Loser Take All: The Democrats’ Playbook to Steal the Election
The following is an extract of the introduction of the fifth and final installment in the Thailand 2011 General Election Report Series. Download a full PDF copy of Loser Take All: The Democrats’ Playbook to Steal the Election right here.
This paper is oddly prescient, especially given the news revealed just today that the ultra-nationalist group PAD is already calling for the dissolution of Pheu Thai.
The Democrat Party and its allies have made a habit out of rationalizing election defeats by accusing the opposition of “fraud” and “vote buying.” Given that the Democrats have lost every election in the last decade, the explanation has had to be proffered repeatedly. Aside from excusing their own poor performance, the “vote buying” narrative has served important purposes for the Democrats and the Thai Establishment. Accusations of systemic fraud have been used to devalue the outcomes of free elections, and with that undermine the legitimacy of elected governments and the entire democratic process. The military coup of September 19, 2006 was explicitly justified on that basis, as was the subsequent dissolution of Thai Rak Thai in 2007. Weakening the public’s confidence in electoral democracy, moreover, allowed the generals to write a new constitution that allowed the judiciary to intervene and make sweeping corrections to composition of parliament. It was through these new rules, introduced after the coup, that the Constitutional Court dissolved the then governing People Power Party and two of its coalition partners in 2008. Some portions of Thailand’s Establishment, like the People’s Alliance for Democracy, have gone so far as to demand that electoral democracy be suspended, based on the idea that electoral and legislative politics is tainted irreparably by corruption and fraud.
Aside from justifying authoritarian measures to nullify the outcomes of elections, and limit the electorate’s freedom to vote for candidates of their choice, the Democrat Party has used the “vote-buying” narrative to set itself apart from the opposition, elevate itself to a higher moral position, and therefore justify to the country and the international community why a perennial loser of competitive elections should nonetheless be entitled to govern Thailand.
Pressed hard by a BBC interviewer about his lack of an electoral mandate, Abhisit Vejjajiva volunteered this explanation for the event that made it possible for him to rise to the office of Prime Minister— the dissolution of the People Power Party and two of its coalition partners: It was a hung parliament, they put together a majority, but the party that had the biggest number of votes were involved in election fraud, and therefore they were punished by law, laws and rules that they were aware of when they actually signed on to take part in the election. There is some dispute about whether there is any such thing as “vote buying” — in other words, whether giving a voter a small sum of money really earns a candidate or party that voter’s support. Aside from the impossibility of ascertaining what anyone does in the voting booth, voters in many constituencies often accept small cash gifts from the representatives of multiple candidates.
However, there is no doubt that money plays a big role in Thai election campaigns, especially as candidates from various parties attempt to enlist the services of the most influential canvassers at the local level. Canvassers, in turn, use a portion of what they receive from the candidate as “walking around money” to pay for the campaign’s expenses and sometimes distribute the money to prospective voters. While both practices are illegal, they remain widespread and practiced widely by the Democrats themselves.
Democrat campaigns in Southern strongholds feature extensive use of “walking around money” by candidates and canvassers.2 The Democrat Party, moreover, has a record of far worse irregularities. The party narrowly escaped dissolution last year, after the Election Commission found the party guilty of accepting 258 million baht in illegal donations and of misusing another twenty-nine million. At the same time, some of the Democrats’ key coalition allies are widely seen as some Thailand’s most corrupt; when these politicians were in Thaksin Shinawatra’s coalition, they served as poster boys for the Democrats’ campaign against the supposed corruption of Thai Rak Thai’s government. It is telling that these factions/parties were the only ones the Democrats managed to corral, at the cost of hundreds of millions of baht, when they put together the legislative majority that made Abhisit the Prime Minister.
While the Democrat Party has mounted an effective, if purely rhetorical crusade against corruption and vote buying, beginning with the (later annulled) 2006 election the Democrats have been by far the greatest perpetrator and beneficiary of electoral fraud. Thanks to the backing of the Establishment and the effective legal immunity they were granted, unofficially, through their collusive relationship with the judiciary, they have been able to do so without incurring any penalties. As described in this report, much the same thing is happening in the lead-up to the general elections of July 3, 2011.
On the one hand, the Democrats are relying on a broad range of variously illegal, underhanded tactics to boost their own seat share at the expense of the opposition— as elections approach, moreover, the likelihood of outright fraud increases with every opinion poll showing the Democrats trailing Pheu Thai. On the other hand, much like in 2007, the Democrat Party and its associates are laying the groundwork for once again undoing the election results in the event of an opposition victory. This entails framing opposition candidates that the Election Commission might subsequently disqualify owing to presumed irregularities, as well as fabricating cases against opposition leaders and executives that might subsequently allow the Constitutional Court to dissolve Pheu Thai.