One of the most charismatic politicians in Thailand at the moment is Korn Chatikavanij. He used to be an investment banker and is now currently the caretaker Finance Minister. Like other high profile politicians, he has been travelling the country in order to help local candidates in the Democrat Party with their election campaigns. On Friday 17th May 2011, Korn came to Samut Prakan in support of the local Democrat Candidate Saracha Weerachatwattana.
Last week, Yingluck from the Phue Thai party visited Samut Prakan and had a very warm welcome (see here). Which is not surprising as many areas in Samut Prakan have been designated “Red Zones”. The election posters that have been defaced the most here are for the Democrat Party. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban came to our province and had an egg thrown at him. Last month, Pheu Thai MP Pracha Prasopdee was shot in an apparent assassination plot. So, I guess it is not surprising that Samut Prakan has been declared “Thailand’s most likely scene of poll-related violence”.
After taking pictures of Yingluck’s visit to Samut Prakan for my local newspaper, I was keen to get some pictures of a Democrat politician. So, I sent Korn a private message on Twitter and asked when he was coming to Samut Prakan. As luck would have it, he said that he was coming that very week. With Yingluck, I only took pictures of her at Paknam Market. But Korn suggested that I join him on the pick-up trucks for the tour of the constituency. I had never done that before so I jumped at the chance. He told me to meet everyone at the Esso petrol station in Samut Prakan.
When I arrived, the local Democrat Candidate Saracha Weerachatwattana was already there. She was discussing with the police the route that they would be taking around the constituency. Everything had been planned in great detail in advance in order to secure the safety of Saracha and Korn. Apparently they hadn’t requested a police presence but after the incident with the egg-throwing on Monday they weren’t taking any chances. Even the provincial police chief was there and he told me that there were twenty policemen here at the start of the parade with a total 200 policemen being utilized along the entire route.
In the parade there were two pick-up trucks that had been converted to carry the candidate and the Democrat Party support staff. As you can see, they are also fitted out with a sound system. These pick-up trucks have been driving around town every day for the last few weeks playing music and broadcasting political messages. Out in front were a dozen people on motorcycles flying banners of the Democrat Party and also the Thai flag. Surrounding them were the police escort as well as plain-clothes policemen videoing the crowd.
Korn and Saracha jumped on the front pick-up truck and I went on the rear truck. For most of them time they were too far in front for me to take any pictures and I couldn’t really see what was going on. However, every time they made a U-turn, I had a photo opportunity to get some good pictures. Korn was waving and wai-ing people by the side of the road and Saracha raised ten fingers symbolizing the number for their party. Korn had a big smile on his face for the majority of the time regardless whether anyone smiled back at him or not.
Along the way we went through several housing estates and also stopped at two different markets. At these places Korn had the opportunity to speak to the crowd about the policies of his party. At the same time the Democrat support staff were handing out pamphlets. At each market there was a reasonable number of onlookers who gathered round to listen to his speech. Though the majority of the people carried on with their business. Like with Yingluck last week, quite a few people came forward to give them roses and other flowers.
After the stop at the first market I switched pick-up trucks and jumped on the one with Korn and Saracha. My purpose was to get some pictures from a different angle but it also painted a very different picture for me. When I was in the truck at the end of the parade I hardly noticed any public reaction. It felt like he was almost wasting his time as people either didn’t know who he was or just didn’t care. After all, these pick-up trucks pass through here often and people have stopped paying them any attention.
Now that I was in the lead pick-up truck with Korn, I could see how much he was working the crowd. He was continually looking around and either waving or giving the Thai wai. He was very energetic despite the fact that he had just flown back in the morning from up north. Quite a few people, when they recognized him, smiled and either gave a “wai” back or raised their ten fingers. I was surprised with the positive reaction he was getting. Very different to Suthep’s visit to Samut Prakan.
The impression that I got was that not all of these people were Democrat voters but were just genuinely pleased to see him. Thai people are naturally very polite and kind to visitors. So, for many of them it was probably an automatic reaction to smile back. But, the majority of the people that we passed just gave him blank stares either out of hatred or indifference. Which is very different to elections in the past. Politics has changed so much now and people are far more serious about their affiliations. Even people from the same family are having heated arguments. This picture shows some of the election posters for the Democrats which have had Abhisit’s face cut out.
It is difficult to gauge how useful people like Korn are for the local candidates. They have a very tight schedule and even though Korn only visited one constituency there was still a large area to cover. Korn travelled around on the pick-up truck for nearly two hours. When Yingluck came to Samut Prakan she spent most of the day visiting various areas. She started in Phra Pradaeng, then Samrong, Paknam and finally Bang Phli. In the late afternoon she drove up to Ayutthaya. But, to be fair to Korn, he still has to run the Finance Ministry. Anyway, other ministers, including the prime minister, will be coming to campaign in Samut Prakan soon. I doubt if anyone else from Phue Thai will come again.
I had a really great time going around Samut Prakan in the Democrats campaign trucks. It was very interesting for me to see the reaction of local people to Korn and his party. It was also interesting for me to compare this with the reaction that Yingluck got from the people. Politics aside, at the end of the day, Korn is a warm, generous and passionate man who loves the work that he does. He has no ambitions of being prime minister and he said that he would be perfectly happy spending the remainder of his political life assisting Abhisit in a Democrat led government. When he entered politics in 2004, he made a promise that he would only stay for 15 years. He says that he has full intention of keeping that promise.