Violecne-induced blame game now the political norm
Exploited by rivals on both sides, the 2010 bloodshed has aggravated the problem of regionalism in ThailandOver the weekend two leading politicians confirmed what everybody already knows - Thailand is a country politically wrecked by regionalism. Meeting his party's supporters, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva all but conceded that he was at his wit's end when it comes to how to win over the Northeast. Chuwit Kamolvisit, meanwhile, pointed out that the Pheu Thai Party lost the Bangkok gubernatorial election for the same reason that prevented the Democrats from planting even one solid foothold in the Northeastern region.
What Abhisit and Chuwit did not say, though, is that, were our politics more peaceful, the regionalism would not necessarily be so bad. In many democracies, regional monopolies held by certain political parties are common. In some cases they even contribute to constructive competition. All the adversaries have to do is avoid crossing the line between fair and dirty.
Politics is about winning trust. Positive regionalism sees rivals attempting to maintain trust or "steal" it within the rules of the game. Negative regionalism sees rivals throw all the rules out of the window. In Thailand, instead of undermining people's trust in your opponent, the seeds of hatred are planted. And this kind of tactic feeds on itself.
Abhisit told his supporters the Democrat Party had been suffering from a smear campaign, which made it extremely difficult to establish a strong political base in the Northeast. Chuwit, writing on Facebook, said that, while Pheu Thai did well despite losing the Bangkok race, it was always bound to be defeated.
"The truth is, fear of Pheu Thai absolute domination still prevails in Bangkok," Chuwit said. He was of the opinion that even though Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen received more than 1 million votes, any Democrat candidate would have beaten him.
Even the Pheu Thai Party has accepted that the "fear factor" led Sukhumbhand Paribatra to comfortable victory in the gubernatorial election. Pheu Thai's analysis of the election outcome was sincere in its admission that Bangkok still doesn't trust Thailand's most popular political camp. But the party still blamed the Democrats for the widespread distrust that seemingly gripped the city just days before the election.
Opportunism was obviously at play before the Bangkok poll, as it had been when a Democrat campaign accusing Chamlong Srimuang of "leading people to their deaths" earned Abhisit's party a big election triumph in the capital after the May 1992 crisis. But opportunism can't materialise from nothing. It needs something to take advantage of.
The Pheu Thai Party was simply at the wrong end of regionalism on March 3, just as the Democrats were in the Northeast in the last general election. The political bloodshed in 2010 has been perceived differently in Bangkok and the Northeast. Regionalism that had always existed before 2010 was cemented by the political violence. When rivals blame each other for the bloody turmoil, constituents in the Northeast will never believe what the Democrats have to say, and vice versa for Pheu Thai and Bangkok's populace.
Regionalism based on a violence-induced blame game is an unhealthy situation. As some analysts always say, it can get a lot worse in Thailand before it can get better. For one reason, the blame game has become an effective tool in election campaigns. Attacking a rival's budgetary or education policies may not yield results as well or as quickly as to shout, "Murderers!" or "City burners!" Sadly, Chuwit was right when he said that those who cast ballots on March 3 do not care about new skytrain routes, efficient water-resource management, city parks or garbage collection.
It will take many years to dilute the hatred, fear and mistrust that are feeding on themselves at the moment. It's a pity because it used to be a relatively "normal" kind of regionalism, in which voters based their choices on anything but extreme hatred or a burning desire for vengeance.