Channel NewsAsia

Thai opposition’s poll boycott disappoints pro-election “White Shirts”

Southern Thailand is traditionally a Democrat Party stronghold but the party's boycott of the polls have put them at odds with many voters there.

SURAT THANI: Southern Thailand is traditionally a Democrat Party stronghold.

But the party's boycott of the polls and support of the Suthep Thaugsuban-led anti-government movement have put them at odds with many voters there.

A candle light vigil by the pro-election "White Shirts" was always going to be difficult to hold in former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban's hometown of Surat Thani.

True enough, their small gathering by the banks of the Tapi River was soon disrupted by the sound of whistles from supporters of Mr Suthep's People's Democratic Reform Council.

Despite the intimidation, Surat Thani's "White Shirts" carried on with their vigils.

Some said they were supporters of the Democrat Party but have become disillusioned by the party's decision to boycott the polls in support of the anti-government protest.

Surat Tanjaroon, Surat Thani's "White Shirt” supporter, said: "My political activism has never been for any other party apart from the Democrat Party. I was involved in their fight against the amnesty bill -- I fought very hard for them… (but) today the rules have been violated.

“The best way out is for all of us to return to our senses, go to the voting station, and have the election. This is the best solution for the country."

Mr Suthep and the Thaugsuban family have been instrumental in the Democrat Party's domination of Surat Thani in past elections, but at a local level, their dominance is by no means guaranteed.

Montri Petchkum, a politician who unexpectedly defeated Mr Suthep's cousin in 2009's Mayor (Provincial Administration Governor) election, said the Democrat Party cannot always expect to win in Surat Thani.

He also believes that the poll boycott and the support of election disruption by the Democrat Party will hurt them politically in the long term.

Mr Montri, a Bhumjaitai Party candidate for Surat Thani, said: "For the 70 per cent who are the silent majority in Surat Thani, I need to make them understand that this province does not belong to certain individuals but it belongs to everyone…”

“I myself will go vote regardless of any form of obstruction. And many people also go to vote to exercise their democratic rights."

Open expression of diverse political views inside the Democrat Party's heartland may not signal a change to its strong electoral support any time soon; nevertheless, it reveals a potential risk of voters backlash against the party because of its strong support for the anti-government movement.

With the Democrat Party set to be a notable absentee on the February 2 ballot, Thailand's oldest political party may need to do some deep soul searching, not least among its own base, to see how it can regain its place in Thai politics. 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna