Thaksin Was Rejected by the Thai Majority

Forget the political posturing of People Power Party spokesmen from Thaksin Shinawatra’s former Thai Rak Thai Party; ignore the false impressions created by simplistic analysis of the number of seats won by the PPP in the December 23 General Election – many by an exceedingly narrow margin.

After more than a year of political upheaval in Thailand, the pro-Thaksin party is spending this week negotiating with smaller parties to obtain enough seats to form a coalition government. Nevertheless, the facts are that more Thais cast their party-list ballots (a decisive factor in who should form the next government) for the rival Democrat Party, and significantly more cast their constituency ballots against the PPP.

These facts question the legitimacy of PPP Leader Samak Sundaravej’s assertion that he has an overwhelming mandate to form the next government. They also provide insight into a post-election poll by Ramkhamhaeng University that showed that 52 percent would prefer Democrat Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the next Prime Minister, followed by Samak with only 39 percent.

The Election Commission will announce official results tomorrow, but unofficial results have the Democrats receiving 39.64 percent (14,084,265) of party-list votes; a striking reversal of fortunes compared to the 7.6 million it won in the 2001 elections and the 7.2 million in 2005 (compared to Thai Rak Thai’s 11.6 million and 18.9 million, respectively). Granted, the PPP received only slightly less support (39.60 percent); nevertheless, voter rejection was equally true at the constituency level, where PPP candidates received only 36.62 percent of votes cast. The vast majority of the record 74.45 percent turn-out of voters gave an overwhelming 63 percent of their support to representatives parties other than the Thaksin-backed PPP.

This trend was true in every region of the country. Even in the alleged PPP strongholds of the north and northeast, it only managed to garner 44 percent and 46 percent, respectively. While it did gain 40 percent of the constituency votes in Bangkok, elsewhere its results were dismal – only one-third in the central plains and, as expected, only 11 percent in the Democrat south.

On a provincial basis, the PPP did of course win a majority of the constituency votes in several north and the northeastern provinces, but even in Thaksin’s home province of Chiang Mai, PPP candidates were only able to secure 47 percent of the votes.

If the majority of voters rejected the PPP, how was it able to garner nearly half of the 480 seats? Thaksin built his Thai Rak Thai juggernaut through the merger and acquisition of numerous small parties that flourished in Thai politics prior to 2001, particularly in the north and northeast. However, the 1997 constitutional reforms to promote consolidation of just a few large parties was reversed by the 2007 constitution to prevent the reemergence of a parliamentary dictatorship by a party too large to be held accountable by a vigorous but negligible opposition. Many of the leaders of these former parties who felt betrayed by Thaksin fled the PPP and attempted to reinvent themselves for the 2007 elections. But as in the pre-2001 period, they were contending against each other and in many constituencies the anti-PPP votes were split three and often five ways thus allowing a PPP victory.

In constituencies outside the former confines of these regional parties, the battle was often between the PPP and Democrats, and in some provinces, Banharn Silpa-archa’s Chat Thai party. In these contests, invariably either the Democrats or Chat Thai won; although in several important races, particularly in Bangkok, Chat Thai served as a spoiler, drawing just enough votes away from the Democrats for a narrow PPP win.

Over the coming days, as Samak struggles to pull the minor regional parties back into the PPP fold to create a government, he will have to remember that regional party leaders, betrayed once by Thaksin, may think twice and join with the Democrats. While Thaksin weighs his options for a return to Thailand, as he said from Hong Kong, Samak and the PPP must remember that the significant majority of voters, rejected the PPP and, by extension, its backers ‑ Thaksin and the old Thai Rak Thai. Therefore he does not have a citizen mandate for his campaign pledge to assist Thaksin to escape justice.

James R. Klein, Ph.D., is the representative of The Asia Foundation in Thailand