Every month Suan Dusit conducts a political index survey. The benefit of the Suan Dusit political index is that it is (1) nationwide, (2) a large sample size for the survey (6,846 for February), and (3) they ask the same questions each month which makes it easier to compare with previous months.

BP’s plan is to blog the survey results each month – see  October 2011November 2011, December 2011, and January 2012 posts. The survey from February was conducted between February 23-29 (yes, yes, BP has been busy so there has been delay in blogging it). BP has compared the February results with the first 5 months of Yingluck’s government and the final 4 surveys that BP can find for the Abhisit government so we have a point of comparison (BP can’t find the surveys for the months of May, June, and July 2011 (ie last 3 months of the Abhisit government) although this could be that Suan Dusit diverted their surveys to election surveys). The points are out of 10:

Microsoft Excel
Sources:  January-April (PDF); August-NovemberDecemberJanuary 2012; February 2012 (PDF)

BP:

1. Yingluck has had a large increase in support from 5.48 to 5.9.  The government’s support has also increased from 5.35 to 5.7, but the opposition has dropped from 5.41 to 5.09. There is no other way to say this, but this is excellent news for Yingluck and the government.

BP thinks that one of major reasons for the Democrat’s decline – and also for the increase the support for the government and Yingluck -  is their criticism of  Yingluck over her meeting at the Four Seasons was viewed as a personal attack. Initially, nothing was known about what transpired, but after a businessman, who is well-known critic of Thaksin, stated he saw Yingluck with a businessman the ball started rolling. Some Democrats, and particularly those who appear on the pro-Democrat Blue Sky TV Channel implied there was an extra-marital affair.

Anchalee Kongrut in the Bangkok Post:

This makes me think about the case of our first female prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who last month used her gender to respond to uncorroborated accusations about her secret meeting with business executives at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Without solid evidence, her political opponents attempted to hint towards a (still unproved) romantic link between Ms Yingluck, the mother of a young boy, and one real estate tycoon, a married man.

In responding to the charge, she wrote on her Facebook saying she is a “lady” and thus will not commit such an unbecoming act. She also demanded respect in the name of motherhood.

My heart goes out to “Khun Poo” (her nickname) and especially to her son “Nong Pipe”.

But as a prime minister, playing her female card or any other form of excuse simply shows a lack of accountability _ one required character of leaders.

For me, the best place to play the female card is in the game of seduction.

Tulsathit of The Nation on when a well-known Democrat supporter :

I think I understand Dr Somkiat Onwimon’s frustration, but hey, “Welcome to Thailand”. Although the “Lightning Rod” programme on the Blue Sky Channel is having politically-correct watchers fuming, and upsetting the likes of Somkiat so much, let’s not forget the big picture. It’s freedom of expression, baby.

The three Democrats – Sirichoke Sopha, Thepthai Senpong and Chavanond Intarakomalyasut – are a product of chaotic politics in which “freedom of expression” is an ideal only when it benefits the speaker. This is not to say that what they said of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was appropriate or acceptable. This is to say that if she’s a “victim” of mudslinging, she’s by no means the only one. In asking the trio to stop, and calling on Yingluck to clarify what she did at the Four Seasons Hotel, Somkiat wants the best of both worlds. In Thai circumstances, that’s nearly impossible.

If Somkiat is worried that Yingluck is being subjected to ungentlemanly attacks, he can rest assured that the number of her admirers and haters will never change no matter how “low” the Democrat trio can sink. If his real concern was the image of a political party he supports, it’s the same deal. The number of the party’s supporters and enemies won’t change no matter how “polite” or “rude” its members are in dealing with Yingluck.

The good news for Somkiat is that most Thais have lost the ability to listen. To be more exact, Thais have lost the ability to absorb opposing opinions. We are a brimming glass that will immediately overflow with just a few drops of new water. The Four Seasons Hotel episode is best summed up by a quote on the Manager web board: “Never explain. Your friends don’t need it, and your enemies won’t believe it anyway.”

BP: Bizarrely, in BP’s view, Tulsathit frames this within a freedom of expression lens.

Veera in the Bangkok Post:

This move by the Democrats for the truth about suspected business links which may amount to a conflict of interest is justified. Besides, this will help clear any misunderstanding of the prime minister’s alleged indecent conduct as widely rumoured. Any attempt by the Pheu Thai MPs to block the Democrats from doing their job to find out the truth about the real nature of the claimed business talk will amount to an obstruction of the opposition’s work. This is not about dishonouring the female gender or disrespecting the dignity of the women as suggested by the prime minister in her recent Facebook message.

After all, this wor ha secret meeting should not have been an issue nor degenerated into widespread juicy gossip in the first place had the prime minister personally told the truth to the public instead of evading the issue and thus allow gossipmongers to hold sway.

Also, this should serve as a valuable lesson for the prime minister that the next time she wants to set up a secret meeting with someone it should be at Government House and have the meeting room swept to make sure there are no listening devices or hidden cameras.

It should not be held at a hotel where, as the wisemen used to say, there are holes in the window and ears in the door.

