Monthly Archives: July 2011

Latvia referendum 2011

A referendum ratifying the former president’s decision to dissolve Parliament was held in Latvia on July 23, 2011. This is basically the resolution of a major political crisis in the country, covered in more detail here, which started when former President Valdis Zatlers decided to use his never-used prerogative to dissolve Parliament (the Saiemas) after it rejected earlier this spring a law which would have limited the immunity of one of its members, the corrupt Ainārs Šlesers. In Latvia, the President’s decision to dissolve the legislature must be ratified by voters – and if voters do not ratify the President’s decision, then the President must resign. However, angry members of the Saiemas got that done for him before the referendum, when on June 2 they elected Andris Bērziņš to the presidency in his stead during regular presidential elections.

In the backdrop of all this crisis is a crusade against corrupt politicians and oligarchs who allegedly run the show. Valdis Zatlers got angry with those oligarch politicians who run the country, and decided to use the risky power of dissolution to make a political statement. Latvians are frustrated with deep-seated corruption in their legislature and heavily backed the ex-president’s crusade against corrupt politicians. Many voters hoped that by dissolving parliament and holding new elections, something would change.

Turnout was 44.6%, but there was no turnout quota set rendering the referendum valid despite sub-50% turnout. 94.3% of voters voted in favour of the ex-president’s decision to dissolve parliament, while 5.48% voted against. 0.21% of ballots were invalid. A general election could take place on September 17.

Latvians eager for political change and a break with the corrupt oligarchs will likely turn to a new party led and founded by ex-President Valdis Zatlers, the Zatlers’ Reform Party (ZRP). This new anti-corruption party was credited with 17.5% of voting intentions in July, tied for first place with the opposition ethnically Russian Harmony Centre (SC). The governing centre-right alliance Unity led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis trails in third, with only 8.7% after having won 31% in last year’s legislative election. Dombrovskis has been forced to severe budget cuts in one of the EU members touched the worst by the economic crisis. His governing partner, the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) is given 8.1% of voting intentions (it won 19.7% in 2010). The far-right National Alliance receives 6.3%, while all other parties including Ainārs Šlesers’ Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way party are under the 5% threshold.

Such a strong showing by Zatlers’ new party could place him in a good position to lead the next government, but this could be complicated by Zatlers’ very public feud with one of the most corrupt oligarchs in the country, former ZZS leader and Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs. Zatlers has already announced that he would not work with the “three oligarch parties”: the ZZS, Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC) and the People’s Party. While LPP/LC, the party led by Ainārs Šlesers which won eight seats in coalition with the People’s Party in 2010, is unlikely to regain representation, the ZZS could retain representation and form a major obstacle to the ZRP’s access to power.


São Tomé and Príncipe 2011

The first round of presidential elections were held in São Tomé and Príncipe on July 17. São Tomé and Príncipe, the second-smallest country in Africa, is a poor insular island nation in the Gulf of Guinea. Composed primarily of two islands, of which São Tomé is the largest, the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1976.

São Tomé and Príncipe is largely dependent on agriculture, notably cocoa production. A downturn in cocoa prices in the 1990s compounded with structural problems ruined the country, which is unhealthily reliant on imports to survive because domestic food production is inadequate. Roughly 54% of the population lives under the poverty line. The country qualifies for the IMF’s HIPC initiative.

A former Portuguese colony, São Tomé and Príncipe gained independence in 1975 under the leadership of the left-wing nationalist Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), founded in Gabon in the 1960s. The MLSTP’s boss, East German-educated Manuel Pinto da Costa became the country’s first President in 1975 and proceeded to setup a socialist one-party state led by the MLSTP which lasted until democratic reforms started in 1988 culminated in free elections in 1991. Miguel Trovoada, a former ally of Pinto da Costa who had broken with him in 1979, was elected president in 1991 and reelected in 1996 when he defeated Pinto da Costa with 52.7% in a runoff election. The MLSTP, which had been defeated in legislative elections in 1991, won back control of the legislature in 1994. Fradique de Menezes, running for Trovoada’s Independent Democratic Action (ADI) party was elected president in 2001, again defeating Pinto da Costa. Since democracy, the island country has seen 18 prime ministers and a number of failed coup attempts of which the most important one was a 2003 coup which lasted for roughly a week. Fradique de Menezes’ Force for Change Democratic Movement (MDFM) in coalition with the right-wing Democratic Convergence Party (PCD) won legislative elections in 2006. Some sort of instability ensued, with the MDFM, ADI (now led by Miguel’s son Patrice) and MLSTP-PSD each forming governments between 2006 and 2010, when the ADI won the legislative elections winning 26 seats to the MLSTP’s 21 (the PCD took 7, the president’s MDFM won only one). Despite all these economic, social and political challenges, São Tomé and Príncipe is a surprisingly strong democracy with Freedom House ratings of ‘2’.

Fradique de Menezes is term-limited this year. The main contenders were former dictator Manuel Pinto da Costa, now running as an independent; former PM and speaker of the legislature Evaristo Carvalho for the ADI; former PM Maria das Neves (another ex-MLSTP independent ); the PCD/MDFM’s Delfim Neves (a strong critic of Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada); independent Elsa Pinto and finally the MLSTP leader Aurélio Martins. Turnout was 66%, which is roughly average for presidential elections. Three villages (roughly 5000 people) boycotted the election in protest at poor living conditions, but no re-vote will be held there.

Manuel Pinto da Costa (ind ex-MLSTP) 35.82%
Evaristo Carvalho (ADI) 21.82%
Maria das Neves (ind ex-MLSTP) 14.03%
Delfim Neves (PCD-GR) 13.89%
Elsa Pinto (ind) 4.55%
Aurélio Martins (MLSTP-PSD) 4.15%
Filinto Costa Alegre (ind) 4.14%
Jorge Coelho (ind) 0.64%
Hélder Barros (ind) 0.63%
Manuel de Deus Lima (ind) 0.35%

These results are provisional.

The runoff, scheduled for August 7, will oppose Pinto da Costa with Carvalho, who is the candidate backed by Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada. Pinto da Costa must be the favourite going into the runoff, having received the support of Delfim Neves and Aurélio Martins. Some observers are concerned by the prospect of a new term for Pinto da Costa, whose alarming human rights record as president sparks fears that his return to power could mark the start of a new authoritarian era. It is hardly encouraging that Pinto da Costa denies that there was any persecution during his regime.

