The polls are about to close here (will have closed by the time I finish this post). I’m watching some Thai news that I totally don’t understand. The Thai English-language publications online seem to be focusing on corruption and vote buying (in The Nation, at least). The Bangkok Post, as well as all the International news I’m reading seem to agree that Thaksin is casting a long shadow, and the memory of him dominates the election. Corruption, authoritarian style, and restrictions on freedom of press (enabled by his ownership of a lot of the telecom and media around here) notwithstanding, he did good things for poor and rural voters who had been ignored for a long time.
From The Guardian:
The economic wisdom of those populist policies, including universal heath care and generous funds for village development, is hotly debated, but they empowered rural voters, for the first time planting the message that their vote directly affects their lives.
“I heard that if we vote for the People’s Power Party, Thaksin will come back. I want Thaksin to come back because he did a lot of good things for the country,” said 48-year-old La-aet Dansuk, who with her neighbors in Pen district in the northeastern province of Udon Thani makes shawls using natural dyes.
She recalls how her profits were boosted by a Thaksin-initiated project that brought wholesalers from Japan and Australia to her village. Now, she must travel almost 300 miles to Bangkok at her own expense to sell her goods, or deal with Thai middlemen who try to drive the price down. Sales have declined, she added.
Thaksin was an “agent of transformation,” said Thitinan, though he’s no admirer of the deposed leader. His party “awakened the silent majority in the countryside, and Thailand will never be the same.”
The turnout is estimated to be over 70%, which is kind of awesome, and the turnout for absentee and advance voting last weekend was record-setting. There’s still some doubt over what the military will do if (actually, when, if the exit polls are any indication) the People’s Power Party (basically Thai Rak Thai part 2, with a less catchy name) dominates, and The Economist is calling Thailand the Pakistan of Southeast Asia — which seems overly dire, really. Bangkok’s most trustworthy news source has some ideas, though.