Analysis: On the road back to democracy in Thailand?

The PPP will have to come to terms with a powerful military establishment that may intervene in the political process without consulting the civilian government.

By DR. ISAAC KFIR
December 24, 2007 21:10
2 minute read.
Analysis: On the road back to democracy in Thailand?

soldier thailand 298 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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It appears that the People Power (Palang Prachachon) Party (PPP) has won the elections in Thailand, suggesting that after 15 months of military rule Thailand is on the road back to democracy. On September 19, 2006, Thailand experienced its eighteenth coup in 75 years. The reasons for the coup were two-fold: concerns over Thaksin policies in relation to the military (he appointed a number of close allies to high-ranking positions) and his perceived authoritarianism, which rubbed the Bangkok elite the wrong way. Seven key parties contested the elections, with the PPP winning the lion's-share of the seats in the 480-seat House of Representatives , which means that unless the Election Commission finds too many electoral abuses, it will be asked to form a government. The other two major parties are the Democratic Party (led by Oxford educated Abhisit Vejjajiva) and Thai Nation (Chart Thai), led by former Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-Archa. The Democrats received support from the Bangkok area, the military and the South, where a bloody insurgency is raging. The turnout for the Democrats included some strange bedfellows, garnering support both from the military and intelligentsia, as well as Southern opponents of the military's crackdown on the insurgency. Thaksin has been living in exile since the coup, mainly in Britain, where he recently purchased Manchester City FC for over £80 million. He and several of his family members face charges of corruption, as well as a tax-evasion investigation regarding the sale of Shin Corporation to Singapore's Temasek Holdings for $1.9 billion. Should Thaksin wish to return to politics he would need to reverse a May 2007 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal that banned him and 110 Thai Rak Thai (TRT) officials from politics for five years, (the Tribunal also dissolved the TRT for manipulating the electoral process). The PPP will have to come to terms with a powerful military establishment that under the Internal Security Act may intervene in the political process without consulting the civilian government. The PPP draws the majority of its support from Thailand's poor, especially rural voters, who comprise 80% of the Thai electorate. The party campaigned on promises to revitalize the Thai economy, where economic growth is set to fall from 5.1% in 2006 to around 4%, the lowest rate in six years. PPP leader Samak Sundaravej has suggested that he plans to provide an amnesty to Thaksin and those TRT officials banned by the Tribunal. This is likely to upset the military (which led the September 19 coup) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who tacitly supported the coup and the Bangkok power elite fearful of Thaksin's popularity. There is some concern that the military will prevent the PPP, which has 30 days to form a government, from doing so. The coming days will determine whether Thailand is headed for stability or further insecurity. Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

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