Gubernatorial elections in Argentina and Mexico

While I was away on vacation, a series of important gubernatorial (state) elections were held in three Mexican states and Argentina’s federal capital of Buenos Aires. In Mexico, the states of Coahuila, México and Nayarit held elections for governor on July 3. In Argentina, the federal capital and independent city of Buenos Aires held elections for head of government (the local mayor or governor), half of the local legislature and elections to 15 new local councils called communes.

Mexico (July 3)

Three Mexican states elected new governors on July 3, including the all-powerful state of México which, as Mexico’s most populous state with over 15 million inhabitants, accounts for 13.5% of the country’s population. Coahuila and Nayarit (respectively 16th and 29th out of 32 in terms of population) weren’t as crucial.

Coahuila, Mexico’s third largest state by area, is a large sprawling state in northern Mexico bordering Texas. It is largely arid and poor. Politically, Coahuila remains largely priísta, having been the PRI’s strongest state in the 2009 midterms and having been ruled only by PRI governors. But like most of northern Mexico the PAN remains strong, its candidates having carried the state in the 2000 and 2006 elections.

México is relatively small in terms of area, but is the country’s most populous state. It surrounds the Federal District on three sides, and is geographically marked by a contrast between the flat Valley of Mexico (the heart of Aztec civilization) and the mountainous region south of the state capital of Toluca.  México is somewhat of a microcosm of Mexico, with heavy urbanization on the outskirts of Mexico, an old industrial base in Toluca and agriculture in rural areas. As such and thanks to its size, the state is something of a major prize in Mexican politics. The PRI has governed the state uninterrupted for countless decades, but the PAN won it in the 2000 presidential election and the PRD’s AMLO won it in the 2006 presidential election where the PRI placed third in the state. The state was all the more crucial this year as it is held by the outgoing governor Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) who is to date the runaway favourite to become Mexico’s next president in 2012.

Nayarit is a small state with a small population on the Pacific coast of Mexico isolated by the rest of the country by the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is located just north of the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, whose place as a booming tourist and industrial centre has opened markets for Nayarit. Nayarit has been ruled by the PRI since 2005, when its candidate Ney González Sánchez narrowly defeated a PRD candidate seeking to succeed Antonio Echevarría Domínguez, a former priísta elected governor on the PRD banner in 1999. Likely due to Echevarría, the PRD has been strong in the state while the PAN has been very weak (only 19% for Calderon in 2006).

In Coahuila, the PRI nominated federal deputy Rubén Moreira Valdez and the PAN nominated senator Guillermo Anaya Llamas. The PT and Convergencia ran independently of the locally irrelevant PRD with former deputy Jesús González Schmal. In México, the PRI nominated Ecatepec de Morelos mayor Eruviel Ávila, the PAN nominated former party president Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. The PRD finally nominated Alejandro Encinas, the well-known former caretaker mayor of Mexico (between 2005 and 2006). The PAN and some factions of the PRD including Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard fumbled around in the quixotic hope to form an electoral alliance like those PAN-PRD tickets which had proved so fruitful in 2010 and even earlier this year in Guerrero. But Encinas is a close ally of the PRD’s defeated 2006 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who lost the PRD’s leadership narrowly in 2008 to AMLO rival Jesús Ortega. Ortega’s faction, to which (2012 contender) Ebrard is increasingly close to, favours such PAN-PRD alliances but Encinas-AMLO’s minority faction opposes such alliances. Finally, in Nayarit, the PRI candidate was Tepic mayor Roberto Sandoval Castañeda, the PAN candidate was PRD federal deputy and Echevarría Domínguez’s ex-wife Martha Elena García. Yet the PRD also nominated a candidate, Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo.

The most significant aspect here was the absence of any PAN-PRD alliances like those which had triumphed in three big states in 2010 and earlier this year in Guerrero. Only a last-ditch PAN-PRD coalition was put up in some municipalities in Hidalgo (which held local elections), where a PAN-PRD alliance had narrowly lost the gubernatorial contest in 2010.

Here are the results for the three states:

Coahuila México Nayarit
PRI and allies 59.96% 62.52% 48.8%
PAN and allies 35.23% 12.38% 38.1%
PRD and allies 0.97% 21.17% 10.9%
PT-Convergencia 1.52% w/ PRD 0.9%
Votos nulos 2.32% 3.7% 0.2%
Others 0.23% 1.1%

The three elections were all major victories for the PRD which managed to comfortably hold all three states up for grabs (though it was the defending party in all three). The most significant of the three was of course Eruviel’s landslide win in the most important of them all (México) where he won a smashing 62.52% which is one of the PRI’s best result in any statewide election in a very long time. The PRD saved face in México where Encinas ran a good campaign, but the PAN did not save face at all in that state where it ended up getting hammered into a very poor third with only 12.4%. Nonetheless, the PAN put up a good fight in Coahuila and most significantly Nayarit whereas the PRD did badly in both of those states including Nayarit where it has had a base of strength since the late 90s. The PAN even managed to win one more municipality (10 out of 20) in municipal elections held simultaneously in Nayarit. The PAN-PRD alliances in Hidalgo’s local elections worked more or less well, allowing some modest PRI loses.

At any rate, Eruviel’s win cements Enrique Peña Nieto as the PRI’s candidate, which has basically united behind him. However, the PAN’s poor showing might hurt the chances of one of the three top PAN contenders, former education secretary Josefina Vázquez Mota who was touted as a PAN candidate in México state and is seen as supporting a PAN-PRD alliance. The other top two contenders are Santiago Creel, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2006 nomination (where he was the candidate of then-President Vicente Fox); and finance minister Ernesto Cordero who is apparently the president’s favourite.

Argentina (July 10)

The latest in a string of 22 Argentine provinces which are due to elect governors this year, the federal capital and autonomous city of Buenos Aires elected its head of government (aka, governor or mayor) on July 10 alongside 30 out of the local parliament’s 60 seats and local councils in 15 new communes each electing a council of seven members.

The Argentine capital with a population of nearly 2.9 million, Buenos Aires has long been the capital of the country’s affluent and educated intelligentsia. In the nineteenth century, Buenos Aires’ free-trading elitist liberals feuded with the authoritarian protectionist rural caudillos of the pampas. This dichotomy of sorts between the capital and the rest of the country has existed to this day, with important political repercussions. In a distant past, the city’s educated elites which included the likes of Domingo Sarmiento, railed against the barbarian gauchos and the authoritarian caudillos such as Juan Manuel de Rosas. In a less distant past, Buenos Aires’ educated affluent population disliked Peronism and in recent years has been a bastion of opposition to the Kirchner’s centre-left variant of Peronism (also styled Kircherism).

