Bangkok (The Nation-Thailand/ANN) - It is not surprising at all that ruling Democrat Party, the oldest political party in Thailand, is leaning heavily on social media to woo voters, especially from the new generation.
The party plans to have its leader, caretaker Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, talk to the public via Livestream on his Facebook page.
The party earlier launched the Future Thai Leaders project, aimed at winning support from youths and employing social networks to arouse a greater interest in politics among the silent majority.
Now, most if not all new-generation people and city residents are familiar with Internet communities, especially Facebook and Twitter. And people seem to be so crazy about online life or have been so affected by "social networkism" that some offices have blocked access to Facebook.
Several parties have moved to try to dominate the online communities and the two major parties - Democrat and the opposition Pheu Thai Party - seem interested the most in courting online users.
The Democrats' tapping of social media as a new-age tool to win votes reflects the lead of some core members, including Abhisit, Korn Chatikavanij, Korbsak Sabhavasu and Satit Wongnontoey, who have jumped into cyberspace by opening social network accounts.
Apirak Kosayodhin, the director of the Bangkok election campaign for the Democrats, said the party is providing a new channel for gathering support via social networks. Abhisit would speak live to some 600,000 fans every Sunday at 8.30pm via Livestream on Facebook, with the first broadcast last night, he said.
The live broadcast can be accessed at the Abhisit.M.Vejjajiva Facebook page, which is known as Abhisit Ch.10, and the DemcoratPartyTH or DEM 10 Facebook page.
The Democrats also offer an iPhone application democratTH, with feeds from the party's tweets to iPhone. iPhone users can hear audio clips of Abhisit by shaking the phone.
The Pheu Thai Party is also looking to mine the social media for votes. The party's de-facto leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has been using Twitter and Facebook for years to keep in touch with his supporters. Thaksin is seen as the Thai politician who is among the big-time social networkers.
Kanawat Wasinsungworn, deputy leader of Pheu Thai, said the party has been unleashing election campaigns via social media.
People could monitor the party's election platform and view photos of the party's activities on the party's Twitter and Facebook pages. The campaign schedule of Pheu Thai's prime-minister candidate, Yingluck Shinawatra, is also published on the party's Facebook page.
Since their rivals the Democrats have an application, Pheu Thai cannot afford not to have one of its own.
Pheu Thai will this week launch applications for iPhone, Android, Symbian and BlackBerry so the party can disseminate information directly to the people.
"Although most supporters of the party are middle-class and lower-class people, we do not ignore other groups, who are new-generation members. These people are city dwellers with the lifestyle of using social media to communicate," Kanawat said.
Chuwit Kamolvisit, the Rak Prathet Thai Party leader who wants to appeal to young voters, said his party would start campaigning on Facebook and Twitter and the party's website this week.
But his party will need two more weeks to gather information before introducing mobile applications for campaigning. He admitted that the mobile applications might not be ready for this election.
Social media would allow people to know what his party has been doing but he would seek to meet voters face-to-face to ask for their votes, he said.
"I'll focus on visiting voters. I'll visit major provinces, where there are universities, such as Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai and Songkhla. I would like to tell university students there that they will have a chance to meet me in person," Chuwit said.
While political parties have been campaigning on the Internet, the Election Commission has failed to come up with clear-cut regulations to control spending on social media and the scope of online campaigning. It is also uncertain how it can prevent electioneering from continuing after 6pm on July 2, like the prohibition of campaigns in the real world.
An EC official said that since it is difficult to monitor campaign spending on social media, the EC would not control it at all.
Candidates and their canvassers should not post campaign messages online after 6pm, as that would be illegal, the source said.
If their supporters post messages after 6pm, that would be fine, but if the EC can prove that the campaign messages came from the candidates or their canvassers, they would face legal action.
And if they pretend to be their rivals to post the messages, those found posting the messages will also face legal action.
The EC cannot survey cyberspace for any violations of election laws so the candidates and parties must do their own surveillance, the EC source added.
Thai politicians on Twitter, Facebook
@democratTH: 4,183 followers
@Abhisit_DP: 7,956 followers
@PheuThaiParty: 5,345 followers
@PouYingluck: 5,840 followers
@bhumjaithai: 619 followers
@New_Politics: 329 followers
- http://www.facebook.com/Abhisit.M.Vejjajiva: 621,243 likes
- www.facebook.com/DemocratPartyTH: 19,243 likes
- facebook.com/pheuthaiparty: 8,325 likes