Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has been voted "Asia's Person of the Year 2013" in an online poll conducted by the Asia Society.
Suthep received 115,916 votes, or 88.2 per cent of the total vote – well ahead of runner-up Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan’s young female education rights activist, who received 11,684 votes, or 8.9 per cent.
Suthep, secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), dominated Asia Society’s year-end reader poll for Asia's Person of the Year 2013 “in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion”, said the US-based educational organisation.
Asia Society reported on its website that Yousafzai, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year, looked destined to be the clear victor the week, after the poll was launched on December 20, with Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke running a distant second.
Shortly before the New Year, Suthep was “sitting dead last, with 0 votes” – among 11 candidates in the online survey.
“That changed dramatically once 2014 began. During the first two days of the year, its poll page received more than 172,000 page views, with nearly 165,000 of those visits originating from Thailand. Most of the traffic came from Facebook and a handful of Thai message boards,” Asia Society said in its article “How Thailand's Suthep Thaugsuban Ran Away With Our Person of the Year Poll”. At one point, Suthep had around 97 per cent of the total vote, but in recent days, Yousafzai voters made a late push – eating slightly into Suthep’s lead, the article said.
It said the scenario was very similar to the grassroots social media effort Pakistani supporters of Imran Khan used to make him the overwhelming winner in Asia Society’s 2012 poll. However, Suthep received around 10 times the number of votes that Khan did, according to Asia Society.
“As it did in 2012, the unusually large number of votes did raise some red flags for us. Are these votes real? Did we get hacked?” the society said.
“But with the amount of visitors that flooded our site from Thailand (close to 300,000 page views, the poll is easily the most popular piece of content on Asia Society's website ... ever), the number of blog comments (more than 400), Facebook likes (54,000), and write-in votes, all point to these votes being the acts of many, many actual people — very passionate people,” said Asia Society.
Among other candidates are South Korea’s first-woman president Park Geun-Hye, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.