Thailand’s ‘Vote No’ Campaign

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Thailand’s ‘Vote No’ Campaign

Thailand’s Yellow Shirts, disillusioned over corruption, are urging voters to vote ‘no’ in next week’s election.

It isn’t exactly a ‘boycott the election’ drive because voters are still being encouraged to vote on election day in Thailand. But what is unique in this campaign is that the people are being asked to vote ‘no’ on the ballot.

The main group behind the ‘Vote No’ movement is the People’s Alliance for Democracy, or the Yellow Shirts, which organized massive rallies a few years ago against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. They are former allies of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is hoping to be re-elected in next week’s general election.

PAD is urging the public to reject the current electoral system, which they think has been corrupted by power hungry politicians represented by Abhisit on the one hand, and the opposition’s Yingluck Shinawatra (Thaksin’s younger sister) on the other. PAD insists that elections are a futile exercise unless thorough political and electoral reforms are first instituted.

Voting is compulsory in Thailand, and penalties are imposed against those who are unable to vote. In short, voters still need to vote in order to cast a negative vote. Perhaps the ‘no’ option in the ballot is provided to inform voters that rejecting political parties and politicians on election day is a valid political choice.

The ‘Vote No’ campaign isn’t a new phenomenon, since a similar tactic was used by Thaksin’s enemies, which included PAD, in 2006. But PAD is being more aggressive this time, and their campaign seems to be more systematic and well-funded. They even placed oversized ‘Vote No’ posters and billboards around the country, which sparked controversy because they dressed up politicians as animals, perhaps to make the point that all candidates are ‘wild animals.’

The ‘Vote No’ movement is seen by some voters as a form of passive resistance, but others also decried it as a waste of time and effort. The crucial question, however, is whether it will work. In the 2007 general election, the ‘no’ vote constituted a surprising 5-10 percent of the vote results in many areas. It remains to be seen whether PAD’s campaign can garner similar numbers in next week’s voting.

Some political analysts have warned that a 20 percent ‘no’ vote could affect political stability in Thailand since it might be interpreted by dissident forces as proof of the people’s demand for substantive, radical, and even extra-legal political changes. But it’s quite inaccurate to equate a significant number of ‘no’ votes with electoral civil disobedience, since it would only mean that people aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the electoral process. Maybe they voted ‘no’ because they were unimpressed with the candidates, not because they supported the arguments propounded by the PAD.

Thai voters seem to have three choices in next week’s election: the administration party, the opposition, or none of the above. The ‘no’ vote appears to be an unusual option, but in Thailand it perhaps most accurately reflects the deep political divisions within the country.