Observing Yingluck on the Thai election campaign trail
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Observing Yingluck on the Thai election campaign trail

The Bangkok Post:

Behind her speeches and virtually every public appearance, however, are a few men, including veteran politicians Chalerm Yubamrung and Chaturon Chaisaeng, doing the planning.

The first task for Ms Yingluck to accomplish was effective public speaking. The No.1 party-list candidate of the opposition party had to prove she could deliver speeches to big crowds.

Ms Yingluck has a support team for delivering speeches. This first team is responsible for researching information she may need for speeches. They also evaluate her performance, give a review and suggest how to make it better the following day. They help set the agenda for issues she should focus on as she canvasses for votes.

Another think tank works behind the scenes to make sure Ms Yingluck and her speech-coaching team do not miss a thing.

This “brains trust” consists of former Thai Rak Thai executives banned from politics since the party’s dissolution in 2007. Among the key members are Mr Chaturon, Varathep Ratanakorn and Prommin Lertsuridej. They monitor Ms Yingluck’s speeches from the Shinawatra 3 Tower, analyse them and give their feedback to Ms Yingluck and the first team.

The Bangkok Post in another article:

The man behind that transformation is none other than a leading marketing tsar, Songsak Premsuk, managing director of Voice TV, the internet television channel financed by individuals and entities close to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Ms Yingluck, Thaksin’s youngest sister and now a contender for the prime minister’s job, needed all the help she could get to muscle in on the political scene with such an impact.

Her political profile, which some opponents had mocked as being negligible, had to be boosted fast and Mr Songsak was enlisted to help out with the image make-over.

it is not surprising that when the Yingluck political brand had to be invented, Mr Songsak was the first to be called to do the job.

The central task involved hiding any of Ms Yingluck’s weak points in the campaign advertisements.

Popular figures in the Pheu Thai Party were mobilised at election rallies to draw crowds. Ms Yingluck would be the last person to address the crowds on stage.

She was instructed to keep her speeches 30 minutes or less.

She was also told to flash her winning smile, mingle with the villagers and have photo opportunities with them.

Next, Ms Yingluck was advised to appear at the rallies with her only son, Pipe, by her side. Ms Yingluck’s own family has been the subject of public curiosity and could have been a target of her rivals

Arglit Boonyai in The Bangkok Post who interviewed Yingluck a few weeks back:

But maybe it doesn’t matter, because one thing was hugely obvious. Despite the denials that Khun Yingluck is Thaksin’s puppet, and claims that the only thing she’ll take from him is his management style, one thing was obvious from our brief meeting, and that is that Khun Yingluck is under close watch.

She is flanked by minders at all times. Not something unusual, even Thaksin himself had an entourage of minders. But what is a little strange is that Khun Yingluck felt the need to look to her minders for approval before and after answering each question.

Was the constant glancing due to a lack of confidence, a way to show that she is staying on script, was Khun Yingluck truly being Yingluck?

I don’t know and might have thought nothing of it, had somebody not then asked if she would grant amnesty to her brother if she was elected?

Khun Yingluck was taken by surprise, in rushed the minders and a note was handed to a member of the Bangkok Post team to stop the interview.

The Nation on Yingluck

“Thailand remains a poor country and our positioning as representative of the poor is clear,” said a Pheu Thai campaign planner. But while the Democrats have been splitting up their big events,Pheu Thai has ensured Yingluck enjoyed a grand welcome on big stages. The opposition party has limited rallies to its comfort zones, where huge crowds turned up and provided good front-page photos.

Yingluck has done better than the party and her big brother Thaksin had hoped for, never straying off the non-provocative scripts and successfully deflecting controversial issues like the red shirts on the party-list and the amnesty plan to other Pheu Thai figures. Like Thaksin, she’s been marketed as a successful businessperson who loves the family. The party has also done well in not making her great wealth an issue, so far at least.

