Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Many commentators on the Thai political crisis continue to trot out nonsense about the Red Shirts being rural villagers or migrant workers to the city and Sutep’s Yellow Shirt supporters being Bangkok residents. Yet the results from the 2011 general election showed that in the 33 Bangkok constituencies, the Democrat Party won 44.34% of the vote, while the Pua Thai Party won 40.72%. Pua Thai even won 2 seats from the Democrats. Overall, Pua Thai managed to increase their Bangkok seats by a total of 4. The Democrats still had more seats, but lost 7.
This shows that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats and this is based on those who have house registrations in Bangkok. Thousands of rural migrant workers who work and reside permanently in Bangkok are registered to vote in their family villages. If they were registered where they actually live and work, Pua Thai might have achieved an overall majority in Bangkok.
The only area of the country where the Democrats have some strength, are some areas of the south where Sutep Tueksuban’s family dynasty control politics through a system of patronage. Some members of his family are also MPs. Other areas of the south are also controlled by long-standing Democrat Party patronage, such as Chuan Leekpai’s constituency. Such patronage makes a mockery of Sutep’s avowed aims to “reform” politics. The Democrat Party patronage predates Taksin and Thai Rak Thai and one factor which helped create it was the support given to the Democrats by ex-Communists in the region. Apart from these historical aspects, the South is also the most prosperous part of Thailand, with the exception of Bangkok. Much income is generated from tourism and higher value agriculture.
The real division between the “Reds” and the “Yellows” in the current crisis, which dates back to 2005, is CLASS. There is a clear tendency for worker and poor to middle income farmers to support Pua Thai and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location. This is because of Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. In the provinces and in Bangkok, the middle classes and the elites tend to vote for the Democrats and want to reduce the democratic space and turn the clock back to pre-Thai Rak Thai times.