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Public opinion polls and the Democrats own undoing

by ownermdo_newshealth2_351.jpg | 17-07-2011


Public opinion polls and the Democrats own undoing


Published in the Bangkok Post, Friday,June 17, 2011

Polls can be wrong, I know.  And we all must keep in mind public opinion polls are a reflection of the past and a snap shot of the present.  Like a balance sheet, we can read and interpret what is happening but cannot always foretell the future.  Most importantly, although public opinion polls during election campaigns do gauge the feelings of the general population but ultimately they cannot take into account the manipulations and election frauds which can change the outcome and distort the will of the people.


For the moment though, by leading in all major opinion polls, Ms.Yingluck Shinawatra, de-facto Leader of the opposition Puea Thai Party (PTP) and youngest sister of the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, must savor what has become of her. 


From a businesswoman, seemingly protected by the family not to venture into politics in order to run and save the business empire, Ms.Yingluck became the unexpected candidate for Prime Minister.  Not quite prepared for prime time politics, she surprisingly shot up to be on par with the veteran politician, Mr.Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister and Leader of ruling Democrat Party, within three weeks of the announcement of her candidacy. 


Her personal charm and sincerity captured the hearts and minds of PTP and red shirts, who were about to be disillusioned from the wrangling within the party leadership to the point of the party breaking up.  As a symbol representing Mr.Thaksin, she was able to consolidate the party with the redshirts and left no doubt who is the party actual leader, an absolute necessary factor going into an election.  The party heavyweights succumbed, political canvassers happy and the supporters went erratic. 


What Ms.Yingluck lacked in political experience, she is covered by Mr.Thaksin and the senior members of PTP.  This is shrewdly mixed and expressed through the successful formula of political marketing perfected since the days of the now defunct Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT): by reviving the strength of the brand, Mr.Thaksin, and passing it to Ms.Yingluck, together with a new platform while at the same time, reminding the public of the “good old days” as remembered by many – the policies neglected or mismanaged by subsequent governments especially the present one – through speeches, posters, advertisements, etc.  “Thaksin thinks, Puea Thai implements” a slogan states.


But Ms.Yingluck herself deserves credit, and not only because of her femininity and the freshness of the pretty face, but because her approach is to reach out.  She is careful not to antagonize anyone or engage in the usual mudslinging so common in Thai politics.  Mr.Abhisit and Mr.Suthep Tuegsubhan, the Democrat’s Secretary General and DPM, poked, teased, and attacked to try to get her to fall into the pit, but so far she wisely did not.


If you believe the public sentiments expressed in certain polls how the people are bored by politics as usual, especially the constant bickering, then Ms.Yingluck is on the right track by remaining above the frail.  She kept on message of presenting her ideas and the party’s policies quite well, looking calm and collected in her interviews, even though some journalists criticized her of not able to divert from the prepared script. 


But in this television age, who would?  It is the perception on screen that counts.  And the polls are indicating she is able to reach out beyond PTP and the red shirts’ base, as reflected in her rapid rise in popularity in Bangkok, a Democrat stronghold, giving PTP a lead in 21 out of the 33 constituencies, with 6 a toss-up, and only in 6 have the Democrats leading.    


On the other side, for the sliding in the polls, the Democrats are doing it onto themselves.


Mr.Abhisit and Mr.Suthep have not been on a constructive path in campaigning.  Both sent out the negative attack messages repeating the allegations the redshirts are being anti-monarchy, terrorists who burnt down the city, and Mr.Thaksin is a corrupted and power hungry maniac who wants to come back to power for revenge.  Amnesty will be given by a PTP majority in Parliament and Ms.Yingluck as PM.  The politics of fear is being played out daily and at higher frequency.  But except for the hard core supporters of the Democrats and the military who is backing the government, the general public is irritated.  


This may be due to the following factors. 


First, the government has stuck to the old tale and political rhetoric in explaining last year’s crackdown on the red shirts even as evidences and eyewitnesses disputed otherwise.  The causes of 91 deaths and thousands injured are still left unanswered and the culprits who caused the traumatic losses, unaccounted for.  Even for the burning of buildings, official reports have yet to be released.  The justice system is impaired.   


Second, Mr.Abhisit, usually a good communicator, could not wipe away the label ‘dee tae pood’ or ‘only good at talking,’ originated from a simple sign held by non-red shirt protestor.  The phrase struck cord with the on-going sentiment, went viral and used repeatedly by the mainstream media.  It lessens his credibility and believability when he speaks. 


Third, Mr.Abhisit appears constantly agitated by protestors.  He lost the image of being calm and intellectual.  He wasted time debating with the individual or group of protestors he met on the campaign trail, trying to win every point at hand.  His team believes the protestors are organized by the redshirts, which for some may be true, but most are natural in their antagonistic views.  This may be a reality the Democrats cannot accept but it is not unlike what Mr.Thaksin as Prime Minister had to face from the yellow shirts supporters.  The anger was then, as is now, real.


Fourth and most important, it is the economy that is at the top of the public mind.  The macro-economic numbers may look good and the export sector is enjoying a renewed growth, but the people on the street are struggling to make ends meet, suffering from souring price of goods.  The Democrats already perceived as a party of the elite, looked aloof and fumbled to be in touch with the common man.  Its economic measures appeared to help big business interests more than the mass and its populist policies, a mere copycat from the real thing, Mr.Thaksin and PTP’s. 


So is the election sewn up?  Of course not, there are still 16 days left until the election.  Anything could happen.  Opinion polls can go up and come down.  Mr.Abhisit is a tough campaigner and can never be underestimated.  But for now, Ms.Yingluck is sitting pretty and the election is hers to lose while the Democrats scramble to remain in contention.