BP: It is somewhat surprising how many press interviews that Yingluck has given. Her English is reasonable, but not fluent enough to properly campaign and the interviews have been limited to less than eight minutes. Her initial interviews in her first week in Thai were longer. She had a 20-minute interview with Channel 7, 8-minute interview with Channel 3, and a 20-minute interview with ThaiPBS – there maybe others, but these are the ones that BP has watched.

If you go to the ThaiTVnews2 blog, they have posted various links to YouTube clips of Yingluck speaking at rallies and meeting people in the markets in each province. There is an element of similarity to parts of the stump speech although you will notice some differences. BP has contacted a few people who have interviewed Yingluck or asked her questions on the campaign and below are some of their responses together with some of BP’s comments:

1. General agreement that she is very careful to stay on message. Yingluck is very careful in the wording of her answers. One person said that their impression from the interview was that Yingluck was not confident enough to answer some questions, but was smart enough not to be trapped into a compromising answer. Hence, she keeps some of her answers brief and too the point. There is no going off on a tangent and saying something she will regret.

2. To match with the reconciliation policy, you will notice she is keen to avoid criticizing anyone. Yingluck has made a few contrasts on policies with the Democrats, but BP hasn’t heard her say a single negative thing about Abhisit and the Democrats in general. So far it is a positive campaign. One journalist said that compared with most politicians it was clear she didn’t view the press as the enemy and didn’t show contempt in dealing with the press like other politicians do. Another said she apologized for having so little time for the interview. This person also described her as very mild-mannered and that it is hard to imagine her getting angry. Hence, BP doesn’t think you will see her berating reporters for questions ALA Samak.

3. Three people described her as friendly or very friendly. This matches with one person who saw her on the campaign trail and noted that she was very natural in interacting with voters in the market (i.e. the retail politics aspect) and was much better at it than Abhisit as she is more of a “people person”, but that her speeches in front of a large rally were very stilted in delivery. However, Puea Thai seem to compensate for this by having red shirt leader Nattuwat, one of the better red shirt orators as opposed to Jatuporn’s bluster, as the speaker before her and so the crowd was already roused by the time Yingluck started speaking. In way of contrast, Abhisit is better at delivering speeches (although less so a rousing campaign rally, but more for the meet-and-greet where he gives a short stump speech to a small gathering – TV cameras are there though) and debating, but seems awkward when doing a meet-and-greet with voters.

4. One person said that Yingluck was carefully watched by her minders. Another said she didn’t look at her minders at all before answering (difference could be the timing of interviews and becoming more confident as interviews progressed as the timing of the second interview was after the first one) and was not flummoxed except for one of the final questions. For this, BP notices she hesitates regurgitates one of her related talking points, but then 30 seconds in deflects the question with an answer.

On being non-confrontational, this appears to be a deliberate ploy on behalf her minders/Puea Thai. It is hard to paint her as an extremist and also attack when she is smiling, being friendly, and making non-confrontational statements. She is the absolute polar opposite of Jatuporn (perhaps, it helps that he is in jail….). Under these circumstances, it is hard to portray as the face of evil when that face may not seem so bad to the so-called silent majority who may like her reconciliatory tone. The Dems are looking for her to make a mistake and hence can seize on her inexperience, but if she sticks to what she is saying then this becomes more difficult. It is hard to criticize someone as being too nice and being conciliatory.

BP gets the feeling that the Dems are a little frustrated with the buzz she has brought and that because of the tone of her answers they are finding it difficult to directly criticize her. On a related point, a Matichon Weekly column for the May 20 edition (page 9) noted she was more feminine than other senior female politicians and then contrasted her to former Minister and Bangkok governor candidate Sudarat. The article stated that this femininity then makes her more difficult to attack.

A Matichon Weekly column for the June 3 edition (page 12) notes that the team behind Yingluck have said that she will be talking more about the domestic and international economy in the last 20 days of the campaign. Also, there will be further talk of reconciliatory measures including constitutional amendments and the cost of living/inflation. Will Yingluck be adding more meat on the bones?

We shall see, but it is likely that Puea Thai will have to switch messages and move through different topics as time goes by.

YingluckShinawatra

Yingluck Shinawatra. Pic: AP.