Stickman Readers' Submissions May 3rd, 2006

Political Turmoil in Thailand

By Tom Lloyd, political commentator

On the 2nd of April an election was held in Thailand as a response to months of demonstrations against Prime Minister Taksin, demanding his resignation.

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There had been growing unrest about Taksin's style of governing the country and the sale of his flagship Shin Corporation to Singapore was the final straw to his opponents. He gained US$1.9 billion from the sale and managed to pay no taxes, using legal loopholes available to him.

The demonstrations, mostly in Bangkok were organized by Mr. Sondhi and Major General Chamlong, former allies to Taksin, who subsequently were disillusioned with his CEO style of leadership and continuing cronyism and corruption.

The always peaceful demonstrations were against the Prime Minister only; there were no demands for overthrowing the Government. In fact, the Government still had 3 years of it’s tenure to run, so, had the Prime Minister resigned, there would have been no political crisis, the elected Parliament would have just continued to function with another leader chosen by the TRT party.

Mr. Taksin, for reasons I’m going to discuss later on in the article, had decided that he will not buckle under pressure and resign, instead he decided to dissolve Parliament and seek a new election and obtain a new mandate from the electorate. The TRT party, in their wisdom and showing “loyalty to their leader “, decided to go along with this farce. And a farce it was, since the opposition unitedly decided not to take part in a “Claytons” election, one that the country did not have to have.

So the election went ahead and 16 million voters (mostly from the North and Northeast) had voted TRT, thus re-electing the previous Government, who were unopposed at the polls. It must be mentioned that 10 million voters cast “no votes” plus an estimated 1 to 2 million ballots were purposely damaged to register a huge protest about the whole event.

Following the “election”, when the results were announced and after conferring with His Majesty, the King; Taksin went on TV and announced that despite 16 million people wanting him to continue as PM, he decided not to seek the premiership, for the sake of the unity of the country and to ensure the proper celebration of His Majesty, the King’s 60th anniversary on the Throne in June.

He stated that he’ll remain caretaker Prime Minister until Parliament reconvenes and elects a new PM.

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He also said, that he’ll remain party leader and member of Parliament. The following day, he also announced that he wants to take a holiday and hand over his role temporarily to Chadchai, the Deputy caretaker PM.

It is important to make a point here, that never during this period has he uttered the words “I resign”.

To compound the political mess, it was revealed by the Electoral Commission, that in 38 electorates, some in Bangkok and some in the South, the required 20% majority of votes were not achieved by TRT candidates, so a rerun will now take place on the 23rd April. Since the opposition parties still boycott these reruns, it’s likely that TRT representatives will be elected in seats where they certainly do not represent the electorate. I’m certain that 20% will be achieved there by turning a few people around through inducements.

Should the reruns produce the full compliment of 400 “elected” MPs, we’ll have a Parliament in name only, since no opposition is represented, it will not be a true democratic institution. In this scenario, should the Government decide to clamp down on renewed protests, they’ll have no checks and balances to scrutinize their actions.

None of this had to happen, if Mr. Taksin had acted in a statesmanlike manner and resigned or the TRT would have rolled him. This kind of internal party replacements of leaders happen all the time in Australian politics, either to Prime Ministers or opposition party leaders, when their parties realize that they no longer have the confidence of the people or their own party.

The TRT had proved that they are a bunch of individuals beholden to the PM, instead of a cohesive party founded on principals. The Democrats and other minor parties had nothing to lose by boycotting the elections, in their opinion, had they participated, they would have only legitimized Taksin's return for another term. The opposition now demands reforms to the electoral laws to make checks and balances more effective and then new elections.

It is going to be very difficult to get to this point as long as Mr. Taksin is still TRT party leader and an MP. Now I return to the reasons for his intransigence of not resigning.

Mr. Taksin could not resign before the election, as it provided him with a face saving solution. He is a man used to getting his way in his business empire and during the 5 years of his premiership he often demonstrated arrogance and superiority. Also because of his vast wealth, he was able to get around rules which would have stopped a lesser individual. Even at the time of his first election, when he was investigated by the high court judges about his declaration of finances, he won the case when one of the judges made a 180 degree turnabout to side with him, thus winning his case by 4 votes to 3.

During his tenure he made some decisions about the war on drugs and combating of insurgency in the south, which were highly irregular to say the least. At times he tended to get into micromanaging events because he said only his involvement will bring results.

The election ensures him the ability to pick his successor and thereby keeping his hands on the controls, without being the front man. He needs to be involved to ensure that no investigations take place about the many events he presided over during his reign, least of all his finances. He is also in position to make a come back, as he can claim he had not been disgraced into resigning.

The sad thing about all this is, that many people, including myself had great hopes of Mr. Taksin being a fresh wind in the new politics of Thailand, he promised so much, but in the end delivered a polarized society, where his legacy will be as the Great Divider. He had stated repeatedly, that the voters backing him will get preferential treatment when allocating state funded programs. In other words, he was first and foremost Prime Minister for his backers and anyone else came a poor second. He had populist policies, which were targeting the rural poor and impoverished farmers, the 30 baht health scheme, the OTOP strategy to organize village handicrafts to be better produced and marketed, debt relief for farmers, etc, all were attempts to address problems that were neglected by previous administrations. Little did we realize, that these programs were not for the right reasons, they were serving his ends to beholden the large rural populations for his electoral schemes. Other programs were also addressing the drug problem, albeit in the end only produced marginal solutions, unexplained deaths and no big operators arrested. Mega projects were approved, giving the opportunity to people in the know to reap huge benefits.

It seems to me that “Thaksinomics” would propel the country towards a Singapore style political system, whereby a virtual one party system guarantees an electorate, too docile to rock the boat.

Unfortunately for Mr. Taksin, the more informed Bangkok middle classes together with academics saw through this scheme and want no part of it.

At the moment there is a stalemate in the game, the country is in limbo politically and in this situation the opposing forces are just taking a breather, before a showdown.

In order for Thailand to become a true democracy, the political system needs a total overhaul.

New emerging parties must be established clearly formulating their agendas, manifestos and stating which section of society they represent. A party without an ideology is just a bunch of individuals banded together to ensure their elections to positions of personal power. They represent themselves only. This is the situation now, not good enough for the Thai people, they deserve better. The situation must be changed that does not allow money and influence to highjack social justice, the only way forward is to unshackle the rural masses, who at the moment sell their future for a pittance. Education and social programs are needed to give the country folk the tools to understand that better political processes will uplift them from their obligations to their “benefactors”.

Some of the bright young Thai students with social consciences, many of whom are studying abroad, including Australia, can learn the basis of democracy as it’s practiced by western countries and hopefully on their return to Thailand they will be active in promulgating change.

In the meantime the struggle is on for the spoils back in Thailand, lets hope it does not get violent.

Stickman's thoughts:

No comments because politics bores me senseless.

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