Social media's sway on elections in Thailand 'growing'

Supporters of Merkel hold up placards during election campaign rally in Seligenstadt.

Social media is not a vital factor in winning an election, but political parties should not ignore its importance, a seminar in Bangkok was told yesterday.

Klaus Schuler, chairperson of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent election campaign, shared his experiences with local politically minded groups. He said election campaigning via traditional media was the main reason behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's latest victory, not social media.

However, social media helped the party gain votes from young and first-time voters, he said. According to Schuler, in 2009, 4.2 million Germans used Facebook - but the number increased to 25.3 million in 2013. So his party paid more attention to campaigning through social media.

However, one-third of German voters are more than 60 years old, and they generally were not familiar with social media; so his party's strategy was to use different media tools.

"The important thing is when you want to convey a message we use the successful 'KISS' rule, which is 'Keep It Simple and Short'," Schuler said.

The seminar, titled "The usage of social media in political participation", was co-organised by the Office of Women's Affairs & Family Development, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Office of the Election Commission, and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Thailand.

Oliver Roseler, the CDU's head of marketing and Merkel's campaign manager, said that in the digital-campaign area, he used social media to get people to feel closer to the chancellor, and to make her seem more approachable.

Part of his approach was to send pictures, and to come up with an interesting application for people to boost awareness.

"However, person-to-person campaigning is still the most important [tool]," he said.

Rachada Dhnadirek, a Thai MP from the opposition Democrat Party, said social media helped decrease the chances of defeat, and it allowed politicians to understand their target groups.

Ratchada said the context in social media need not always be serious; rather, it should gain people's attention.

Politicians could put their feet inside the shoes of social media and use it for the betterment of the Thai community, but they should not use it to boost themselves.

Jarupan Kuldiloke, a Pheu Thai MP, said social media was a good instrument for politics because it brought politicians and people closer together, and it helped politicians to understand people's opinions. She added that it would be a great help in election campaigns.