin has some, but they are pretty much localized to his fiefdom. TAO leaders will be critical, if they can get them on board. That may take more than a hefty salary rise, but that’s only a beginning.

The government has been on a new spending spree in recent days. The Bangkok Post stated that one critical scheme “is the Pracha Wiwat [ประชาวิวัฒน์] welfare scheme which is being marketed as a New Year’s gift for Thais. It is aimed at putting more than 30 billion baht into the pockets of poorer people who include motorcycle and taxi cab drivers, street vendors and farmers.” All well and good that these often ignored people, struggling to make a living, get some attention. Of course, it is no coincidence that these are exactly the people who supported the red shirts in Bangkok.

And this isn’t all, for “Pracha Wiwat follows hot on the heels of an unprecedented steep increase in the minimum wage, substantial pay rises for civil servants, MPs and senators, and the distribution of rice in bags bearing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s name to communities nationwide.” And let’s not forget the extension of “free bus, electricity and tap water for low-income earners.”

The Post observes that “It is very probable the prime minister will call a snap election as soon as he receives a sign that the schemes are working to attract support for the government coalition parties.”

Why isn’t there a huge outcry, lambasting the government? Sure, as Siam Voices points out, there has been some criticism, but it has been pretty quiet.

Sawai, cited above, is critical. He says that when it came to power, the government “extended a number of programmes that were initiated by previous governments and were labelled ‘populist’ by some ministers when they were in opposition.” What do they say now? Siam Voices cite Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij as “explaining” that “unlike the numerous populist schemes during the Thaksin era, the government’s programmes will be sustainable and reasonable.”

Thaksin’s schemes were at least, for the most part, part of electoral platforms rather than ad hoc measures. Even so, they attracted plenty of criticism. So where are the academics who attacked Thaksin’s “populism”? Where are the senators who did the same? Are they prepared to only reserve criticism for their political opponents and not for the government that, by hook or by crook (and military repression), they so want to see win an election. For them, this government is almost “royal”; it is above criticism.




2 responses

22 12 2010
Tweets that mention Populism? Vote buying? | Political Prisoners in Thailand -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by NEWSpace. NEWSpace said: Populism? Vote buying?: This was the cartoon in the Bangkok Post today. PPT uses it to illustrate a point. Not j… http://bit.ly/ebDvc8 […]

28 12 2010
Innovation missing in plagiarized policy making | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] government’s Pracha Wiwat scheme as “not populist”! Readers will recall that PPT commented on this scheme and an avalanche of other pay increases, handouts and so on, when we asked what had […]

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