Pheu Thai Kicks off Campaign Season in Isaan

KHON KAEN – The campaign slogans might have been written in red, but Saturday night’s United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship rally couldn’t have been any clearer: vote for the blue and white of Pheu Thai.

On a stage crowded with local Pheu Thai MPs and candidates alike, speakers extolled the virtues of the party’s recently announced platform and mocked their political opponents, the Democrats. In his characteristically light-hearted style, Red Shirt spokesperson Nattawut Saikua delighted the assembled crowd of over 10,000 by speculating that in a past life current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had been a public toilet frequented by the Pheu Thai Party. “It’s no wonder that in this life we have to keep cleaning up the Democrats’ crap,” he said.

The Red crowd listens to Nattawut Saikua on Saturday night.

The Red crowd listens to Nattawut Saikua on Saturday night.

Amidst explanations of Pheu Thai’s proposed minimum wage hike, a credit-card program for farmers, and promises to give tablet PCs to schoolchildren, Mr. Abhisit became an object of near constant ridicule for Mr. Nattawut. The southern-born UDD firebrand repeatedly criticized the Prime Minister’s administration for the rising national debt, the escalation of the Cambodian border dispute and an insufficient response to last month’s flooding in the south.

In what would become a common refrain for all of the evening’s speakers, Mr. Nattawut asked his audience to reflect on exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s time in office. “Thaksin is the best Prime Minister we ever had – we lived happily…. Now what do we have?” he asked with a shrug.

The most anticipated speaker of the evening, however, was not the charismatic Mr. Nattawut, but Mr. Thaksin himself. Calling in from Dubai, the former Prime Minister covered similar ground, repeating the party’s campaign promises and disparaging the Democrats. “If the current political party wants to buy your vote,” he said, “you have to think that 500 Baht is not enough. The Democrats have cost this country so much more.”

Mr. Thaksin concluded his address by uncomfortably lip-synching to a Thai country song about missing home, asking his supporters if they want him to return (their enthusiastic response indicated that they do), and then signing off amid fireworks and chants of “Pheu Thai, Pheu Thai.”

As the rally wound down, local UDD leader Phoprak Udomporn told reporters that he was confident in Pheu Thai’s chances in Khon Kaen. “We’ll win all ten seats,” he said with a smile. To ensure that they do, Khon Kaen’s Red Shirts will be focussing on smaller, constituency-specific gatherings from now on. Saturday night’s rally, he said, will be the last of its size in the province until July.

[UPDATE: May 25, 2011 – “Mr. Saikua” has now been changed to “Mr. Nattawut.”]

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