BP: It emerged that Yingluck and the Commerce Minister met a group of businessman. BP thinks the Democrats on Blue Sky who hinted at an affair somehow hoped this would result in Yingluck forcefully responding (one wonders if it had been Thaksin whether  Blue Sky would have been shut down) and in proving that she didn’t meet the businessman one-on-one she would also then reveal who was at the meeting which the Democrats would then be able to use to their advantage (i.e by implying the government was favoring certain businesses). Yingluck’s initial response was to say nothing leading to more attacks, but then she  eventually responded taking offense at being attacked as a female (i.e impliedly responding to the allegations of the extra-marital affair). While BP thinks there are legitimate questions to ask over who was at the meeting and details of who a PM meets with should be released to the public, the reality is once you basically accuse someone of being a slut, it is a very personal attack and you can’t then suddenly move onto other issues later. Yingluck was able to sidestep the transparency issue because of the personal attack and the Democrats eventually dropped the meeting entirely – and this not making any headway on the transparency issue – as it was hurting them.

btw, BP thinks Anchalee gets it  wrong. Yes, female leaders can’t just use the ‘female card’ to not answer all questions, but when the attack is personal in nature they can. For example, when Abhisit went to the home of Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin no one suggested it was a romantic tryst. A male leader is rarely attacked in the same way and hence Yingluck could rely on the female card because it was a personal attack. BP should note she also probably didn’t want to talk in detail about the extra-marital allegations in her response – which then recirculates the ‘mud’ – and so the ‘female card’ was an indirect way of doing so.

btw, BP think Veera gets it wrong too. Sometimes,  silence makes more political sense. One could easily say that Obama could have silenced critics of him not being born in the US earlier by releasing the long-form birth certificate earlier, but by delaying he allowed the crazies to come out and this became a welcome distraction as it made the other side look bad. You can’t say there is a conflict of interest just because a political leader meets with someone in business – was there when Abhisit met with Patee Sarasin or when he met business leaders at Davos? No, you need to provide evidence of some purchase or some deal for there to be a conflict of interest first. There was no smoking gun though over the Four Seasons meeting.** If the attacks had been more deft and focused on transparency, she would have had to respond in a different way, but because they weren’t she didn’t. It probably helped her politically more by staying silent initially.

So will things in March improve for the Democrats after their drop in February?

2. Unlike last’s month’s poll, cost of living, state of economy, and cost of goods did not suffer the same drops we saw last month. Other polling suggests that the cost of living and the cost of goods is a concern although people don’t necessarily blame the government or think the government is doing a bad job compared with previous government.  However, as noted at the end of that post:

At the time of the poll, the 300 baht a day minimum wage increase hadn’t taken place. We are still yet to see how this will fully play out in terms of higher costs. The combination of higher energy costs and higher labor costs is clearly going to increase the cost of goods from now on so while a certain % – hard to guess exactly how many but you those on the minimum wage and even those above the minimum wage who will get pay increases – so do these people feel better off? Most likely. But there will be many others who won’t get pay increases to match the extra living costs. How many will blame government policy or energy prices?

BP: Cost of living increases and high energy prices is a problem that is affecting the popularity of governments all around the word – just look at Indonesia. Thailand is unlikely to be an exception although it is the extent of how much the government gets the blame which is unsure for Thailand. This is an issue that BP will continue to monitor.

Now, you may be asking, does this all really matter? In BP’s view it does. There are clearly behind-the-scenes deals/arrangements in place, but they do depend on the strength of the government. If the government loses popularity then Thaksin’s position is much weaker (and vice-versa).

**Chavnond’s attack about unusual share prices was also not the smoking gun. The Bangkok Post:

The share prices of Sansiri Plc and SC Asset went up unsually after the meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and a group of businessmen at the Four Seasons Hotel on Feb 8, Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said on Tuesday.

One of the businessmen who met Ms Yingluck was Srettha Thavisin, president of real estate developer Sansiri Plc.

Ms Yingluck is the former president of SC Asset Corporation Plc, also a real estate firm.

According to Mr Chavanond, as of Oct 12, 2011 the price per share of Sansiri Plc was 1.16 baht.  As of Feb 24 this year, after the Feb 8 meeting, the share price had risen to 1.88 baht, a 62 per cent increase.

The price per share of SC Asset as of Oct 12 last year was 10.10 baht.  As of Feb 24 this year the share price had risen to 14.70 baht, a 45.5 per cent increase.

Mr Chavanond said during the same period the shares price of Land and House Plc of Anant Asavapokin remained unchanged while the price of Pruksa Real Estate Plc shares went up by only 1.49 per cent.

BP: The meeting was on Feb 8 so to go back to October 12 to begin the comparison makes no sense in relation to the meeting. If you look at the share prices for  Sansiri, SC Asset, and Land and House Plc  over the last year (change from “1d” to “1y” on the respective links and move the mouse over different dates to see the stock prices, you will see that Land and House took a huge hit just after October 12 whereas both Sansiri and SC Asset’s stock prices dropped before this date. The flooding was, of course, the major reason for the drop, but different real estate companies have properties in different locations so they are obviously affected differently.  For both Sansiri and Land House, you will see their prices started to gradually increase by late October  and there is no unusual upwards movement after the meeting of February 8. For SC Asset, they went from 14.7 on Feb 8 to 14.6 on Feb 28 (the date of Chavanond raising the unusual share price). For Sansiri, they went from 1.72 to 1.83. For Land and House, one the supposed losers, they went from 6.4 to 6.75 over the same period. For Pruksa, their shares did drop (from 14.84 to 13.47). Hence, no smoking gun.