The Democrats, Vote Buying, and Suthep
Share this on

The Democrats, Vote Buying, and Suthep

Earlier this month I stated:
/>

Now, I am sure some readers are shocked by the Democrat Party just purchasing up other faction leaders as they had been led to believe that the Democrat Party was a technocratic, progressive, pure ideological, and non-corrupt party. Sorry to disappoint you.

/>Obviously, by their editorial today, The Nation disagrees:
/>

Unlike long-established parties like the Democrats – which have been built on principles by people who share an ideology and belief, and who work together to develop policies to achieve democratic power – the likes of Palang Prachachon and For the Motherland have no interest in developing as democratic, principled organisations. These parties have been set up to achieve specific, short-term objectives: the first of these being to win the election and install their leaders in positions of power. Many of these politicians, who have neither the patience nor time to build their parties as democratic institutions, have no compunction about buying votes or engaging in other dishonest electoral practices to achieve their aims. The sad truth is that most poverty-stricken rural folk demand to be paid for their votes.

/>COMMENT: Oh please. Look I am quite critical of the Democrats as I used to like them a lot, but they are generally disappointing. I don’t think they are evil and have close friends who are in the Democrats. I respect their opinion, but the Democrats don’t share any ideology. They pretend to be different, but that is because when have tried in the past to buy up politicians they have been very bad at it and it affects their base in the South and Bangkok who seemingly feel neglected. Poverty-stricken rural folk don’t exist just in the North and Northeast, there are poor people in the South too.
/>
/>McCargo on vote-buying in the South:
/>

Callahan has argued that the south, with its more unified regional identity and strong leaning towards the Democrats, is often seen as “beyond vote-buying”, yet his study details allegations of illegal practices by the Democrats in Hat Yai in 1995 (Callahan 2000: 50– 51), noting that Pollwatch officials believed Democrat vote-buying was widespread in the region (Callahan 2000: 20). He also suggests that bureaucratic bias in favour of the Democrats was quite pervasive in the South, including Chuan¹s own Trang constituency (Callahan 2000: 20, 57). While it may be the case that regionalist sympathies for the Democrats reduced the salience of electoral manipulation in the South – it might be suggested that the Democrats would largely “win anyway”, even without cheating, and that illicit benefits offered around elections were simply part of an ongoing relationship between the party and its supporters – southern sympathy for the party did not prevent the commercialisation of elections in the region

/>COMMENT: One might say the same thing about TRT or PPP in most of the North and the Northeast and that it is part on an ongoing relationship or do such comparisons only apply to those “ideological” parties who buy votes?
/>
/>Is part of the Democrat Party’s ideology to be corrupt as corruption scandals have certainly affected them as well. The Democrat party government was brought down in scandal in 1995 over a land scandal.
/>
/>The Nation has the short version:
/>

Agriculture minister Suthep Thaugsuban gave title deeds to 592 plots of land in Khao Sam Liam, Kamala and Nakkerd hills to 489 farmers.
/>
/>It was later found that members of 11 wealthy families in Phuket were among the recipients.
/>

/>For some information, the Democrat ideology of being a southern party, and some info on the Thai media, Duncan McCargo has stated:
/>

The Democrats’ electoral grip on the region was greatly strengthened after the no- confidence debate of May 1995. This debate, which centred on a land reform scandal involving leading Southern Democrats – especially former deputy agriculture minister Suthep Theuksuban – came almost to resemble a regional dispute, pitting the South against the rest of the country. Democrat politicians were accused of abusing land reform provisions designed to assigned poor farmers, to benefit wealthy supporters and even their own relatives in Phuket and other provinces. A campaign against alleged abuses of power by southern Democrats was led by the top-selling daily newspaper Thai Rath, which “locked” the scandal onto its front page for over six months (see McCargo 2000: 15–17; Pasuk and Baker 1997: 33–5). The campaign was replete with rhetoric suggesting that the stubbornness and selfishness of southern politicians had led them to act against the national interest, illicitly channelling benefits to their own inside circle, and then failing properly to address their wrongdoing. While prime minister Chuan Leekpai was never accused of personal mpropriety over the land reform issue, his attempts to use his own reputation for integrity to shield less squeaky-clean colleagues had the effect of sullying his image, culminating in the downfall of his first administration in May 1995. Criticism of the southern Democrat leadership over the scandal provoked a strong reaction in some parts of the region, and contributed to the party’s landslide success there in the subsequent July 1995 general election. During the scandal, both sides sought to exploit regional tensions for their own advantage. When Suthep Theuksuban addressed a huge crowd in his Surat Thani constituency a month before the no-confidence debate, he was totally unrepentant about his role in the scandal, calling on his southern supporters to march on Bangkok in their hundreds of thousands to defend his reputation (Siam Post, 19 April 1995).
/>
/>News of this speech provoked uproar in the capital, confirming the views of many Bangkokians that Chuan’s inner circle contained some over-excitable rabble-rousers. A week earlier, a column by Thai Rath’s Chalam Khiao had accused the Chuan administration of deliberately seeking to divide the country, “inciting and fomenting friction among southern people” (Thai Rath, 11 April 1995); Suthep’s outburst appeared to support this view.