In 2007, Mauricio Macri, a wealthy businessman and former president of the country’s most popular football club, was elected head of government at the helm of Republican Proposal (PRO), the country’s main (openly) right-wing alliance which he co-founded in 2005. Macri, who had been narrowly defeated in 2003 by incumbent head of government and Kirchner ally Aníbal Ibarra (forced to resign in 2006), won 45.76% of the vote against 23.75% for Daniel Filmus, then-education minister and candidate of Kirchner’s FPV coalition. Incumbent Jorge Telerman, a centre-leftist who took office in 2006 won 20.68%. Macri crushed Filmus with 60.9% of the vote in the runoff at the end of June 2007. Macri has been popular as mayor, establishing a new local police force and enjoying local economic growth. He has also often feuded with President Fernández, widow of former President and towering political figure Nestor Kirchner. His right-wing supporters have always hoped that he harboured national political ambitions, but the cautious Macri dropped a doomed October 2011 presidential bid in May.

Instead of a quixotic presidential bid, Macri ran for reelection. He was opposed, again, by Daniel Filmus, now a senator. Endorsed by Kirchner and the FPV, Filmus attacked Macri for abuse of power (the police boss is investigated for phone tapping), delays in the construction of the subway, crime and poverty. Filmus was joined by Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas, a left-wing filmmaker and the most prominent figure of the small local socialist Proyecto Sur party. Solanas was formerly allied to the Socialist Party of governor and presidential candidate Hermes Binner but that alliance has since been broken in most provinces though seemingly not (yet) in the city of Buenos Aires. Also-ran candidates included notably senator and Bolivian-born journalist María Eugenia Estenssoro from Elisa Carrió’s dwindling Civic Coalition (CC), federal deputy Silvana Giudici of the liberal UCR, former head of government Jorge Telerman, federal deputy Luis Zamora of the left-wing Autodetermination and Liberty and finally former finance minister and economist Ricardo López Murphy, a right-winger whose political career has been collapsing since his 2003 presidential bid where he won 16% (and winning overall in the city of Buenos Aires).

Results are:

Mauricio Macri (PRO) 47.08%
Daniel Filmus (PJ-FPV) 27.78%
Fernando Pino Solanas (Proyecto Sur) 12.82%
María Eugenia Estenssoro (CC) 3.32%
Silvana Giudici (UCR) 2.06%
Jorge Telerman (FPBA) 1.76%
Luis Zamora (AyL) 1.47%
Ricardo López Murphy (Autonomist Party) 1.41%
all others below 1%

Macri will need to wait until a runoff on July 31 before getting consecrated with a quasi-certain victory. Macri’s quasi-certain win is certainly a major success for him, but the FPV has reason to cheer as well. Daniel Filmus won a result considerably better than what he had garnered in 2007, and his result is in the high range of the FPV’s vote share in the city in recent years. Certain observers in 2007 thought that Macri’s win over Filmus that year was some sort of proof that “Argentina wasn’t so left-wing” and that Kirchner might not win that easily after all. I can’t help but think some fools will write the same thing this year. In reality, Macri’s win in Buenos Aires doesn’t indicate much aside from the fact that Buenos Aires remains markedly to the right of left-wing Kirchnerista Argentina. Buenos Aires has always been a right-wing city, at least in recent years, and is a poor indicator of the political mood of the entirety of Argentina. The only thing that it indicates is that Kirchner won’t win the city of Buenos Aires in October even if she wins big nationally, but we already knew that.

Macri did best in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the north of the city, notably Recoleta (comuna 2) where he won nearly 60% of the vote. Conversely, Filmus did best in the south of the city most notably in comuna 8, the city’s poorest district, where he took 38% to Macri’s 42%. Solanas did poorly both in the affluent north and poor south, doing best instead in the middle-class areas in the centre of the city.

City elections played out slightly differently, but not much. 30 out of 60 seats were up, the other having been elected in 2009 (PRO had won 11, Proyecto Sur 8, CC-UCR 6, FPV 4 and another slate won one).

Alianza PRO 44.96% winning 16 seats 
PJ-FPV 14.06% winning 5 seats
Proyecto Sur 12.89% winning 4 seats
Progressive and Popular Front (FPP) 6.64% winning 2 seats
New Encounter 6.48% winning 2 seats
CC 3.96% winning 1 seat
UCR 2.10%
FPBA 1.88%
AyL 1.53%
all others below 1.5%

The most significant aspect of the result is the FPV’s considerably poorer result, with only 14% of votes cast for the official FPV slate headed by Juan Cabandié, the boss of the virulent Kirchnerista youth. A lot of Filmus voters voted for two maverick Kirchnerista-lite slates, the FPP and New Encounter headed respectively by former mayor Ibarra and Gabriela Cerrutti. All in all, the PRO apparently picked up 2 seats, the FPV picked up one, the Proyecto Sur gained 3 while CC lost one. In communal council elections, PRO won 45.7% and 60 out of 105 seats, the FPV took 27.1% and 30 seats while Proyecto Sur won 15 seats and 13.7%. 15 communes composed of one or more barrios elected seven members to those new local councils, created to decentralize basic decision making in the city which is heavily centralized.

Some sort of larger and more detailed preview post for the presidential ballot including other gubernatorial elections in Argentina since January will be posted sometime in August or September.

Thailand 2011

A general election was held in Thailand on July 3, 2011. All 500 seats in Thailand’s lower house, the House of Representatives were up for grabs. 375 were elected in single-member constituencies through FPTP while the remaining 125 were elected through party-list proportional representation in multi-member regional constituencies. My preview post tells you all you need to know to grasp the basic of Thai politics.

The election saw a massive victory for the Pheu Thai party of Yingluck Shinawatra, the 43-year old sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial dominating figure of Thai politics since 2001 who has spent most of the past five years in exile since his 2006 overthrow in a military coup. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai, the third incarnation of Thaksin’s original TRT party, won an overall majority and easily defeated Abhisit Vejjajiva’s governing Democrat Party. The Thaksinites are a populist movement known for its social and welfare policies, but hated by the governing elites who see him as a corrupt authoritarian demagogue. The Thaksinites see the governing monarchist elites as ultra-conservative authoritarian reactionaries. Objectively, Thailand is not a black-white situation with the good people and the bad people (but then, are there any black-white situation in politics?). More objectively, the best attitude towards Thai politicians is that they all suck.

