Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva served as the keynote speaker in the recently concluded CALD Workshop on Building a Strategic Campaign Plan held in Bangkok Thailand on 11-15 March 2011.
Drawing attention to the fact that he just announced the dissolution of the Parliament and the holding of parliamentary elections on the same day the workshop started, the Thai Prime Minister pointed out that the venue and timing of the workshop could not have been more appropriate. In his speech, he emphasized the value of democratic institutions, particularly elections, in addressing instability. He said, "Once democratic institutions are in place, countries can address any problems, without having to deal with instability on a grand scale." Regarding the theme of the workshop, he emphasized that being in touch with the ordinary people's sentiments and needs is the "key to having an effective political campaign."
The appearance of the Prime Minister served as the highlight of the workshop, which hoped to: identify the strengths and weaknesses of CALD member parties in contesting elections; enhance the capacity of the workshop participants in making a strategic campaign plan; share best practices and lessons learnt regarding successful electoral contestation; and recognize how the CALD network can be used in capacity-building efforts and other activities which aim to increase the electoral chances of CALD member parties.
The workshop was divided into four sessions: fundraising; electoral database management and analysis; public opinion research; and message development, media relations and social media. Hon. Nataphol Teepsuwan, Director General of the Democrat Party of Thailand (DP), made the presentations on fundraising and electoral database management and analysis. On fundraising, Hon. Nataphol tackled the nature and objectives of Funds for the Development of Political Parties (FDP) provided by the Thai state, and how the DP makes use of it for its political activities. He noted, however, that these funds were never enough, so the party had to come up with other ways to raise money, such as having fund-raising dinners. Regarding electoral database management and analysis, Hon. Nataphol discussed the different components of the database, such as election scores, eligible voters, polls and assessment, and mapping program. He noted that "while this database may initially entail a lot of time and money to construct, once it is in place, it would prove to be a valuable electoral resource."
Public opinion research was the topic of the presentation of Dr. Pia Bennagen,-Raquedan, Senior Research Fellow of Pulse Asia, Inc. (Philippines). She discussed the informative and transformative roles of surveys in elections, as well as the conduct, challenges and impact of electoral surveys. She concluded by saying that while surveys are important in elections, they should not be the primary consideration in devising a campaign plan as there maybe more important factors that should also be put into the electoral equation.
Three resource persons discussed the topic of the fourth session on communications strategy, media relations and social media. Mr. Chang Li-ke, Deputy Director of the Department of Information of Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan (DPP), presented the campaign strategy of his party in the last 2010 special municipalities campaign. He made an interesting conclusion on the value of new media in Taiwan when he said, "Using new media to deliver information is attractive but weak. It successfully provided a sense of fashion; but the connection was not strong enough for supporters to commit to the party and the candidate."
Mr. Chang's presentation was followed by that of Mr. Ivanpal Singh Grewal, Special Officer to Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (PGRM). He started his presentation with some general pointers on campaign message, followed by a discussion on what constitutes a good message. He also drew attention to media relations, pointing out that, "Personal relationship between the party and the media is important to ensure that your message is not twisted or skewed for political reasons."
Social media, on the other hand, was discussed in greater detail by Mr. Kla Tangsuwan, Digital Marketing Director, Thoth Media Ltd. (Thailand). He said that, "With social media, we can create a powerful communication channel, build strong community from members, and make mass actions." Citing the case of Thailand as an example, he pointed out that social media facilitated not only communication among the Thai people but their political participation as well.
The last session gathered the participants in plenary and asked them for their insights on how member parties could tap the CALD network for electoral success. The open space methodology was employed in order to generate greater participation from all the participants. A number of proposals came up such as: creating a virtual academy; enhancing social media presence; assisting in grassroots organization; sharing of campaign techniques, promoting liberal ideology and the CALD brand, and mobilizing overseas organizations for elections.
Apart from the workshop on strategic campaign plan, CALD also organized the Strategic Planning Workshop on 12 March 2011 which aimed to discuss the vision, mission, objectives of of the CALD Academy, as well as the timeline for its institutionalization. A CALD Executive Committee was also held on 11 March 2011 to tackle the line-up of CALD activities for the year 2011, among other concerns.
When asked about his thoughts about the Bangkok events, CALD Chair Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, said, "For some reason, CALD always feels rejuvenated when we meet in Bangkok. The quality of the discussions that we had in the past days attests to the fact that CALD remains to be an important venue for analyzing issues of common concern among liberal democratic parties in the Asian region."