Abhisit Vejajiva began late at the FCCT, stating that he had lost his voice but was lucky to be alive after his car crash yesterday.
"Thai people have faced hardship for the last three years due to bad economic practices. People lost their voice after the coup"
"Samak puts politics first and people second. Debate is important not for us or PPP but for the people. Samak has refused every offer of a debate"
Abhisit enquires whether Samak was invited to the FCCT. MC Jonathon Head says he was, but was unable to attend so he is now serving food fro the kitchen tonight (laughter).
"The Democrats have a ninety nine day plan, it is not a gimmick. It includes polices such as free education all through school, an end to corruption and reversal of confusing policies for foreign investors"
"We will happily form a coalition with anyone.....(pause) ......except the PPP" [laughter]
1) Have there been any kind of deals or agreements between the Democrats and the military?
AV: No. Why would the Dems spend so much money on pre coup elections if they knew what would happen? Why do the PPP/TRT suddenly become so in love with democracy when they have lost power?
2) [A foreign election monitor volunteer] There are allegations of vote rigging by the CNS in Chang Mai
AV: Report it to the EC. However, these elections are fairer than 2005.
3) Why are parties putting politics before people?
AV: The party hopping mentality is to blame. Nobody can take politics seriously when people move freely between parties. There are some encouraging signs that this mentality is changing.
4) (The Nation) What do you think about the undemocratic aspects of the constitution and security laws?
AV: I have pushed for amendments in the past and I wish to remove undemocratic aspects of the new constitution such as half the senate being unelected. I hope the NLA don't pass the security law. My message to the NLA is "take a break".
If they do pass the law, I have four issues to raise including a definition of ""threat to security" (a reference to part of the new law which gives emergency powers to the military at any time of "threat to national security").
The military have learned a lesson, now they know seizing power was the easy part of the job.
5) (UN representative) We need a debate on human rights. Will the Dems check on human rights abuses in the south?
AV: There was a debate on human rights a few weeks ago by the Human Rights Commission of Thailand. All party leaders were invited, I was the only attendant.
The troubles in the south are complex. The old hierarchy in the south is no more. The old leaders do not have a vertical line of command. We will encourage dialogue but it is a local problem, we have extensive plans to resolve issues in the south.
6) (Bangkok Post) Polls show a swing to PPP. Will heads roll if the Dems don't get in? If you get in, what are the first three issues you will tackle?
AV: I advise Bangkok Post not to do internet polls [laughter]. There is a group of full time political operatives on the sixth floor of a building in Wangtonla who are hired by a certain party.
We have set standards in the party, I expect those standards to be met.
The first three issues I will tackle are economic confidence, reducing the cost of living and stimulating the economy.
7) Are there family ties between the Shinwatras and the Vejajivas?
AV: Thaksin's mother in law made this claim [that there were links between the families about three generations ago] but I have checked and there are no blood ties.
8) (A Thai teacher) We are not happy about the situation with universities being pushed to become autonomous.
AV: My colleague Wijit supports this motion. I disagree with him. However, autonomy is not the same as privatisation.
9) What is the meaning of the Democrat logo? [A woman washing her long hair]
AV: It is a goddess, we like to think she is washing out political dirt [laughter].
10) Would you form a coalition even if the PPP win a clear majority? When will we know the shape of the government?
AV: If PPP win outright, we will work hard as the opposition. If not, we will form a coalition.
We should see shape of government by Sunday evening, if there are issues with red cards, etc. it could take thirty days. There is a quorum but it is not a full house quorum.
11) What will you do to sway those who are still undecided?
The indecision is due to political noise. I believe the undecideds will focus on the real issues when voting.
12) (Jonathon Head) What is your stance on privatisation?
AV:The privatisation of EGAT and PTT by Thai Rak Thai was illegal.This has spoiled a policy that can benefit the nation. Thailand has underutilised assets.
13) (Japanese press) Why do so many rural folk still go for TRT/PPP and Thaksin after eighteen months? Why have the Dems not reached out to these people?
AV: They have sympathies with the one hundred and eleven TRT execs who are banned. I have sympathy with some of them as they didn't know what was going on with the crimes committed.
Apart from the south, we had just fourteen seats in the previous house, now we are very competitive. This shows we have made gains.
14) Would you consider autonomy for Pattiani under any circumstances? Previous coalitions have always been weak, can you be sure yours won't crumble?
AV: Our research and that of the investigative group led by Anand has the same conclusion: autonomy is not a demand from people in the south. What they want is justice, including corrections to past injustices. Autonomy for Pattiani would not help other states. De-centralisation is the key.
Previous coalitions were corrupt and/or incompetent. We will not be. A good government cannot be toppled.
15) What is your stance on the PPP using Thaksin's image and name? If the PPP was dissolved for electoral malpractice, what would your stance be?
AV: PPP candidates have every right to use Thaksin's image and name, however they [the 111 dissolved TRT execs] should not interfere with the running of PPP.
I hope the EC will not destabilise politics by any bias actions. I don't believe PPP will be dissolved.
16) [Narcissus] What is your position on Burma? Should ASEAN do more?
AV:I am appalled by the actions of the junta in Burma. ASEAN should do more but they should take careful actions.
17) There is too much rubbish in the Bangkok canals!
AV: I'll tell Apirak! [Laughter]. It's not as bad as it used to be and I will get the council to do more.
18) Is there a political ideology for the labor movement in Thailand? Do the Dems have a separate section to deal with this?
AV: No labor focused ideologies really exist in Thailand. Some attempts to set up a labor party have failed. Dems take a balanced approach between labor and service sector approaches.
19) The new constitution has strengthened the opposition to prevent another TRT style government stranglehold. Will this weaken a coalition government?
AV: Don't over estimate constitutional power.The previous constitution had more human rights than ever but resulted in more abuses than ever by TRT.
There will not be many medium sized parties from now on, maybe none atall. Thailand is moving towards a two party state. [Re-iterates reasons why his coalition government will be stable].
End of questions. I get a couple of pictures with the man himself.
My verdict: Abhisit is slick, highly articulate and progressive. However it is easy to see why he does not appeal to certain Thais. He lacks that abrasive spark or traditional Thai political demeanour that some sections of Thailand go for. He also likes to talk technically - albeit with the usual vagueness of politicos - and that will simply turn some people off.
A good politician for sure, but one that will only appeal to middle or upper class Thais. A clear class division in Thailand is still evident in the people's political choices.