The party is over

Economist.com

May 31st 2007 | BANGKOK
From Economist.com

Thailand takes a step away from democracy and freedom

Reuters

THE nine judges of Thailand’s Constitutional Tribunal took ten hours
to outline in a marathon session, televised live on May 30th, the
electoral-fraud cases against the country’s two main political parties
(and several small ones). They explained in elaborate detail why Thai
Rak Thai (TRT), the largest, was being disbanded, whereas its main
opponent, the Democrat party, was cleared of all charges. However, the
elegance of their legal arguments may be lost on millions of Thais.
They gave TRT sweeping election victories in 2001 and 2005 and probably
still support the party and its leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. As voters
may see it, the country’s most popular party has been destroyed by a
court set up by the military junta that seized power last year,
claiming to be rescuing democracy.

A week before the tribunal’s rulings, Thailand’s revered King
Bhumibol intervened, giving warning that his realm was “close to
sinking” and noting that “political parties must exist”. This raised
hopes that the tribunal would stop short of dissolving either main
party, and punish only individual politicians. Those hopes have been
dashed.

After the coup, the junta, led by the army chief, General Sonthi
Boonyaratglin, replaced the Constitutional Court with a new tribunal,
whose judges it selected, and told it to pursue the electoral-fraud
cases. The junta also appointed an interim government of old soldiers
and bureaucrats; and created a temporary parliament and another
unelected body to write a new constitution. The generals also set up
investigations into the allegations of corruption and abuse of power by
the Thaksin administration, while their interim government sought to
borrow some of its policies, such as cheap health care and development
funds for rural villages, which had made “Thaksinomics” so popular.

However, although the corruption investigations have unearthed
enough evidence to press charges, they failed to find enough of a
“smoking gun” to wreck Mr Thaksin’s reputation irreparably. Meanwhile,
the interim government has dithered and bungled, dragging down the
economy and making Thaksinomics, for all its other flaws, look good.
And Mr Thaksin, through a series of stunts such as bidding for
Britain’s Manchester City football club, has ensured he is not
forgotten.

This week’s judgment would appear to eliminate TRT and prevent any
comeback by Mr Thaksin and his henchmen. But the generals are far from
being in the clear. Lesser figures in TRT may regroup and find ways to
recapture the party’s millions of votes, in the elections the junta
promises to hold by the year’s end.

That is if things get that far. The junta’s constitution-writing
body has already backtracked on several undemocratic clauses it tried
to slip into the new charter, such as permitting an unelected prime
minister and allowing for a “crisis council”, including military
chiefs, to step in and solve political conflicts. But other unpopular
provisions—such as having the Senate appointed by judges and
bureaucrats rather than elected—remain in the draft. So voters, angry
at the destruction of the party many support, may reject the proposed
charter in the referendum the junta is promising to hold. The
mobilisation of police and soldiers ordered by the jumpy generals to
head off protests, and their censorship of pro-Thaksin websites and
radio stations, may not be enough to prevent rising popular unrest
against the regime, despite Mr Thaksin’s call on his supporters to
accept the verdict.

Local newspapers had quoted one of the nine judges as saying they
would “apply the spirit” of the coup-makers in making their rulings.
This, plus the severity of the punishment meted out to Mr Thaksin and
his party, and the absolution of the Democrats, will only raise
suspicions that the destruction of TRT was a pre-determined outcome.
Hopes of a peaceful move back to democracy have dimmed.


former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has urged his supporters
to accept the disbanding of his party and a five-year political ban on
its top leadership. “As party leader, I humbly accept the ruling and I
want to urge the CNS and government to…

former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been banned from
politics for five years. The ban also extends to the entire 111-member
executive committee of his Thai Rak Thai party. The Constitutional
Tribunal in Thailand gave its verdicts on…


democracy faced more uncertainty Thursday after a constitutional court
shut down the political party of former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra and barred him and 110 other party executives from politics
for five years. The ruling late Wednesday night…


Exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra urged his stunned
supporters on Thursday to accept the dissolution of their party and the
political banishment of its leaders which threaten more turmoil. Mr.
Thaksin, in a statement read by his…


were banned from contesting promised elections later this year.
Threatened protests by supporters of ex-prime minister Thaksin
Shinawatra prompted authorities to set up new checkpoints and ramp up
other security measures, army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin…


former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has urged his supporters
to accept the disbanding of his party and a five-year political ban on
its top leadership. “As party leader, I humbly accept the ruling and I
want to urge the CNS and government to…


years • Thai court disbands Thai Rak Thai Party BANGKOK, Thailand (AP)
— Supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra planned
to protest Thursday over a stunning court ruling that banned his party
and barred 110 of its executives…


charges. Thai Rak Thai leaders have condemned the outcome as unfair but
urged people to accept it. The party’s founder, Thaksin Shinawatra –
who was prime minister until he was ousted in a coup last September –
urged “everyone to stay calm and don’t make…


leading constitutional judges ruled to disband the hugely popular Thai
Rak Thai party, once led by ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Thaksin has also been punished for his role in electoral fraud
allegations in last year’s general election and…

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