Chuvit on the streets

In the clutter of posters now on Bangkok streets, two campaigns stand out as different and distinctive: the “Don’t let animals into parliament” campaign for a no vote; and Chuvit, because of his unique pitch and because of his posters’ visual excitement.

Two preliminaries.

After a misspent youth, Chuvit Kamolvisit took a degree in business management in the US, and then applied two basic principles of modern mass marketing to retailing sex. First, he created megastores, selling various products (karaoke, massage, etc) on a large scale. Second he invested in standout advertising, featuring massive blowups of blonde women. It made him very rich. He uses the same professional approach to presenting himself in politics.

Yak or yaksa are legendary giants or monsters that appear in dance dramas and as wat guardians. In a typical dance pose they stand with knees crooked, often stamping alternate feet, glaring at the audience, perhaps with teeth bared. People think Chuvit looks like a yak. Perhaps it’s the square face. He exaggerates his yak look by baring his teeth and staring fiercely at the viewer. Yak are fierce but protective rather than threatening.

Alone among all the hopefuls on the street, Chuvit is not aiming to become part of government and is not offering policies. His unique pitch is “Please let me be in opposition.”

Chuvit heads a list of eleven candidates for the Rak prathet thai party (which he curiously semi-translates as the Rak Thailand Party). Almost nobody knows or cares who is number two on the list. In earlier elections, a party had to win 5 percent of votes cast to win seats on the party list. That cut-off has been removed. He will need about 250,000 votes to get in. Early polls suggest he might make it.

Chuvit understands first mover advantage. He was one of the first parties to have posters up on the streets in Bangkok. Indeed he had them printed before he even had his candidate number. He pasted the number 5 onto the posters later (see top left on first shot below).

Almost all his early posters are still standing. With very heavy rains in the past week, many posters have been destroyed, especially those made with the cheaper material (rubberized sheet as against polystyrene board). For instance, virtually all of Purachai’s first run have disappeared. I wondered how Chuvit’s had survived. Simple. His have two to three times the number of staples fixing the sheet to the frame. Experience.

Unlike all the other faces on the street, Chuvit leaps out of the poster and grabs us by the throat. He has more animation than all of the rest put together. Partly that is a result of production quality. The photos are well lit. The printing is full color and high resolution. He looks real, not a 2-D cutout.

But partly it’s because Chuvit is radiating emotion like a sun. He’s upset. He’s angry. He’s concerned. He grimaces. His head aches. His skin shines from the sweat oozing out of his pores. In the first (and best) of the poster series, his hand holds his aching head, and his lip lifts slightly to show a yak’s tooth. In another, he points at us while his wide, appalled eyes alert us to danger. In another he holds his head in both hands and looks as if he might throw up. Unlike all the other candidates who are lined up along the street like a parade of dolls, Chuvit cares.

He cares about corruption. He has admitted giving the police cartloads of money when he was running his sex business, so he qualifies as some kind of expert in this area.

In his first wave of posters, he took the unique pose of the anti-politician politician. One read: “Bored with politics but… have to vote. Let me be in opposition to fight corruption.” Another: “When politicians use the word ‘honest’ how can the people be happy? Let me be in the opposition.”

In the second wave, he introduced a prop, a car’s steering wheel detached from the steering column and looking like a spare from a breaker’s yard. The posters are themed on steering the car of state in the right direction. One reads: “Not left nor right but straight(forward). Drive Thailand ahead.” Another simply has Chuvit holding his steering wheel with the simple pitch: “Choose Chuvit as opposition to fight corruption.”

Another appears in three slight variants, perhaps because the first versions did not quite work. “Where are you going? Government+Interest.” “Getting lost again. Policy+Interest of political parties.” “Said already, don’t turn back. Policy+Conflict of Interest.”

In the last couple of days, a third wave has started. The steering wheel has disappeared and Chuvit is no longer frantic with worry but solid and serious (and more yak-like than ever). The copy reads: “If you love Thailand, wrong is wrong and right is right. Clear ideology. Straightforward. Choose Chuvit in every constituency nationwide.” This poster does not have his pitch about joining the opposition. Is he becoming more ambitious?

Also in the last few days, a poster has appeared with no picture of Chuvit and all the copy in English. So far I’ve seen it only along Sukumwit. It’s difficult to guess what is the point of this.

Chuvit is spending quite a bit of money on this campaign. In three areas of Bangkok I visited, he has as many posters as the major parties. I drove 200 kms out of Bangkok last week, and there were sporadic clusters of his posters along the highway.

About Chris Baker, Guest Contributor