Note: The writer originally intended to use the title ‘The Beginnings of a third alternative political party' but decided to change this for reasons explained in the article.
Many Thais hope that the political crisis that began at the end of 2005 and has dragged on until today can end with the parliamentary elections on 23 December 2007. These have an important role in pushing the military back to the barracks and leading the country back to a democratic system.
But these elections have in no way solved the problem of conflict inside the country. On the contrary, the conflict has clearly become worse, especially the conflict between the middle class and the lower class, which reveals different needs and is shown through support for 2 large political parties.
(The cause of this situation, in the view of Surasak Thammo in his article ‘Thailand after 23 December 2007'i, is the basic social structure problem of unequal distribution of income, which has persisted for decades.)
The results of this election demonstrate that Thai politics s in a period of change from a politics of region (southerners vote for Chuan, people in Suphanburi vote for Banharn) to a politics of class (the urban middle class vote for the Democrats, the lower classes upcountry support the People Power Party). Even if there are other parties that can win locally, the number of MPs isn't big enough to have a significant impact. This shows that regional politics is quickly losing its importance.
The question is, are the Thai people satisfied with this new kind of choice between just two alternatives?
A reaction which the writer has observed since before the election, apart from the ‘jeer Samak, cheer Abhisit' and ‘cheer Samak, jeer Abhisit' kind, and which is an increasingly common opinion, is ‘I don't know who to vote for; I don't like either.'
This kind of opinion is a good example of the yearning of the Thai people for new political alternatives. In broad outline, political parties according to this ideal must have an up-to-date image, appear honest (which the People Power Party cannot do) and respond effectively to people's needs (which the Democrats were constantly attacked for not doing). It is easy to say that you will respond to the needs of the middle class and the lower class at the same time. But in fact, there is really n party that does this. (And under the conditions of a parliamentary system of politics, we can assume that it will also never happen in the future.)
But even if we leave aside these ideals for a third alternative political party, there is still no third political party. (Here we are not interested in small parties which cannot progress from local politics to a politics of principle or policy.) In the end, the ‘neither' group end up with a ‘no vote', or decide to vote on the basis of the individual.
However, the writer has observed that in 2007 a small political movement began to grow. This includes such groups as those meeting at Sanam Luang in the middle of the year to oppose military dictatorship, the movement to kill the draft 2007 constitution in October, and those calling for the NLA to stop passing legislation in December.
Added together, these mobilizations were not large. Participants are both the urban middle and lower classes. Most have specific ideologies and are likely to be led by academics outside the mainstream (who attack public intellectuals who accepted the coup), or are new social activists who were ‘politically awakened' after the 19 September coup.
The really interesting point is that these movements have kept up their momentum (their effectiveness is very high in comparison with their numbers). They are organized in an integrated system of different movements and use technology to their advantage. It can be said that this is raising the standards of political mobilization to a new level which activists will have to maintain in the future.
The writer questions whether it is necessary for a third political alternative to take the form of a political party. Future political struggle therefore may arise from independent movements which coalesce to make policy demands on political parties in parliament, using as a bargaining tool the votes that these groups can mobilize in favour of parties that respond to their needs.
A third alternative movement in future will not necessarily be in the form of a simple large political group, but rather as a mobilization ‘network' of many small groups who work together. These groups will operate independently with no formal structure. They will not need to support the same proposals all the time, but will cooperate with when they have a common platform, and go their separate ways when they see things differently.
In the past we have seen many mobilizations of professional groups of local groups (such as the Caravan of the Poor, or associations of sugar-cane growers or rubber-tappers). The mobilization of the third alternative network which the writer has proposed resembles these in principle, but in practice, a third alternative network of this kind goes beyond mobilization on the streets to an integrated form of mobilization. This is many times more effective and has learned how to bargain cleverly for their interests and to figure out politicians better than before.
The writer still cannot see clearly the outlines of the third alternative movement. It will eventually evolve into a new form. The period after the 19 September coup can be seen as the incubation period of this network. After the 23 December 2007 election is the period when the network must find its feet, and accumulate power and influence to the point where its bargaining power is sufficient and it knows the strengths and weaknesses of the new form of extra-parliamentary political struggle, where no one so far has any experience.
Whether it is successful or not, this movement will eventually be the beginning of a democracy where the people's sector really participates.
Finally, the writer points to the interview with Kasian Tejapiraii, who says that if there is no third alternative, it means the defeat of people like is, with no one else to blame.
i Surasak Thammo, ‘Thailand after 23 December 2007' - Sam Intelligence Unit, 24 December 2007.
ii Interview with Kasian Tejapira: Towards Solidarity "If there is no 3a, we will lose" - Prachatai, 23 May 2007.