Opinion: The “Thaksin ghost” rhetoric will not work for the upcoming gubernatorial election in Bangkok

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The now-disbanded People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) is bringing back fears that “if you don’t choose us, ‘he’ will come back” to coax their followers to vote for pro-establishment candidates at the upcoming gubernatorial election in Bangkok. The “he” in this case refers to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in self-imposed exile. 

The man publicly dishing out these concerns is none other than Suthep Thaugsuban, the politician who led the PDRC’s protests between 2013 and 2014. The demonstrations got what they wanted, which was the removal of an elected government via a military coup to install a military government that they and their funders can deal with. 

The PDRC used the same rhetoric during the previous gubernatorial election in Bangkok in 2013. And that language proved effective, as Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the Democrat Party was elected ahead of Pongsapat Pongcharoen from the Pheu Thai Party.

The rhetoric worked back then because the PDRC managed to make coup-supporters scared shitless of the return of Thaksin. Suthep believes that people will fall for it again.

He believes that Thaksin is trying to manipulate the system in order to make it easier for him to come back from self-exile. And there is no denying that this is probable, based on the fact that he’s brought out his own daughter, Paetongtarn “Ung-Ing” Shinawatra, as a candidate for prime minister. Before Paetongtarn, his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, had already risen to power in 2011.

“Sakolthee [Phattiyakul] was my brother in arms,” Suthep said.

Sakolthee is an independent candidate who was a former co-leader of the PDRC and former deputy governor of Bangkok who was handpicked by the junta.  

“We were fighting against the Thaksin regime’s attempt to pass the amnesty law to clear their people from wrongdoings, especially for the wrongdoings of Thaksin who escaped the law to abroad,” he said.

However, this rhetoric will not work this time.

First of all, there is no more push for the amnesty law for Thaksin, well, not yet anyway. 

The connection that Suthep was trying to make between voting for candidates on the democratic side at the upcoming gubernatorial election in Bangkok on May 22, and the move to pave the way for Thaksin to come back, was unfounded at best.

Independent candidate, Chadchart Sittipunt, who is leading the race in surveys, already said that if he lost, he will not go back to Pheu Thai and instead leave politics. That was a big wager and a clear sign which shows that Pheu Thai’s grip on Chadchart is not as strong as when he was their candidate for the premier position.

He was also one of the first persons to announce his candidacy for the governor position as an independent candidate in 2019. This was way before anyone knew when this election would actually take place after it was halted by the junta in 2014.

Having a governor who would allow protests against the central government has nothing to do with paving the way for Thaksin to come back either.

Everyone can clearly see the protests against General Prayut Chan-ocha and his administration over the past two years and all of it was done under the supervision of Aswin Kwanmuang, the former governor who was also selected by the junta.

Following Suthep’s comments, the military’s information plan to spread fear about the “ghost of Thaksin” went into full gear. And with support from the right-wing media, it will most likely continue until the weekend as voters go to polling stations.

There is also no doubt that the same rhetoric will be used against Thaksin’s daughter in the next general election.

It’s a familiar problem, a constant cycle.

One that has faced Thailand in some versions since the first constitution was drafted. Emotionally charged voters lean towards a party or a person which makes them feel good or they hate less. Instead, they could vote for policies that would actually make their lives easier. 

It seems we still have a long way to go on this democratic road, and it’s going to be a long time before we reach the horizon. 

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