Defiant Thaksin party vows to fight on

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Defiant Thaksin party vows to fight on

By Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

Published: June 1 2007 00:47 | Last updated: June 1 2007 00:47

Defiant
politicians from Thailand’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party,
founded by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said on Thursday
they would seek to re-register the party so it could compete in
forthcoming polls, in spite of a military tribunal ruling that
dissolved it and barred its leaders from politics.

Despite fears
of violent protests, Bangkok appeared calm yesterday, with tight
security around the city. Privately, many Thais expressed anger at what
they saw as a highly politicised decision to dissolve a party that
revolutionised Thai politics by aggressively wooing the rural poor
while antagonised traditional elites and affluent urban voters.

Chaturon
Chaiseng, acting party leader since the September coup that ousted Mr
Thaksin, said he was dismayed at a verdict that imp­licitly endorsed
the army’s seizure of power. “We don’t believe that we received
justice,” he said at his party headquarters, where loyalists were
holding crisis talks.

In its verdict on Wednesday, the tribunal
convicted the party of electoral fraud, claiming that it “used
parliamentary elections only as a means to achieve totalitarian power”.

Mr Chaturon, one of those now banned from active politics, said
Thai Rak Thai loyalists remained determined to capitalise on their
established brand and press ahead with the struggle to modernise and
develop the country.

“We will register a new party and we intend
to use the same name,” he said. “We are in a most difficult situation
but we believe – all of us here – that the ideology and policies of
Thai Rak Thai are still accepted by the Thai people.”

From his
London exile, Mr Thaksin, in a handwritten note read out by his lawyer,
expressed his regret at the party’s dissolution and urged his loyalists
to carry on their battle. Meanwhile, independent analysts expressed
concern that the verdict would intensify Thailand’s political
polarisation and in effect disenfranchise millions of Thai Rak Thai
supporters.

“The court has tried to finish the job, which was
half done by the coup d’état,” said Giles Ungkpakorn, a Chulalongkorn
University political scientist and outspoken critic of the coup.

“It
shouldn’t be judges to decide whether a party is trustworthy or not; it
should be the electorate to decide whether a party is trustworthy or
not . . . Dissolving the parties is not the answer.”

The forced
break-up of Thai Rak Thai paves the way for a radical shake-up of Thai
politics ahead of elections that the military has promised for
December. The opposition Democrat party will receive what Thitinan
Pongsudhirak, the director of Bangkok’s Institute for Strategic and
International Studies, called an “undeserved windfall”. But he also
warned of dangers ahead if parties were to neglect the interests of the
rural poor.

“Thai Rak Thai constituents have been left out in the
cold here,” he said. “For the time being, [the military] is suppressing
dissent, rumblings and tensions by force, intimidation and crude
threats, but you can only go so far with that. If you don’t address the
needs and the grievances of people in the way that Thai Rak Thai did,
you’ll be asking for trouble.”

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