/>COMMENT:If the Democrats knew someone was corrupt, would then join up with him/her? Yes, of course. Just look at Banharn. In 1996, he was PM and the Democrats were in opposition.
/>
/>Here is one report:
/>

Democrat MP Suthep Thueksuban, who raised the issue on Thursday, contended the loan was granted for the benefit of the Prime Minister. Suthep suspected Banharn had pocketed a huge kickback from Ital-thai Co in exchange for the right to invest in the airport using the loan.

/>Asiaweek in 1996:
/>

Then his fellow Democrat, Suthep Thueksuban, accused Banharn of blackmailing the former treasury adviser of the troubled Bangkok Bank of Commerce into handing over 300 million baht ($12 million) for his election campaign. Recent allegations that the embattled PM was a Chinese national were again dragged out, along with claims that he improperly made a 1,500% profit on a property deal with his daughter Kanchana.

/>COMMENT: I am sure the irony has escaped that it was mainly Suthep who brought down the Democrats one year under the land scam only for him a year later to be accusing others of being corrupt.
/>
/>The Democrats will do what it takes to win, just that they have been that good at it in the past.
/>
/>* Also from McCargo:
/>

Other newspapers, such as Matichon, were much less forceful in their criticisms of the Democrats over the land reform scandal, in part because of their good relations with Chuan and other senior Democrat leaders. At the same time, some commentators defended Thai Rath’s decision to declare open season on Chuan over land reform. Chatcharin Chaiyawttn argued that this was a really substantive political issue, which other newspapers failed at first to pursue because of their partiality for the Democrats.

/>COMMENT: For those dedicated Thai politics followers, you might like to read about Newin’s part in the downfall – he was leaking the info to the press.
/>
/>** yes, you might say surely everyone in Thai politics is allowed one corruption scandal and Suthep isn’t that bad. He has been implicated in so many schemes it isn’t funny. Here is one:
/>

He set up a farmers cooperative whose managers placed stocks in Chuan’s name, sparking an investigation of the Prime Minister. Chuan was cleared
/>

Thitinan has more on this and other dealings by Suthep:
/>

For the Democrats, the scandal surrounding an agricultural co-operative in Surat Thani could not have come at a worse time. The co-op was established principally by Suthep, who brought in Banyat as a shareholder along with several other cabinet members. Suthep also placed a handful of shares under Chuan’s name, which the Prime Minister failed to declare in his asset statements. In response to the uproar, the NCCC will probably require Chuan to make the appropriate declaration, and end matters there. Banyat will probably get a slap on the wrist for not declaring his lot of shares.
/>
/>Suthep, however, has already faced an inquisition. Not only did he bring in fellow ministers, but he also lured sizeable start-up capital from leading telecom firms and a major arms dealer. In addition, he funneled state money to his family’s construction company through the co-op. In the weeks ahead, Suthep’s co-op scheme may well look like a sophisticated graft operation.


/>During 1998-2000, Suthep was Transport and Communications Minister and we had this:
/>

However, the most recent area of contention involving the TOT is its plan to extend the existing fibre-optic services (Jasmine’s southern cables, and TA/Comlinks lines alongside the North-South trunk railway) into a national ISDN service. The bidding process under the Democrat’s Communications Minister, Suthep Thueksuban, has come under fire for charges of collusion in the bidding process for contracts worth 2.3 billion Bt. The companies involved are Tomen, Ericsson, Siemens, Jasmine, Mitsui and Loxley (BP, 20 Jul 98).

/>
/>COMMENT: So why did the Democrats do with Suthep after all these scandals? They made him Secretary-General to help “finance” the party. It was no surprise to me that in the recent dissolution case you could see Suthep’s hands all over that.