January 25, 2014 00:00 By Pravit Rojanaphruk The Nation
Bangkokians need a re-think: Anfrel chief
Contrary to claims by the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), vote buying is not the decisive factor in an election, said Pongsak Chanon, Thailand project coordinator at the Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel).
Increasingly, voters consider each party’s policies and what they will gain from those policies, and while the reality of vote buying cannot be denied, it is no longer the decisive factor, he said.
“It’s not [true] that people can’t think for themselves,” said Pongsak, adding that they consider policies of each party when voting for party-list candidates.
He urged “educated Bangkokians” who still consider rural voters ignorant to have a rethink.
He said rural voters made conscious efforts to vote for the party that would benefit them.
Meanwhile, some in the middle class and “elite” who scorn rural folk no longer accept the concept of free elections despite the fact that many of them practise some form of corruption, such as using money or connections to get their children into posh schools.
“They don’t think they need the approval of the majority in order to push for change.”
No Thai political party is truly mass-based, Pongsak said. He cited the labour movement, which has failed to form a political party truly representative of its ideology. Thus all major Thai political parties are under the influence of the party bosses and big capitalists who fund them.
Pongsak said there was less room for vote buying but it would take time to educate the rural poor not to accept money, which is the main excuse critics use to deny the legitimacy of free elections in Thailand.
“Some people have admitted to me that they took money but they may actually vote for someone else,” he added.
No matter what happens in politics, Thais will have to learn to co-exist with people who think differently from themselves. “Thai society is rather narrow-minded. [Respecting] differing views is a basic principle.”
He said any proposed reform must be done legitimately, and no reform can succeed overnight.
“There’s no ready-made change. We need to create a momentum.
“There must be a way for people to talk instead of being stuck in a zero-sum game. If we don’t stick to common rules – many support having another military coup – then the mistakes will happen all over again.
“We don’t really learn from the past. Many still want tanks to roll out.”