Thai Voters Struggle to Have Faith in System

Supporters of Thailand's Democrat Party in Bangkok earlier this month. i i

hide captionSupporters of Thailand's Democrat Party hold pictures of its president, Abhisit Vejjajiva, in Bangkok earlier this month.

AFP/Getty
Supporters of Thailand's Democrat Party in Bangkok earlier this month.

Supporters of Thailand's Democrat Party hold pictures of its president, Abhisit Vejjajiva, in Bangkok earlier this month.

AFP/Getty

It's not hard to see why people in Thailand are deeply cynical about their nation's political process. Since the Southeast Asian nation became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, 17 coups have been punctuated only by short periods of unstable civilian rule.

With the first elections since the latest coup in September last year set for Dec. 23, a new poll shows two-thirds of potential voters are willing to sell their ballot to the highest bidder.

Pollster Nappadon Kannika said he accepts that vote-buying in his country is rampant, but even he was surprised with the results of last month's survey of 3,000 voters nationwide.

"Over 60 percent of total respondents in the survey say they would accept cash from the candidates in the coming general election in Thailand," Kannika said.

To be precise, 64.6 percent said they'd take money for their vote. And a whopping 83 percent said they'd look the other way if they saw vote-buying going on in their communities.

Political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said it is an especially rational response for Thailand's rural majority, which has long been neglected by the central government.

"Any cash you get for your vote is a windfall because the state and the government have failed in the past to deliver development to your area," he said. "They have not paid attention to your needs and your grievances, (so) it's an insurance policy."

The military-backed interim government says it wants to stamp out this culture of corruption. It is limiting the amount of cash spent in this general-election campaign. The government has also started a public awareness campaign aimed at persuading Thais that vote-buying and -selling is wrong. However, government spokesman Chaiya Yimwilai said he is under no illusions about how much can be accomplished in such a short period of time.

"At least (we) … should be able to go a step or two … further for a better democracy, a real democracy, not a pseudo-democracy," Yimwilai said.

Pseudo-democracy is the way some critics describe the government of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose authoritarian tendencies and alleged corruption led the military to stage their coup in September of last year.

Allegations of corruption aside, Chulalongkorn University's Pongsudhirak said Thaksin was not all bad. He said Thaksin's party was one of the first to have a coherent policy platform, and it was one of the first to actually deliver on its campaign pledges. None of this, Pongsudhirak said, has been lost on the opposition.

"Now, I think, all political parties, in addition to dishing out cash, they pay attention to policy ideas," he said.

"The Democrat Party has been forced to come up with some policy platforms now, and the other parties I think will follow suit. This is a lasting legacy of Thaksin's … that cash matters, but policies also matter."

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