Results vary from site to site, and I don’t speak Thai but roughly 95% of votes have been counted. I could have waited a bit more to post this, but I felt like doing this before leaving for vacation. Turnout is reported to be 75% (or 71% or maybe even 66%), down from the 85.38% turnout in the last election, held in 2007. Here are the results, compared to standings at dissolution:

Pheu Thai winning 265 seats (204 FPTP, 61 PR) [+76]
Democrat winning 159 seats (115 FPTP, 44 PR) [-14]
Bhumjaithai Party winning 34 seats (29 FPTP, 5 PR) [+2]
Chartthaipattana Party winning 19 seats (15 FPTP, 4 PR) [-6]
Palung Chon winning 7 seats (6 FPTP, 1 PR) [+7]
Chart Pattana Puea Pandin winning 7 seats (5 FPTP, 2 PR) [-34]
Rak Thailand winning 4 seats (4 PR) [+4]
Matubhum winning 2 seats (1 FPTP, 1 PR) [-1]
Rak Santi winning 1 seat (1 PR) [+1]
New Democrat winning 1 seat (1 PR) [+1]
Mahachon Party winning 1 seat (1 PR) [+1]


The Nation has a nice slightly outdated graphic here.

I haven’t found percentage vote counts, but my rough calculations for the list vote are: PT 45.2%, Democrats 33%, BJT 3.8%, Rak Thailand 2.8%, CTP 2.6%, Puea Pandin 1.5% with all others winning less than 1% of the list vote. On the 2007 list vote, which was quite different from the FPTP vote (like this year), the Democrats won 39.6% against 39.6% for the PPP (PT predecessor), 5.6% for Puea Pandin and 4.4% for Chart Thai (CTP predecessor). Small personality cult based parties with regional strongholds like the BJT or the CTP do much better in the constituency vote.

Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, the latest incarnation of the Thaksinite populist movement, won a significant victory. While perhaps it is not quite a landslide, the PT’s ability to win an absolute majority makes this victory all the more significant. With 263 seats, 12 more than an absolute majority, it theoretically has won the ability to govern on its own without resorting to unreliable support from Thailand’s plethora of venal corrupt third parties and personality cults. But this is Thailand, and stuff is never that simple. The first thing to note is that while these elections have seen the majority change from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s conservative Democrats to the populist ‘left-wing’ Pheu Thai, Thailand remains a very polarized country. Outside the parties, one of the the country’s two large popular movements: the Thaksinite UDD red-shirts and the reactionary monarchist PAD yellow-shirts, is prone to fight the government. The second thing is of course that the military, which has played a key role in Thai politics since 1932, will be unhappy with these results. For the second time since the 2006 coup where it stepped in to overthrow Thaksin, its preferred option has been soundly defeated at the polls by the party it hates. The political and business elites of Thailand, who side with the military when it comes to politics, has also been defeated for the umpteenth time at the polls.

The military overthrew Thaksin in a coup in 2006 and played a key role in bringing down Thaksinite governments (either through judicial, legislative or other means) in 2008 when they finally were able to help place Abhisit in power. The military has said (again) that they’re finished with politics and won’t stage a coup, but the Thai military apparently makes a living out of lying about such stuff. While the time is past for coups and that kind of stuff – the military probably knows that staging a coup to prevent the uncontested winners of a fair election to gain power (the 2006 election, held shortly before the coup, was not as fair – so they had an excuse) is not a good idea and risks creating unprecedented chaos in the country by aggravating the UDD’s anger. However, the military isn’t for that matter going to sit back and play toy soldiers while letting the Thaksinites go along their business. Plan A for them – lobbying the venal parties to back Abhisit if PT didn’t win a majority – is closed. It’s hard to say what Plan B is, but it probably either includes backing the yellow-shirts and trying to bring down the PT (likely by having the court say they cheated in the election) or, more radically, a coup. The PT includes a good number of UDD leaders, who were gunned down last year by the military during the bloody repression (91 dead) of the UDD’s protest wave in Bangkok. Some of those UDD members who are now PT stalwarts are probably holding grudges and seeking pay back for that and the 2006 coup. The PT’s thinly concealed rhetoric about amnesty (both for friends and rivals, officially) is also going to cause concern with the military as that might mean that Thaksin’s 2-year jail sentence (handed down in absentia) will be cleared and allow for him to return from Dubai.

It might surprise some that a wealthy businesswoman with no political experience of her own managed to win an absolute majority and defeat a sitting Prime Minister with lots of political experience. In addition, the Democrats were abandoning economic conservatism in favour of the Thaksinite populist distributive approach by promising various goodies, spending sprees and other stuff designed to cut into the PT’s base. Finally, despite rising inflation (4.2% in May, up from 3.4% in 2010) and signs of a small decline in economic growth, Thailand’s economy remains strong: the stock exchange remains one of Asia’s strongest, the baht is strong, foreign investors are optimistic and Thai society is increasingly affluent and materialistic. Economic growth is projected to hit 4.3% in 2011. The Democrats could even play the card of being the party of stability against the red-shirt rioters.

The reasons for Yingluck’s victory lay in her skills and a series of mistakes by Abhisit. Yingluck was a unusual choice for the PT’s leadership, and could be seen as a real proxy for her big brother. But she proved that she had real talent and skills all throughout her campaign. Backed by a strong team of advisers and consultants, Yingluck firstly played on her looks, her charisma and her smooth talking to appeal to voters. Unlike other fiery populists who yell into microphones, Yingluck was always calm and composed on the campaign trail. In addition, Yingluck had all the good messages. Her campaign was positive and stayed clear of revengeful talk, hard rhetoric or anything which might scare people away. She never went into specifics but promised goodies such as free laptops, 25% wage hikes, big spending projects and harking back to her brother’s popular welfare and social policies. Her brother is still idolized by poor Thais in the northeast, so playing on his name (and hers too) is a good idea. Finally, she used her feminine charm to play nice on opponents (taking them off guard) and talking about reconciliation and feel-good stuff.

