Partyforumseasia: Internet and social networks have attracted politicians all over the world as an instrument for personal propaganda and the feeling of closeness to their voters. For Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia 2.1 million “Facebook likes” seem to signal popularity. The difference between these likes and the 3.4 million party members may simply reflect the focus of UMNO on rural Malay voters and their lacking internet access, not necessarily his lack of support within the party .
Social media politics is a double-edged sword The avalanche-like speed of communication when a post goes viral can ruin the image of a politician within hours or days. In an era where silly remarks ruin careers (an arrogant Australian wealth manager just lost his cushy job in Singapore for calling commuters on public transport “poor people”), politicians in the limelight must be extremely cautious.
PM Najib may not be fully aware of the danger. Facing a sh*t storm over his remark that food prices are not all up, since kangkung (water spinach) is getting even cheaper, many Malaysians saw it as adding insult to injury. But Najib insists and continues with more alledgedly cheaper items like sotong (squids). The public is not amused, but laughs about countless jokes ridiculing the Prime Minister.
Reports by the Malaysian Insider may be satirical, but if PM Najib is seriously asking his ministers to take a media training course, more jokes can be expected to target him in the coming weeks and months.
PS: Former PM Mahathir has already admitted last June that he might have made a mistake in giving guarantees for Internet freedom…!!
Partyforumseasia: Yesterday The Phnom Penh Post surprised with reporting on a possible compromise between PM Hun Sen and the opposition led by Sam Rainsy:
With the crackdown on striking garment workers two weeks ago the situation in Phnom Penh looked worse than the crisis in Bangkok. But the Thai deadlock is far from over and the intransigence of Suthep Thaugsuban (“No win-win situation, it is either they win or we win…”) signals a further increase of unrest.
Whatever the outcome in Cambodia may be, it is encouraging to hear Sam Rainsy give credit to the CPP leadership. “But they are also responsible people to some extent” he said in a press conference. The demands of PM Hun Sen to step down and snap elections being held was dropped. Instead the negotiations should focus on electoral reform, adjustments in the parliamentary set up and a TV license for the opposition.
All this may be Southeast Asian shadow play, but it could be a reminder to big neighbor Thailand that democracy is substantially compromise – for the benefit of the country.
Partyforumseasia: According to Akanat Promphan, spokesman of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the protest activities cost between two and five million Baht (up to 160,000 US$) per day. Where’s the money coming from? That is the headline of the Singapore Straits Times’ Thailand correspondent in an article on January 9th, page A18.
Rumours on the internet seem to suspect big companies, especially the ones sidelined by the Puea Thai government. Akanat denies that as “rarely” and holds that ordinary people support the protesters with money, food, tents, or blankets for the cooler nights. He also reports that protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, with declared assets of more than six million US$, has even sold family land to start funding the protests.
The truth is probably a mix of the two and more possibilities, but the sophistication of the operations, including toilets, mobile kitchens, stages, big tents, sound systems and tens of thousands of people, suggest that there is quite a big logistical and planning effort behind it. And given the level of money politics in the country, the cui bono (for who’s benefit) question must be appropriate. If Suthep and the Democrat Party are right in criticizing the Shinawatra corruption (Suthep criticizsed Thaksin’s insider trading already in 1997 in Parliament), they themselves have quite a big skeleton in the cupboard. They narrowly escaped dissolution for an undeclared donation of more than 8 m US$ by a cement company (the legal donation threshold stands at 300.000) in 2005 and were acquitted in 2010 on technical grounds, because the prosecution had failed to follow proper procedures. Many Thais are not convinced that the Democrats are cleaner than Puea Thai and the Thaksin clan.
With the planned shut down of Bangkok coming Monday, 13 January, all friends of Thailand can only hope for a predominantly peaceful continuation of the standoff which is a most dangerous result of the country’s elite failure and political brinkmanship.