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Abhisit primes himself to be next premier as Thaksin hints he still wants the job

Updated On: Aug 11, 2006

The Democrat Party is wasting no time in making itself familiar among the people before “the royal decree on the October 15 election takes effect next Thursday, [as] political ads will not be allowed on the air [thereafter]”, the Straits Times reported.

In particular, its leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is carrying out a media blitz when polls showed that the Northeast Thais know little about him. There is little time to lose for the Democrats if it is to continue to believe that they hold the key to election victory, despite the upcoming fierce struggle for the 140-odd seats in the TRT-stronghold of the Northeast.

Beginning with television airtime, Abhisit is portrayed as “a caring family man, a technocrat, a thinker… [yet is] always engaged and empathizes with the common man”. He is also trying to prove himself as a capable national leader rather than “another opposition leader with nothing better to do than attack the government”. This will prove crucial in winning the voters over to Abhisit’s side, as thus far the people generally seem to believe more in Thaksin’s leadership qualities.

Abhisit would have to try very hard to persuade the rural folk to vote for him. For instance, despite broken promises of a tar road to Baan None Somboon village, Vichai Chaiwong the headman, told the Nation, “There hasn't been any substantial assistance…  The problem is the lack of government stability. We [hoped] to name the road Thaksin Memorial Road, but alas … [Still] most villagers are grateful… and will most definitely vote for Thai Rak Thai again… No matter how [Bangkok] people criticise Thaksin, we at Samat, people still support him.”

To showcase his mettle and ability as leader, Abhisit has come forward with his election platforms. He stressed the primary desire to serve the public after years of misguided policies by the present administration. Abhisit declared to the media that “his public agenda would help ease problems through poverty eradication, improvements in free education and healthcare, streamline the bureaucracy and push for media freedom and reform”. Anti-corruption is also high on his agenda and he has announced that his party will look into the Shin Corp deal again after the polls.

Abhisit has also announced that his government, if elected, would stick to the national budget. However, it has drawn flak. The TRT deputy leader Sudarat Keyuraphan called the Democrat Party a “copycat”. He told the Nation, “What the Democrats are trying to bring up is what we have been doing for years.”  Meanwhile academics have also questioned how the party will translate these promises into real action. This is a salient concern as the Democrat’s proposals all entail substantial government subsidy and digging deeper into national coffers.

As oil prices escalate and energy-hungry Thailand seeks energy cooperation, most recently from Burma, Energy Minister Viset Choopiban also criticized the “Democrat Party's proposal to use PTT's dividend to reduce the retail oil price by Bt2 per litre” as impractical. He said, “Lowering the price while global prices are on the rise could also lead to low efficiency in fuel consumption… It's better to let the market mechanism play its role.” The Nation also reported that “as a way of ensuring higher efficiency and controlling the deficit, Bank of Thailand (BOT) economists want energy prices to reflect real costs”.

All these are crucial issues Abhisit and the Democrats must think through before the upcoming elections. Making empty promises of lower costs of living, better quality of life and media appearances are no different from Thaksin’s way of campaigning. Already Thaksin has hinted at the possibility of becoming premier if he wins the October 15 elections. He seems to have already chalked up some brownie points with his recent visit to Burma. Today, 10 August, he has left forCambodia where discussions over oil and gas will take centre-stage.

On a separate note, the Shin Corp deal has run into unexpected problems. According to the Nation, “the Commerce Ministry has indefinitely delayed announcing the findings from a six-month inquiry into whether Kularb Kaew Co Ltd - which indirectly owns Shin Corp - is a nominee of Singapore investment giant Temasek Holdings… If it is proved that Kularb Kaew is an alien company, Shin Corp will also be considered an alien company”. As Thai law stipulates that foreign companies cannot own Thai television stations, Temasek holdings’ takeover of Shin Corp is under threat of going kaput.

Sources:

Abhisit outlines his vision of leadership (Bangkok Post, 10 August 2006)

Thaksin's 'fools' lash out (The Nation, 10 August 2006)

Democrats pledge to lower the cost of living (The Nation, 10 August 2006)

Viset pours cold water on Abhisit's plan to cut oil cost (The Nation, 10 August 2006)

Big firms asked to stop supporting PM (The Nation, 10 August 2006)

Thai opposition focuses on anti-graft fight in TV campaign (Straits Times, 10 August 2006)

Thaksin would like to have another go as PM (Bangkok Post, 10 August 2006)

PM Thaksin off to Cambodia (Bangkok Post, 10 August 2006)

Standing behind the PM (The Nation, 9 August 2006)

Shin deal finding too hot to handle (The Nation, 9 August 2006)

Problems of repackaging the abhisit brand (The Nation, 9 August 2006)

Abhisit: Any policies that damage (The Nation, 9 August 2006)

Banharn: Our country cannot go forward unless Thaksin retreats (The Nation, 9 August 2006)

We have the right formula to win, claim Democrats (The Nation, 9 August 2006)