On the other hand, the Democrats made a series of mistakes. Perhaps the biggest one was not calling an election in 2010 after the riots, where they could have taken the UDD/PT off guard and campaigned – perhaps successfully – on how the red-shirts are evil rioters. Instead, they waited far too long and by this point Thais are not in the mood to go back to that point in time and the boost which the red-shirt riots might have given Abhisit in 2010 has backfired. That’s not to say that Abhisit didn’t talk about it – in fact most of the final days were spent violently attacking the opposition as looters, rioters and terrorists. The negative scare tactics backfired badly and turned the PT’s edge into a full blown major advantage. Secondly, Abhisit obviously failed to take advantage of decent economic numbers and instead fell victim to popular concerns about rising inequalities (the economic recovery was favourable to the pro-Abhisit elites in general), economic slowdown and rising inflation (leading to rising food prices). Thirdly, Abhisit clearly lacked the charm which Yingluck had. Being British-born and Oxford educated, he has always looked awkward on the stump and this year was no different. He had trouble appealing to voters and embracing them in the way which Yingluck is so great at doing. He struggled at not looking aloof and elitist.

Thailand remains a very polarized country as the map above shows. The first shows the results of the FPTP vote, provinces being shaded according to the percentage of provincial constituencies won by each party. All 90%+ shades in this case mean that the party won all the seats. The map, however, is not sized according to the population of each province or shaded based on popular vote results. The second map shows the result of the list votes in Thailand’s five provinces. The polarization is clear. The PT swept the Isan region (northeast), which is the stronghold of Thaksinite parties. They won 104 seats against 13 for the BJT and a mere 4 for the Democrats. They also won the north with 45 seats against 12 for the Democrats. These are the two poorest regions, and Isan is mostly populated by the Isan people who speak Isan – a Lao dialect though nowadays close to Thai. The Democrats performed strongly in northern Thai provinces bordering Burma – these regions are ethnically Karen and not northern Thai. Central Thailand is the battleground region, which went Democrat overall in 2007 but split 45-26 for PT this year. It is worth noting that a lot of Bangkok suburban provinces are poor and inhabited by Isan immigrants. Bangkok split 23-10 for the Democrats, with the PT winning all but one of those 10 seats in the capital’s eastern outskirts (which are poorer). Finally, the south confirmed its allegiance to the Democrats: the governing party won all but 3 of the region’s 53 seats while the PT won no seats there.

Among the smaller parties, the BJT performed strongly in Khmer political boss’ Newin Chidchob’s native Buriram province but surprisingly saw its support spread out in central Thailand while not doing all that well in the other Khmer provinces. One would gather a lot of the BJT’s support is personality based. The conservative CTP again performed strongly in the Suphan Buri stronghold of its boss Barnharn and in central Thailand. The venal corrupt CTP is conservative and elitist, but is the epitome of political opportunism. Despite being in government now, it has embraced the PT and will likely form a coalition with them. Palung Chon, a new party led by Chon Buri province political boss Sonthaya Khunpleum won all of its 6 FPTP seats in that province. Chart Pattana Puea Pandin, a party merging a larger Thaksinite splitoff with a smaller government party suffered badly. Interestingly, something not picked up anywhere else, a lot of PT gains came at the expense of Puea Pandin while the Democrats themselves only lost 14 seats overall from dissolution. Further indication that Thailand remains very polarized. Rak Thailand, a new personality cult led by corrupt brothel king Chuwit Kamolvisit, won 4 seats and apparently this pleased the “anti-graft” brothel king very much. Matubhum, the party of 2006 coupist general Sonthi Boonyaratglin won 1 seat in Pattani province – a Muslim province in the far-south (Sonthi is Muslim). Rak Santi, a party led by former interior minister Purachai Piumsombun (‘Mr. Clean’, apparently one of the few honest politicians in the country) won only one PR seat.

Thailand remains in a difficult situation, wracked by political unrest and polarization which is due to continue only this time led by another group (the PAD). For all of Yingluck’s talk of reconciliation, the PAD hates her and the military can’t conceal its hatred for Thaksinites. If she moves too quickly towards amnesty (aka, bringing big bro’ back to Bangkok), this will anger the military and PAD and condemn the country to violence and the possibility of a coup or other sort of military intrigue. If the aggressive UDD leaders now elected PT MPs are revengeful and seek payback for 2006/2010, the military and PAD is due to hate that. Since the 2006 coup, Thailand has had five Prime Ministers. Despite winning the 2007 election (albeit with no majority), the Thaksinites ruled for only one year. The cards don’t exactly stack up towards Yingluck lasting out the legislature’s four-year term. The military is only lying when it says that it’s done with politics. Reality is that they hate the Thaksinites and won’t swallow this defeat easily. They’re not in any position right now to prevent the PT from even acceding to power, but they are in a long-term position to play games with them with the goal of throwing them out. Thailand is certainly going to be an interesting place worth following in the near future, but it would be quite a miracle (or pipe dream) if there was indeed reconciliation and moves towards real liberal democracy in Thailand.

Economically, investors worry about rising inflation and the effects that the PT’s spending spree policies will have on inflation. But investors aren’t worried – after all, Thailand is something of a miraculous enigma in that its political unrest since 2006 hasn’t really affected its economy. Furthermore, both Democrats and PT are pro-business parties and keep the investors happy in their corner.

On a final note, happy Independence Day to all American readers. The US remains this blog’s top visitor with over 5400 visits from the US since February this year. Thank you!

France 2012: Primaryfest

France only votes on April 22 and May 6, 2012 but that hasn’t kept certain parties to hold their primaries way before then. All combining with DSKgate and the PS primaries in October to make people think that the election is being held next week rather than in nearly ten months. I’ll let the dust settle on the PS primaries before starting coverage of those, but two important nominating events/primaries have been held: the Communist Party (PCF) between June 16 and 18, and the first round of the Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV) primaries between June 16 and 24.

PCF Internal vote

Since the pitiful 1.93% won by the PCF’s Marie-George Buffet in 2007, the PCF has been desperately looking for a way to kick-start a party which is widely perceived to be approaching its deathbed. Since 2009, that effort at regeneration has taken the form of a close alliance with the Left Party (PG) founded in 2008 by former PS cabinet minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon. That alliance, styled Left Front (FG) did do some wonders for the PCF: the FG won 6% in the 2009 European elections, 5.8% in the 2010 regional elections and roughly 8% in cantonal elections earlier this year. But from the PCF’s standpoint, the problem with the FG is that it has become increasingly subjected to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s desires and personality. Though his party (the PG) would not exist in any viable shape or form without the PCF’s support, Mélenchon has a charisma, personality and fiery passion which is totally absent from the PCF Politburo. In sharp contrast to the fiery ambitious Mélenchon, the PCF’s boss, Pierre Laurent, appears to be a nice but totally boring bureaucratic apparatchik whose better fit is some dusty Moscow office in 1970. Thus, in the hyper-mediatized world of presidential elections which are influenced so much by personality, a boring party boss is certainly not a good candidate and would risk being totally overshadowed by an ambitious man with a huge media presence (a lot of which consists of hurling jabs and insults at journalists).

