Monday, July 04, 2011

The People Speak

From this morning's Bangkok Post:

Yingluck Shinawatra

A 'red tide' swept Thailand yesterday and drove the Democrat Party and its coalition partners from power.  In their place steps the woman who is on the verge of becoming Thailand's first female prime minister.

In the end, the near landslide results by the Pheu Thai party was almost anti-climactic. During the six-week campaign, the younger sister of exiled (and fugitive) former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had been steadily gaining in the polls, despite the opposition's claims that was only a clone and mouthpiece for her much reviled older brother.  She was clearly a phenomenon on her own with a rock star's popularity, surrounded at every stop by adoring crowds and raised cameras.  In the final week, the Democrats, led by Abhisit and his sidekick Suthep, went negative, issuing scary warnings at Bangkok rallies not to vote for the terrorists that burned down the city.  That strategy might have succeeded in the capital where they won 23 out of 33 seats but it clearly failed in the north and northeast provinces which traditionally elect the ruling party.  Pheu Thai won a comfortable majority of 263 seats in Parliament which means they will not have to depend on a shaky coalition government as had Abhisit who came to power with the assist of the military and elites after two Thaksin-backed governments were sacked by court decisions. The primary question Thais have at the moment is: Will the powerful opposition forces abide by the election results and allow Yingluck to govern?

Nan and I spent much of the election weekend in Pattaya: eating, swimming, shopping, hiking, and staying out of the rain.  During the last leg of our journey home, the city bus we were on was involved in a fender bender. So we were forced to lug our bags through Sunday crowds on foot, passing the Pinklao polling place above where votes were being counted after the polls closed at 3 pm.  In our district, the Pheu Thai candidate was narrowly defeated.  Most of the poor who are forced by necessity to work in Bangkok maintain a legal residence in their home province and had to return to vote, which might account for the Democrat success in Pinklao and in the city.  There was clearly a festive air in the streets when news of Yingluck's victory spread.

Pattaya is not everybody's cup of tea, but it is a beachside city a relatively short distance from Bangkok (2-3 hours depending on traffic).   Nan took a memorable two-week trip there with her aunt when she was 14 and wanted to stay in the same place again.  I think not much has changed for the Lek Hotel, an aging outpost for expats and tourists.  Our room was spacious and comfortable and the breakfast buffet (not included) was varied and filling.  There are too many boats and waterskis just offshore for the water to be clean but the beach chairs are comfortable and the views entertaining.  We strolled the waterside boardwalk, threading out way between visitors from Europe, Russia and the Middle East and the food sellers, tour touts,  prostitutes and ladyboys that compete for their business.  Pattaya is a shoppers paradise and we ogled the wares in upscale malls and sidewalk stalls until we found just the right bathing suit for Nan.  She tried it out in the hotel pool.

Besides the sea views and the change of scenery, the main reason we like Pattaya is the food.  Here is the sumptuous repast we shared at King Seafood on Walking Street.  It's the slow season and the pier restaurant was almost empty. Nan had a Mai Tai and I a Margarita before the seafood salad, scallops, shrimp and fish arrived.   We ate slowly, and just as we finished, a mighty wind and pouring rain drove all of the diners inside.   The next night Pattaya was quite subdued as an election ban on alcohol took effect.  The bars were closed and streetwalkers huddled in front of Starbucks.  We enjoyed a drink-less dinner of creole cuisine at CafĂ© New Orleans around the corner from a darkened Boyztown.  The loud music from live bands the night before in the two bars next to the Lek was silenced as expats endured the trial by sobriety that occurs every religious holiday and election in Thailand.

The red shirt supporters of Thaksin rallied in the streets of Bangkok last April and May, demanding a new election.  Thaksin and his representatives have been unbeatable at the polls since he was first elected prime minister in 2001.  Those opposed to them have only achieved power by undemocratic methods.  Last year's demonstration ended with over 90 deaths and nearly 2000 injuries; scores of red shirts remain in jail.  No one has been charged or convicted of the worst civil violence in Thailand's history.  Yesterday, as the red shirts finally achieved their objective of a new election, Nan and I hiked up to the "PATTAYA City" sign, a trek not to be attempted by the faint hearted. The city that achieved its fame as a destination for R&R during the Vietnam War looked peaceful and beautiful from the hill above.  From the sign, we hiked through a park designated as "Rotary International Peace City" and up a hill to a temple featuring a big Buddha statue.  A monk was dispensing blessings and we took the opportunity to earn merit with a donation and receive a loop of string for our wrists.


Anonymous said...

A nice peaceful weekend getaway.

That was a great idea Will.

Sam said...

As far as the election is concerned I am reserving judgement for at least 30 days until the Election Commission has finished disqualifying candidates for fraud. Peua Thai has already entered into a marriage of convenience with four other parties even though this is not on the face of it necessary. This way they have a back stop if they lose some MPs and the smaller parties can punch above their weight with plum ministerial posts.

Kudos to Chuwit for refusing a cabinet post and staying in opposition.

As for Jatuporn, if they don't let him become an MP they should be reminded of the story of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who was elected MP whilst in jail.

Janet Brown said...

"Most of the poor who are forced by necessity to work in Bangkok maintain a legal residence in their home province and had to return to vote, which might account for the Democrat success in Pinklao..."

No, this year they were given the option of voting in Bkk the week before the elections, remember???

Dr. Will said...

Janet, you were out of the city when thousands (millions) of Bangkok workers left for home on election weekend to vote, despite the early polls. It was in all the papers.

Janet Brown said...

Actually, I was on a bus on Thursday night when people were going home for a 3-day weekend--and to vote. My point is this year voters had an option for the first time ever--to vote in Bkk or to go home. This was a big moment for Thai voters, and one small ray of sanity in a crazy political scene and shouldn't be overlooked.

Another point is many of the people returning home to vote were not "the poor who are forced by necessity to work in BKK"--stop using such a broad brush. Thailand is far too complex for sweeping statements.