Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 01:20 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 01:20 | SYDNEY

'The poor' in Thailand election

12 July 2011 09:48

In the analysis that has followed the election victory of Pheu Thai, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, commentators have repeatedly identified the support that she and the party received as coming from 'the rural and urban poor' (see The Australian and various articles in The Economist as examples). But like William Boot's famous reply to his master at The Beast in Evelyn Waugh's 'Scoop' —  'Up to a point, Lord Copper' — this characterisation needs, at very least, either qualification or a rather particular definition of 'poor'.

Certainly 'the poor' have supported Pheu and its new leader, just as they supported Thaksin, but the catch-all term fails to take note of the extent to which the anti-Democrat Party support comes from voters in both the rural and urban regions who do not fit in with any usual definition of people living In poverty.

I can't place the person who first said it, but much of the Red Shirt support, and so Pheu Thai's, comes from people who have been described as 'having some high school education and driving a pickup truck'.

Having been in Thailand at the time of the Red Shirt protests and immediately after (as recounted at the Institute in June of last year at a Lowy Lunch) among the many images that have stayed with me, in addition to the Red Shirt 'camps', the razor wire outside my hotel, and the arson-wrecked buildings afterwards, was encountering a Red Shirt convoy coming into Bangkok as I drove north out of the city. There they were in half a dozen pickups, red banners streaming behind them and loudly chanting slogans and singing songs — a different kind of poverty.

Decades ago the distinguished historian of colonial Indonesia, Harry Benda, coined a term to describe the proto-nationalist revolts that took place in Sumatra in the 1920s. What was taking place, he wrote, reflected a 'revolution of rising irritations'. At very least this explains part of what is happening in Thailand.

Yes, the 'real' poor have found a voice and embraced the benefits Thaksin promised and partly delivered to them, but some, at least, of the resilience and success of Pheu Thai in this month's elections is a reflection of a different section of the population: the emerging petty entrepreneurs and small business people who cannot see why they do not enjoy the privileges of the elite in Bangkok.

Photo by Flickr user SpecialKRB.