It thus shouldn’t be too surprising that the PCF’s Politburo led by Laurent has been very keen on pushing forth an inevitable Mélenchon candidacy within the FG. While it may seem somewhat surprising that a party’s boss is pushing the candidacy of a deeply ambitious potential future rival, the PCF Politburo keenly understands that Mélenchon is basically the only viable option for the party which would, by all measures, be far weaker without the boost that the FG (and Mélenchon) provides to it. A strong result by the FG in 2012 increases the PCF-FG’s bargaining power against the PS ahead of both the June 2012 legislative elections and, depending on who wins on May 6, the potential place of the PCF in a hypothetical left-wing government coalition. A strong result, of course, also allows the PCF to survive.

Mélenchon, of course, didn’t wait for Laurent to mention the idea of him running 2012 to think about it. He announced his candidacy officially on January 21.

But the strategy of a Mélenchon candidacy within the FG has always faced the opposition of a strong minority within the PCF. Some oppose him because they dislike some former Socialist cabinet minister running the show, others fear that Mélenchon running the show will end up killing the PCF. At first it appeared as if, whatever form the PCF’s nominating event would take, the opposition to a Mélenchon candidacy would be diverse. In 2009, Alain Bocquet, an orthodox PCF deputy from the Nord announced his interest but didn’t take it much further than exploratory stage. Maxime Gremetz, the famously insane Stalinist ex-PCF deputy from the Somme announced his candidacy in January 21 as well but took it no further than that. André Gerin, a hardline orthodox deputy from the Rhône, announced his candidacy but finally backed out on June 5. The anti-Mélenchon chorus joined the bandwagon of André Chassaigne. Chassaigne, unlike the previous three, is not particularly known to be an orthodox but is a rather talented politician on his own. Chassaigne has a huge personal vote in his eastern Puy-de-Dôme constituency, which translated into a record 14% showing for his FG list in the 2010 regional elections in Auvergne. However, he obviously has low name recognition and falls far short of Mélenchon’s notoriety.

On June 3-5, the PCF national conference approved the leadership’s resolution which included a Mélenchon candidacy within a continued FG by a vote of 416 to 238. It also approved the organization of an ‘internal consultation’ (by mail) of contributing PCF members between June 16 and 18 on the basis of three options: a Mélenchon-FG candidacy, a Chassaigne-FG candidacy or a Emmanuel Dang Tran-PCF candidacy.

Roughly 69,200 members were eligible to vote, of which some 48,631 did so (70.25% turnout): results available online by federation

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG candidacy) 59.12%
André Chassaigne (FG candidacy) 36.82%
Emmanuel Dang Tran (PCF candidacy) 4.07%

While the Mélenchon candidacy was approved, there is obviously a strong minority of opponents to his candidacy within the PCF as expressed by the strong 36.8% showing by Chassaigne (and Dang Tran’s 4.1%, representing the hardcore orthodox faction). What that means for his candidacy is unclear, but it shouldn’t be as huge a case as some make it out to be. Mélenchon has the media presence and the fiery charisma to win a respectable (though perhaps not excellent) result if he plays his cards right. His current polling numbers oscillate between 6 and 8%, which is far better than the PCF could have hoped for with a Chassaigne or orthodox candidacy.

The PCF was nice enough to release the internal results, allowing us to shed light on the geographic divide of the PCF base. Chassaigne won some big federations (Nord, Val-de-Marne, Seine-Maritime,  Pas-de-Calais, Rhône) and a lot of the old communist strongholds. The Nord (probably Pas-de-Calais too) and Rhône results were likely influenced by the support of Gerin and Bocquet. Other wins, such as Meurthe-et-Moselle appear to be orthodox federations. Mélenchon swept the vast majority of small federations in the southwest and southeast in addition to strong showings in Ile-de-France. Some of his big federation wins were Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hauts-de-Seine and Hérault. Dang Tran somehow won Haute-Saône (which isn’t his home department – he’s Parisian), though only 198 folks voted there. He also did well in the Aisne (28.8%) and Tarn (31%).

Europe Écologie – Les Verts Primary

The 2012 presidential ballot is both crucial and tricky from the new EELV party, the successor of the Greens. It is necessary that they run a candidate for obvious reasons, but in such an election more than any other election they lack the factors which led to their breakthrough success in 2009. Cohn-Bendit, the movement’s most prominent figure, had no interest in running. The Greens do have lots of talent – but aside from Cohn-Bendit and a few well-known figures, they lack many strong, modern, viable standard-bearers. Their two most prominent leaders both came out to play a prominent role.

Cohn-Bendit encouraged the candidacy of MEP Eva Joly, a Norwegian-born corruption-busting magistrate. Joly has relatively little political experience and is not very charismatic nor very used to the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, but has a good profile as “the honest candidate” of sorts. She announced interest by August 2010, but ran her operation quite badly until recently.

Nicolas Hulot is very well known as a prominent telecologist and host of the successful nature show Ushuaïa on TF1. He almost ran in 2007, but backed out at the last minute as he got 5 out of 12 candidates to sign on to his “Pacte de l’écologie” (including the top 3 contenders). Hulot is a rather well-liked figure, and many Greens liked both his background out of politics and the strong media impact and media frenzy his candidacy would have on EELV. But he has numerous opponents, both outside and inside the party. Aside from the enemies made from his ‘shock films’ and reports, many criticize him for being an hypocrite media icon funded by EDF or L’Oréal (which aren’t too ecofriendly) and working for the broadly right-wing TF1. Within the party, most of his opposition comes from the party’s old more left-wing fundie faction and the establishment which aren’t fond of Hulot ruining the show for them. The party’s boss, Cécile Duflot, isn’t fond of him to say the least while Cohn-Bendit is visibly pissed at a lot of things within EELV and its creation and seems to be sitting it out.

There were also two other candidates: Henri Stoll, known as “the Alsatian” who is the Green mayor of Kayersberg (Haut-Rhin) and known for wearing a wooden tie; and Stéphane Lhomme, an anti-nuclear activist who hates Hulot with a passion.

