Abhisit comes back from abyss


The reinstatement of Abhisit Vejjajiva as the Democrat leader despite a humiliating election defeat is an ultimate show of faith and confidence among party members.

The question is if he will be able to overhaul the party and above all reshape his role, which is seen as central to the success (or otherwise) of the Democrats.

Political observers have been critical of Mr Abhisit’s working style. He has been seen as over-confident and has failed to pursue alliances.

A respected political scientist said a key factor to the success of any attempt to reform the Democrat Party’s image and prospects lies with its leader, who needs to review his role and leadership in connection with the July 3 election defeat.

“If Mr Abhisit fails to see what he needs to change, he could be an obstacle to the process that will bring about changes wanted by the people,” said a political scientist.

One core Democrat member says the future of the party depends on how the leadership views the election loss. “If they think there is no lesson to be drawn, I don’t expect any changes. The party may be a strong opposition but will never win more seats,” the Democrat said.

Under the newly established leadership, Mr Abhisit will work with Chalermchai Sri-on, the new secretary-general, to steer the party on course of reforms.

Mr Chalermchai is a low-profile politician who so far has little clout and apparently is short on charisma. It is hard to imagine him engaging in knee-to-knee talks with the party’s targets.

That Mr Chalermchai received only 73% of support to take up the post is interpreted as a sign of disunity. It is reported that a group of southern MPs deliberately did not endorse Mr Chalermchai in order to show their disapproval.

But Mr Abhisit dismissed this and said it is now up to Mr Chalermchai to win the trust and confidence of those who did not vote for him.

Mr Chalermchai is entrusted to help the party win more seats in the Central region, which is seen as an easier region to penetrate than the largely pro-Pheu Thai North and Northeast. The Democrats’ resounding defeat makes one core Bhumjaithai Party member highly sceptical of Mr Abhisit’s reinstatement.

According to the Bhumjaithai man, Mr Abhisit was wrong not to pay heed to the coalition partners’ call to delay House dissolution.

He put the blame for the Democrat Party’s loss and the resultant shift in the political landscape squarely at Mr Abhisit’s feet.

A core member of Chart Pattana Puea Pandin said the deaths of 92 people in connection with the dispersal of last year’s political protests will be used to undermine Mr Abhisit and the Democrat Party, which led the government at the time.

But Mr Abhisit’s return as the leader at yesterday’s assembly indicates that the Democrats do not share the viewpoint. In the eyes of his backers, Mr Abhisit proved his leadership during the crisis.

Yet there have been dissenting voices within the party that the future is bleak.

“The party MPs are concerned about the next elections,” said a core Democrat member.

“We lost the election when we were in power. How can we win when we are not any more?”

Associate professor Sirapan Noksuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the Democrat Party needs to explore how to broaden its support bases and reach out to grassroots people.

“History shows that when the party is under the wings of the military, it loses an election,” she said.

People in the North and the Northeast do not “hate” the Democrats, it’s just that the party does not know how to pick the right candidates and communicate with this demographic.

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