Thailand looks set for "managed democracy"

Reuters

Sun 29 Jul 2007, 2:36 GMT

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Post-coup Thailand’s draft constitution looks set to pass a referendum next month, despite efforts by some academics and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to derail it.

Passage of the charter, the 18th in 75 years of on-off democracy, should then lead to elections in December and the return of democracy as promised by the army when it launched its coup against Thaksin in September last year.

What sort of democracy the new constitution creates remains to be seen.

Most politicians and analysts agree that it signals the end of strong, single-party government, and will instead usher in a return to the constantly collapsing coalitions that typified the 1990s.

Critics say politicians will also be suborned by the increased power of judges and bureaucrats, such as happened during the “managed democracy” of the 1980s under army chief Prem Tinsulanonda, now the king’s chief adviser and seen by the Thaksin camp as masterminding the September 19 coup.

For example, the Senate, which was previously fully elected, will instead have half its members appointed by a panel of bureaucrats and judges and will have the power to impeach the Prime Minister with a majority of two-thirds.

Many believe the generals who ousted Thaksin will, in some form or another, also remain in the fray well after the elections to ensure the exiled billionaire does not try to make a comeback.

“It is by now clear that if the referendum is passed and the bogus draft constitution brought into law, it will return Thailand to a 1980s model of elite-bureaucratic government under military guidance,” the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong-Kong based rights group, said.

MESSY OUTLOOK

Whatever the long-term political landscape, the immediate outlook after December’s scheduled poll is messy, especially after May’s dissolution of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and the barring of 111 of its executives from running for office for five years.

A senior member of a small party that was not disbanded said the election would be a “battle of nominees” in which suspended politicians sent their spouses, siblings or children to run on their behalf.

Weerasak Kowsurat, a deputy leader of the mid-sized Chart Thai party, said parties would keep their powder dry in December in the knowledge that the next parliament would be merely a “temporary bridge”.

The main agenda for the next government was likely to be reform of the charter, which was drawn up in haste by an army-appointed panel after the coup, a process that could take as long as two years, Weerasak said.

“There will be several bickering parties in a coalition with the only thing holding them together being their desire to amend the constitution,” Weerasak said

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