The first ever ecolo primary was organized for all EELV (and the much smaller MEI led by Antoine Weachter) paying members as well as non-member sympathizers (‘cooperators’ in greeniespeak) both online and by mail. The first round was between June 16 and 24 (June 23 for e-voting) with results having been announced on June 29. A runoff will run from July 1 to 9, with results to be announced on June 29.

The campaign was rather harsh on both sides. Joly was accused by Hulot of preaching a restrictive and pessimistic view of environmentalism, while Lhomme and Joly (to a lesser extent) made a case of Hulot’s hyper-mediatization. Joly received support from the old Greens (a lot of whom are lefties): Mamère, Voynet, Lipietz, Contassot (plus lesser known oldies: Buchmann, Blandin, Rivasi) but also, among others, MEP Yannick Jadot (ex-Greenpeace), Corsican regionalist MEP François Alfonsi and Nantes MP François de Rugy. Hulot got the support of José Bové, Yves Cochet, Antoine Waechter, Denis Baupin but also former resistance figure Stéphane Hessel and homeless rights activist Augustin Legrand.

These things are hard to poll and few dared, but a Viavoice poll showed Hulot crushing Joly (though only 133 Greens were sampled out of 1005).

Turnout was a strong 77%, roughly 25,400 out of some 32,900 eligible voters.

Eva Joly 49.75%
Nicolas Hulot 40.22%
Henri Stoll 5.02%
Stéphane Lhomme 4.44%
Blank 0.37%

Joly will need to wait a bit longer for a quasi-certain consecration in the runoff (though everything, technically, is still possible) but her victory is a real shocker. Hulot had been widely assumed to be coasting to a triumph in the primary, but apparently the limited voting pool made for a very restrictive and thus unpredictable primary. Many Hulot supporters say Joly’s victory is a victory for the left within the party, a victory for both the old fundie-left (with a past in the old party) and the establishment which dislikes him. Aside from frustration, that view is actually quite correct. Joly probably won because of the fears of the party’s voting base (paying members, thus more likely to be old traditionalist ecologists rather than new Hulot-fans) of Hulot hijacking the party or shifting it into something out of touch with the Green movement’s past as a traditional political party.

This is all a great big disappointment to Hulot, who has quit his “job” to do this and may potentially be looking at launching an independent green candidacy on his own. While I doubt he’ll go that far, and will probably grudgingly accept defeat, if he did go it alone it would likely destroy the EELV movement. It’s a matter of opinion whether or not he or Joly would be better candidates. Hulot might have attracted some nice polling numbers from various voters, but how much of that support was solid as opposed to fickle ten-month out nonsense we’ll never know. If he could have led a political campaign despite lacking political-electoral experience we’ll also probably never know. Joly might reassure the Green base, but likely has less of a chance at breaking out to voters than Hulot might have had though she could do well if she plays the ethical card well. So far she has proven that she has pretty mediocre campaigning skills and her pessimistic/restrictive view of ecology (as Hulot accused her of holding) might scare away some hesitating voters. Pollsters have traditionally shown her lower than Hulot, who won some very high polling numbers (sometimes over 10% in some polls), but the latest Ifop poll had her performing as well (6.5%) as Hulot though a CSA poll had her lower (4-5%) than Hulot (7-9%).

The good news in all this primaryfest is that the fun has only begun. The massive French political happening of 2011, the massive PS primary is happening in October!

Election Preview: Thailand 2011

A general election will be held in Thailand on July 3, 2011. All 500 seats in Thailand’s lower house, the House of Representatives, will be up for reelection. 375 of the House’s 500 members will be elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP, while the remaining 125 seats are elected by party-list proportional representation in multi-member regional constituencies which include several provinces. This is the first general election since December 2007.

As everybody should know, Thai politics is extremely polarized and extremely violent. It is prone to coups, massive popular movements or brutal crackdowns of demonstrations. Basically, Thai politics pits two sides against one another: on one hand, the Thaksinites or red-shirts (they could also be called the ‘populists’ or ‘anti-establishment’ side); on the other the incumbent government, the elites, the military, the monarchy and/or the yellow shirts. The dominating controversial figure at the heart of this system – Thaksin Shinawatra – hasn’t lived in Thailand in 2006, but he’s the controversial love-hate figure behind this political crisis, enduring since at least 2006. This election preview post will attempt a rundown of who’s who and what’s what as a sort of very basic primer to confusing Thai politics. This probably won’t make it any less confusing, and at any rate it’s a very rapid cursory overview of who’s who and what’s what.

Thaksin Shinawatra is a wealthy former businessman who became Prime Minister in 2001 at the helm of the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais, or TRT) party. Thaksin, who ruled until his 2006 ouster, became one of the longest ruling Thai civilian politicians in recent history. At the root of his success is a vastly successful populist platform and economic policy, which included offering the first universal health care scheme to poor Thais. His party became vastly popular with poor Thais in northeastern Thailand, but his opponents accused him of authoritarianism, human rights violation, corruption and tax evasion. His rather rebellious attitude towards Thailand’s sacrosanct monarchy also won him the hatred of hardcore monarchists. Protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the yellow-shirts, a group of conservative ultra-nationalist monarchists with fascist inklings, led to Thaksin’s ouster by a military coup in September 2006. The heavily politicized military, which sees itself as the guardian of the monarchy, was the other heavyweight non-parliamentary opponent of Thaksin’s regime. The military banned the TRT, wrote a new constitution and finally called elections for December 2007.

Unfortunately for them, the people didn’t vote as they wished they would. The reincarnated TRT, branded PPP and led by former military officer Samak Sundaravej – a Thaksin proxy – won the elections and formed a government with smaller allies. What happened next is a long story which I don’t fully grasp the details of but the basic rundown is as follows: the PAD regrouped, led huge protests, courts found Samak guilty of conflict of interest and forced him out, Thaksin’s brother-in-law became PM in September 2008, protests led by the PAD got increasingly violent in the next two months, the courts dissolved the PPP and forced the PM to resign. The opposition leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, put together a governing coalition with a lot of old venal PPP “allies”.

