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Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Small parties can always win, at a stretch
Does the name of the Thai Rubber Party ring a bell? It isn't a surprise if no is your answer. And you shouldn't blame yourself that you've heard of this party for the first time right now because you're not in the minority.
So why do we care about this minor party? Is it a laughing stock in politics as most of all 61 parties registered with the Election Commission are? Hold on. The party is doing what other small parties should. Plenty of people have previously remarked that there's no room for small parties in Thai politics. They're supposed to have no future as they don't have good candidates and cannot financially compete with big names like the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties. The latest election has proved that those political pundits who cling to this notion are wrong.
The two main parties dominate the 500 seats in parliament. But the Lower House still has MPs from the likes of Phalang Chon, Rak Thailand, Matubhum, Rak Santi, Mahachon and New Democrat. Some like Phalang Chon and New Democrat even hit the jackpot, when Yingluck Shinawatra gave them an invitation card to join the government.
Back to Thai Rubber. The name says it all: it was set up to be the voice of rubber planters. The party has five branches in Lampang, Ubon Ratchathani, Chanthaburi, Chumphon and Songkhla. Its policy is to make rubber prices stable, push for better welfare for rubber workers and so on. Every policy is largely centred on rubber.
It sounds ridiculous. But by designing that platform, Thai Rubber believes it has a long term future with between one million rubber workers and their sympathisers in the bag. Time will tell.
But Thai Rubber is doing what other small parties should do in the increasingly heated contest when an election comes. Successful small parties must have a niche, if they want to survive in politics. Phalang Chon and Rak Thailand have set that example for other parties to follow.
The Chon Buri-based Phalang Chon built its popularity only in that eastern province in preparation for the election on July 3. It didn't care much about other turfs. Its policy looks ordinary but reading between the lines, it's not difficult to understand that Phalang Chon wants to promote tourism and related businesses especially in Pattaya and other areas in the province. It looked selfish and was intentionally localised. Still, admittedly, it turned out perfectly as the party had planned. Chon Buri had eight seats up for grabs, six of them going to this party. It got another one from the party list, thanks to the vote in Chon Buri. To sum up: Voters in Chon Buri preferred the party that worked for Chon Buri, like its people cheer for Chon Buri FC, Sri Racha FC and Pattaya United in the Thai Premier League.
Chuvit Kamolvisit's Rak Thailand came up with another strategy to make it stand out from the rest. The former massage palour guru made clear to voters in election campaigns that he wanted nothing but to be an opposition MP to monitor the government. He begged for votes for this reason only. Rak Thailand didn't care about the constituency contest and Mr Chuvit put all his energy into the party list competition. And, like Phalang Chon, it worked and its success was beyond his expectations. Rak Thailand got four party list MPs.
Let's look at Matubhum. It has a lone constituency MP in Pattani and a lone party list MP in its maiden contest. The two got to parliament by banking on a policy to solve problems in the far South and for Muslim voters everywhere. It's as simple as that and it worked.
Small political parties don't need a fancy policy. They need a niche one to woo a specific group of voters if they want to see their candidates in parliament. Having a grand platform won't work for them as they have no chance to fight big parties in elections. Phalang Chon, Rak Thailand and Matubhum have done that. They have set the example of which Thai Rubber is trying to emulate. And it won't be a surprise if other minnows follow this trend. All they need is to have their candidates in parliament. That's it. Turning their policy into practice is another thing. Who cares? They just tell voters that ``we are too small for the governing parties to listen to but if you guys give us another shot, we might''.