Politics: Thai style

The Nation, Oct 28, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand -- The Democrat party is touring the Northeast for the first time since its new leader Banyat Bantadtan took office. The tour starts in major provinces, such as Nakhon Ratchasima, Udon Thani, Nong Khai and Sakon Nakhon, where many seats are available.

Mr Banyat is a southern politician unfamiliar with the Northeast, but has a unique campaign touch. It remains to be seen if this helps in the general election.

The religious opposition leader is determined to pay his respects at all spiritual sites in the provinces he will visit. Stopovers at such sites must be included in his already tight programme, causing some to be scheduled at night because he is too busy with campaigning during the day.

The spiritual stopovers inevitably cause considerable delays to his meetings with voters. In Nakhon Ratchasima, he began his tour by paying respect to all spiritual sites there, including the city pillar, the statue to Ya Mo _ a historical heroine in the province _ and the statue of the late Gen Chatichai Choonhavan, former prime minister.

After campaigning in Maha Sarakham, he was scheduled to rush off to Udon Thani, but still he stopped at the Nadune stupa in Maha Sarakham at dusk. He insists on these visits wherever he goes and as a result often must cut back on the campaign stops that his party staff had planned.

"Today politicians lack righteousness and rarely visit temples," he said briefly on one of his religious stops.

Mr Banyat also has a different upcountry campaign style from other party leaders.

He focuses on small, cozy meetings with constituents. He avoids making big speeches. His small, numerous meetings centre around markets and communities.

The Democrat party has applied the campaign style well in the South, its political stronghold. However, it has yet to prove whether the practice will work in the Northeast, the region where there are enough voters to determine who will be the next prime minister.