Abhisit Vejjajiva hails from the Democrat Party, an old liberal-conservative monarchist party which has played the role of liberal opposition to past military regimes but since 2001 is regarded as the party of Thailand’s wealthy conservative economic elites based in Bangkok. The Democrats are close to the monarchy, opposed Thaksin as an authoritarian revolutionary crook and broadly represent the economic and political elites of the country against the Thaksinite “popular masses” (a crude and inaccurate misrepresentation, to say the least). Abhisit himself is Oxford-educated, for example. His government has weathered the economic crisis relatively well and his economic politics showed a heavy Thaksinite influence with generous public spending and social spending schemes. Abhisit’s government has strictly upheld Thai lèse majesté laws, which, alongside other moves, led Freedom House to downgrade Thailand’s media freedom ranking to ‘not free’. Most significantly, however, he faced the violent opposition of Thaksin’s motivated supporters, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) or red-shirts. The UDD’s protests proved as violent as the PAD’s, leading to a brutal military crackdown of the UDD by the military in 2010 which resulted in over 90 deaths.

This year, the Thaksinites are the Pheu Thai Party (PT). Thaksin was tried and condemned to two years in jail in absentia, and has lived in Dubai since 2007. But he’s still the big boss of the PT, and earlier this year he was the one who installed his sister, the 43-year old businesswoman Yingluck Shinawatra, whom Thaksin has described as his “clone”. The move raised eyebrows, partly because Yingluck herself has no prior political experience albeit she is from a heavily politicized family. But in this campaign she’s proven to be far better than anyone could expect and has gathered the ‘big mo’. She has taken a rather conciliatory tone, saying that she does not seek revenge for the coup and downplays talks that her brother would return to take the reigns (probably unofficially) if she wins. Her platform soundbites (free tablet PCs for kids, raising the minimum wage) are hammered incessantly in a successful way, and her experienced campaign team has played heavily on her energy, youthfulness, large smile and good looks. She has taken the Democrats off guard, with Abhisit still struggling to play the role of a modern campaigner as he tries not to look as aloof as in the past. At any rate, the Democrats have also adopted a large part of winning Thaksinite economic creed promising to raise the minimum wage and going on a little spending rush before calling the election.

We are told incessantly that Thailand is about red-yellow politics and that it’s all extremely polarized, but venal political machines devoid of any ideology play a huge role in Thai politics. They were the ones who gave the Thaksinites government in 2008, and then a few months later gave it back to the Democrats by switching sides. There are a handful of smaller parties, almost exclusively personality-based. Here’s a rundown of the main ones, which will prove crucial if the PT falls short of a majority.

The Bhumjaithai Party (BJT) holds 32 seats and is Abhisit’s largest junior ally. The BJT is the successor of the banned Neutral Democratic Party (a TRT-like populist outfit), which won 7 seats in 2007. The largest grouping in the BJT seems to be the old PPP Friends of Newin faction, the personality cult of political boss Newin Chidchob. Newin is a venal kingmaker who is actually pretty conservative and close to the military, but is very much up for sale. Newin is the political boss of the Buriram and Surin provinces in northeastern Thailand which are ethnically Khmer. That should provide a major base for the BJT this year.

With 25 seats, the Chartthaipattana Party (Thai Nation Development Party, CP) is the second largest junior governing party and the successor of the banned conservative Chat Thai Party. Their major political boss is Banharn Silpa-archa, who is less powerful than Newin because his party is bigger but still has a personal fiefdom in Suphanburi province.

Then you have, also in government, the 8-seat Rum Chart Pattana Party, the 5-seat Social Action Party and the 3-seat Matubhum Party. The latter is a Muslim-based party led by former coupist general Sonthi Boonyaratglin (who is a Muslim).

Alongside the PT in opposition is the Motherland or Puea Pandin Party, which is similar to the TRT and includes, notably, former Thaksin minister Surakiart Sathirathai. The Pracharaj Party, another TRT-lite party, holds 8 seats.

The PAD founded its own new party, the New Politics Party, whose impact will be worth following. Some leading PAD members are very close to the governing Democrats, but the PAD movement as a whole is far more right-wing, nationalist and authoritarian than the Democrats. The PAD seems to oscillate between rabid nationalism (which means hating Cambodians), fascism, corporatism and reactionary monarchism.

The polarization of Thai society is also reflected on the electoral map. The Thaksin parties have a formidable impenetrable stronghold in the northeast and far north of Thailand, the country’s two poorest regions. The Democrats, on the other hand, have a formidable fief in the south of Thailand (though weaker in the Muslim far south). Central Thailand and Bangkok is generally the buffer zone between both regions, though the Democrats were slightly stronger there in 2007. It is interesting to note that northeast and far north Thailand are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the core of Thailand: northeastern Thailand is called Isan, and speaks Isan – a dialect of Lao nowadays written in Thai. Northern Thailand is not so much ethnically distinct, though the northern Thai (Thai Yuan) form a sub-group of their own alongside the central and southern Thai. Southern Thailand, with the exception of the three Muslim provinces of the far-south, is the Democrat stronghold. The southern Thai also form a separate ethnic sub-group and aren’t particularly affluent (though richer than the Isan) but what seems to make them so heavily anti-Thaksinite is some sort of regional opposition to the northeast from a region which is heavily westernized (Thailand’s main tourist resorts are located in the south) and more affluent than the Isan region.

This election is Pheu Thai’s to lose. It seems pretty certain that the PT will at least win the most seats, but the issue is whether or not they will win an outright majority on their own. Polling does not seem to indicate that they will succeed in winning a majority, but polling in Bangkok – a traditionally Democrat base – has shown the PT remarkably strong to the point that it could win – easily in fact – an overall majority. If the PT wins only a plurality, there is still the possibility that they will be denied power by a parliamentary alliance of Democrats and venal parties such as Newin’s friends, an alliance which would be supported by the army. That could discourage the red-shirts from politics, and make them look to extralegal avenues to winning power after being “cheated out” of power by politicians in 2008 and 2011. If the PT doesn’t win a majority, the venal parties would be the kingmakers, and as always they’re up for sale. Newin seems surprisingly loyal to the government for now, but if he’s offered a good deal it’s unlikely he’ll be very loyal. The CP has said that they’ll work with both sides, so it comes up to who offers the better deal. There is also the question of the military: they will be rather livid that the people haven’t voted correctly but they’ve said that they don’t plan to stage a coup if PT wins. But while it is unlikely that the army would stage a coup to prevent Yingluck from taking power, they could be rattled to take action against a PT government if Thaksin comes back or becomes the shadow leader of the country.

Housekeeping note: I’m busy for the next few days, and then I’m leaving for a week vacation in Vermont. While I hope to manage to write Thai results into a post before I do leave for Vermont, in the event that I can’t, that and other election results will wait until I return a week or so later.