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Voters focus on long-term interests, not the personalities of candidates

on 11 November 2011.


KOTA SAMARAHAN: The July 2011 election in Thailand reflected the country’s new political culture, with ideologies and policies taking precedence over candidate personality in how voters cast their ballots.

Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore said the election, which gave Thailand its first female prime minister in Yingluck Shinawatra, was important for several reasons.

“Power was returned to the people, it had the highest voter turnout of 75%, there was a strong regional pattern of voting, and policies and ideologies mattered in this election,” he said during a forum on Elections in Southeast Asia yesterday.

The forum, sponsored by The Star, was part of the Conference on Elections and Democracy in Malaysia organised by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).


Changing pattern: Chachavalpongpun speaking about Thailand’s 2011 polls during the forum sponsored by The Star in Kuching.

Chachavalpongpun said the political culture used to focus on the personality of candidates without considering ideologies and policies.

Now, however, voters focused on long-term interests and what they needed, he said.

He also said the overwhelming victory of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party defied all odds in Thai politics.

“What this means for Thailand is that there is healthy electoral politics but still a weak democracy. Non-elected institutions like the military and monarchy still have influence on elected institutions,” he said.

He concluded that unless the traditional political elite in Thailand came to terms with the new political landscape, Thailand would continue to face uncertainty and instability.

Dr Terence Chong, also from ISEAS, spoke about the 2011 general elections in Singapore and its implications for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the political landscape in general.

He said the key question facing voters was whether to continue placing their eggs in the PAP basket or try to nurture a stronger opposition.

“At stake was the PAP’s national campaign of party leadership renewal and a steady government, or the opposition’s message of a more democratic Parliament with greater representation and accountability and greater government transparency,” he said.

Besides the perennial issues of the high cost of living, widening wage gap, liberal immigration policies and high ministerial salaries, he said there were new issues such as government overspending on the Youth Olympic Games, the escape of terrorist suspect Mas Selamat and downtown floods.

“The second set of issues points to government incompetence. For the first time, the idea that the government could falter was a shock to Singaporeans,” Dr Chong said.

In the aftermath of the elections, he said, the PAP carried out its promise of renewal in the party leadership, but whether this would lead to reforms remained to be seen.

Meanwhile, Prof Michael Leigh from the University of Melbourne said Indonesia was now the most robust democratic country in South-East Asia after various reforms were introduced.

“Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy, after emerging from 40 years of military dictatorship,” he said.

He said the voting age in Indonesia was 17 and above, while those below 17 who were married were also eligible to vote.

“Indonesians can vote from anywhere in the world. Immediately after voting, the fingers of voters would be dipped in indelible ink,” he said.

Extracted from thestaronline.

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