Soi after soi, hour after hour, despite the blistering sun, she never lets the loudspeaker go quiet, not even for a second. “We can’t let dead air happen while campaigning,” she says as we sit down for a quick lunch in a little soi. She is Sunisa Lertpakawat, a Pheu Thai MP candidate in Bang Kae. “I want people to hear our campaign as much as I can.”
Sunisa and ten people from her campaign have been on the back of a pick-up truck since 7:30am. She lost half a day yesterday because she fell ill and couldn’t continue campaigning, so there’s lost time to make up for. But she’s back on track, hitting the majority of sois and villages in Bang Kae, the most populous district in Bangkok. It’s an immense job, but she realizes how vital it is.
“I have only two weeks left before the election day. People expect to see my face after seeing my posters.They want to see the person who may work for them in parliament,” says Sunisa, or “Muad Jeab” [Officer Jeab] as everybody loves to call her. Even kids from the nearby school she just visited are chanting her nickname.
“If I ran for class president, I would win for sure,” she jokes as surrounding crowds of students wave their index fingers in a gesture of support.
Five years ago, Sunisa was on the front page of newspapers and all over television. She had upset her employers, the army, when she spent her vacation in England, meeting with Thaksin in order to write Thaksin: Where are You and, two years later, Thaksin: Are You OK. She’d rather not talk about that controversy though, preferring to focus on the upcoming election.
We talk to Nuch, a former public relations professional, who previously had little interest in politics, and who has now been Sunisa’s assistant for the past two months. “She has been on the truck or canvassing the streets for over a month now. She hasn’t missed a single day! She doesn’t even wear a hat because people need to be able to see her face,” says a proud Nuch. It’s clear that her face is a large part of her public appeal, something that becomes quite evident as we talk to some of her supporters.
“She’s really beautiful, like in the poster,” says a housekeeper as the campaign car passes by, while Sunisa makes a self-deprecating joke about not looking exactly like in her posters. Her skin is a touch sunburned from the weeks’ work. Sunisa knows she cannot rely on her pleasant looks alone, though. The bigger issue, according to one of her campaign managers, Passawin Pingoompee, 42, is that she is really new in this area, and that the campaign might not be enough to introduce her to people. “That’s why today we’re rallying mostly in the residential neighborhoods,” Passawin says.
Despite being a newcomer, Sunisa works like a professional campaigner. She tells her assistant to write down every problem that people tell her about during her walk-abouts and seems to know what will win her audience’s hearts. During the day, when senior citizens are at home and the youth are out at work, Muad Jeab talks about how Pheu Thai will raise money for elders. When she is addressing factory workers, she talks about how the minimum wage should be raised to B300 per day from B215. She shows mock-ups of energy credit cards when passing lines of taxis and makes promises relating to education policy when parents are talking their kids home from school. And who knows, perhaps free public Wi-Fi will get the youth vote?
Of course, it’s not just policy platforms that win votes. A shirtless man shakes her hand and says, “Please bring back Thaksin if you are elected. I really miss him.”
“I will try,” says Sunisa. Another family takes Sunisa by the hand and bring her into their home to meet their grandmother, who cannot walk. They say how much they love the Red Shirts. The grandmother says what a big fan she is of Pheu Thai, touching Sunisa’s ponytail as though she were a little girl. “Come see us after you win the election, OK? Or I’ll spank you,” says the grandmother.
Out on the street again, we take some time to gauge people’s reactions. After all, they are the only way Sunisa can win. Supawee Soontornsaratool, 51, the owner of a garage says he loves Pheu Thai and definitely wants to vote for her. “I don’t know much about her,” he says. “I just heard about her from the books that she wrote about Thaksin. I normally vote for Pheu Thai anyway. When Thaksin was PM, the economy was better. Now everything is so expensive, but our incomes remain the same. Also, I want a woman to be our prime minister too.” Supawee said.
Jessada Waenkaew, 41, an acrylic shop owner, feels the same. “The economy is bad. Inflation is high. Drug problems are worsening. It used to be better when Thai Rak Thai was in power. I hope they can do the same this time,” he says.
Despite what appear to be unwavering allegiances to parties over individual candidates, voters aren’t necessarily blind. Jessada also adds, “If they still can’t make anything better, I will change my vote.”
Read part III of the Campaign Trail series: A day in the life of Anuttama Amornvivat, a pretty face with the brains to back it up.