Thailand braces itself for a leap into the political unknown


Thailand is braced for a leap into
the unknown this week as a court decides whether to disband the
country’s top two parties and ban their leaders from politics for
breaching election laws.

Fears are widespread the verdicts on Wednesday may escalate the coup-prone nation’s political uncertainty into chaos.

Those fears were laid out starkly by King Bhumibol Adulyadej when he
summoned top judges to warn them whatever decisions the Constitutional
Tribunal made would upset somebody.

“Whatever the verdict will
be, it will bring damage to the country. Whatever direction it will
take, it will be erroneous,” he said in a 15-minute speech to the

The words of the monarch, who is genuinely revered,
prompted the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party of ousted Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Democrat Party to promise

“There will be people who are unhappy with the
verdicts and will protest on the street, but I don’t think there will
be hundreds of thousands,” Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said.

But Surayud shortened a trip to China to be ready to handle the outcome
of the verdicts, armed with an emergency decree empowering him to
deploy troops on the streets and impose curfews.

The army has soldiers and tanks ready for action as the media count down to what they call “Judgement Day”.

Akaratorn Chularat, one of the nine members of the Constitutional
Tribunal, said the king’s speech would not sway its decisions, but
refused to say more despite media commentators coming up with as many
as seven possible verdicts.

Everyone is waiting anxiously in the dark.

“You should ask fortune tellers or parrots,” said economist Pasuk
Phongpaichit, an author of several books on Thailand, when asked what
the mostly likely outcome was.

Thaksin, who is living in exile
in London and making frequent protestations he is done with the pursuit
of office to general disbelief back home, and other top politicians
could be banned from politics for five years.

Few doubt that
the generals, who say they staged last September’s coup to prevent a
bloodbath as a street campaign against Thaksin mounted, want him out of
politics ahead of a general election Surayud has promised in December.

However, banning the telecommunications billionaire would outrage the
millions of people in the countryside who gave him two election
landslide victories and still see him as the only politician who really
cares about them.

Many analysts believe the generals want that
verdict to complete their coup against Thaksin, whom they accused of
abuse of power and presiding over rampant corruption, charges he

If Thai Rak Thai were not disbanded, the justification for ousting Thaksin would be undermined, they say.

About 170 members of the executive committees of Thai Rak Thai and the
Democrats face five-year bans from politics, if the tribunal rules that
both parties violated election laws in an inconclusive general election
last year which was annulled later.

If they are removed from
the political area, the question is who would emerge from the elections
as Thailand’s new leadership, assuming they happen with opposition
widespread to a new draft constitution due to go to a referendum in

Speculation has focussed on a trio of aged former prime ministers with less than stellar reputations.

“Basically, elections would be meaningless without those politicians,”
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, one of those who could be barred.

Independent political analyst Prayad Hongtongkhum said hopes now rested
on the Constitutional Tribunal banning a relatively small number of
individuals and leaving the parties intact.

“Just imagine,
Thailand without those politicians, many of whom have served the
country for years, how badly the nation will be battered” if all 170
were banned, he said.



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