Slender victory 'holds lessons for Democrats'
Academics, opposition MPs say party needs reforms and a better performance to retain its loyal support base in BangkokDespite its victory in Sunday's Bangkok gubernatorial election, the Democrat Party cannot be complacent, but should change and improve its working so as to remain relevant for the city's electorate, academics and some Democrat politicians said yesterday.
They said it was time for the country's oldest political party to do some serious soul-searching, or its popularity in the capital would start waning.
Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said it was time for the Democrats to steer away from their old path of relying on fear and hatred towards their political rivals.
He said many of the votes for Democrat candidate Sukhumbhand Paribatra were not cast due to the candidate's popularity or the voters' faith in the party, but rather from fear that the rival Pheu Thai Party would win.
The academic called on the Democrats to change or they would lose support from disillusioned voters in the next elections.
Assoc Prof Seri Wongmontha, an expert in communications and marketing, said that not all of the 1.256 million voters who backed Sukhumbhand "actually voted for" him. He said many of them had "voted against" Pheu Thai Party candidate Pongsapat Pongcharoen, who was seen as a proxy of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Sukhumbhand's votes "came from people who love the Democrat Party, people who love him as well as people who dislike and fear Thaksin", Seri said.
"The Democrats should stop being too proud and start looking for new allies in the mass media and the academia as well as backing from opinion leaders and community leaders," he said.
Senior academic Sukhum Nualsakul, who is a former rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, said the Democrats appeared to be confident that their style would continue appealing to Bangkok voters.
"I don't think the Democrats will change or do any soul-searching," he warned.
A key Democrat figure yesterday admitted that there was a need for the opposition party to improve and adapt, otherwise it will indeed suffer a drop in popularity.
However, the source said reform within the party was not likely because its archaic structure does not allow rapid change.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that he was aware of the need for the party to adapt the way it works and the way it runs the city.
"I have listened to all the voices both before and after the election. As party leader, I will not disappoint the people," he said. "The party needs to improve a lot, judging from the election results and views from many people."
Though Sukhumbhand won with a record number of votes, Pheu Thai candidate Pongsapat was also able to garner more than 1 million votes - 1,077,899.
The margin of 178,450 votes between the winner and the first runner-up was much smaller than in the previous gubernatorial elections, when the Democrat winner was ahead of his closest competitor by at least 300,000 votes. The runners-up in the four previous gubernatorial elections were either from a Thaksin proxy party or linked to it.
Democrat MP Nakhon Machim said yesterday that he believed the Pheu Thai would step up its efforts to to win future elections in Bangkok. However, he added, the Democrats could not consider Bangkok its stronghold despite Sukhumbhand's victory because the Pheu Thai candidate only lost by a small margin.
From now on, the Pheu Thai will step up its efforts to beat us, so the Democrats need to do more homework if they want to win the hearts of Bangkokians in the long run," Nakhon said. "Luckily, most people still gave the Democrat Party a chance."