Without change the Democrat Party faces irrelevance

Without change the Democrat Party faces irrelevance

The spirit and lifeblood of the oldest existing Thai political party is at stake but it has to stop being political flunky for Mr Suthep's PDRC extremists, writes Songkran Grachangnetara. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
The spirit and lifeblood of the oldest existing Thai political party is at stake but it has to stop being political flunky for Mr Suthep's PDRC extremists, writes Songkran Grachangnetara. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Does anybody really think that political progress is conceivable without also reforming the Democrat Party? As they say, "honesty is an expensive gift, so never expect it from cheap people". Well, here is my gift of honesty.

Anyone who reads my articles will know that I am one of the Democrat Party's fiercest critics. But let me be clear. My criticisms originate from severe disappointment and not from hatred. There is a difference. I hate clip-on bow ties, the smell of old socks and people who spit in public places. I don't place the Democrat Party in this category, although at times, I will admit, my words might be a tad harsh.

I happen to think that a thriving, competing, forward thinking, and inspiring Democrat Party is essential for a healthy democracy. Surely, if the leaders of the Democrat Party are honest with themselves, they are in need of some serious soul searching. And in my view the only question they need to answer truthfully is: In the age of Thaksin Shinawatra, how do we win general elections?

I'm not a political strategist by trade but democratic elections are usually won by occupying the centre ground. Why? Well, that's obvious, it's where the votes are. But in order to win votes, the Democrat Party must first find a way to win hearts and minds, and in my view, they can only do that by first deciding on what the Democrat Party should stand for in the year 2015 and beyond?

Pheu Thai's vote-buying alone cannot account for its electoral success. The impartial and empirical studies by Prof Pasuk Phongpaichit are a testament to this conclusion. In my humble opinion, an undeniable reason former prime minister Thaksin and his political parties are able to establish such loyal followings from millions of voters in the provinces comes down to one word: sincerity. Whether Thaksin was actually sincere or not, is another matter. The fact is, by being the first prime minister to enact specific programmes and manifestos to alleviate and address the problems of rural communities across Thailand, he is, rightly or wrongly, "perceived" by the huddled masses as someone who cared for their plight.

Now, this presents the Democrat Party with a problem that has no easy fix. If they "copy and paste" all of Thaksin's policies, (which they sort of did), the public can see through this and opt to vote for the real deal. If they choose to annihilate all the popular Thaksin schemes like the 30 baht healthcare scheme or the village fund, they face losing all those voters they need to turn, in order to build a winning coalition. But coming back from the political wilderness is not "mission impossible".

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, will know perfectly well that from the 1980s until Tony Blair's election victory in 1997, the British Labour Party had nearly two decades in opposition. By rebranding itself "New Labour" and shifting towards the centre ground, Mr Blair discovered a winning formula and won three general elections. However, under Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, the Labour Party has now lost two general elections on the trot.

But I draw your attention to how the Labour Party is reacting to these defeats. The British Labour Party, after being decimated in Scotland and haemorrhaging seats in England in the last general election, is now in the process of finding a new leader, which will redefine what the Labour Party will stand for in the years to come. I'm a natural Conservative. But despite this, someone like Jeremy Corbyn, Labour candidate for party leader and MP for Islington North, who expresses himself with such clarity and conviction due to a lifetime spent believing in something, is thoroughly inspiring to me. I disagree with Mr Corbyn's politics, but by God, I find him refreshingly genuine!

Did Labour lose the election because they were just a cheap imitation of a pro-austerity Conservative Party? Or did they lose because they abandoned their roots and failed to inspire the working and middle class voters in Britain? These are the gut wrenching, soul searching questions which the Labour Party is enduring. But in the end, they will be all the better for it.

Abhisit Vejjajiva is a far more intelligent person than I. The Democrat Party too, desperately requires a soul rendering exercise of biblical proportions. The very spirit and lifeblood of the party is at stake. In recent interviews, Khun Abhisit vehemently denies that the PDRC is related in any way to the Democrat Party. Let's stop insulting the intelligence of the voters that need winning over, shall we? Denying that the PDRC is totally independent of the Democrat Party is tantamount to being a Holocaust denier. It's simply not a position supported by the historical evidence.

I firmly believe that the primary calling of such a talent like Abhisit Vejjajiva is to lead Thailand towards a more free, fair, equal and just society. Destiny still beckons him. It's still not too late. Will the Democrat Party rise to the challenge, or will they become nothing more than a pressure group, relegating themselves to the role of being the PDRC's subservient political flunky?


Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk

Songkran Grachangnetara

Entrepreneur

Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University.

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