Specter of Thaksin haunts Thai poll debate


Tetsuya Tsuruhara and Norimasa Tahara / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents

In the lead-up to the December general election that is expected to return the country to civilian control, Thailand’s political world is likely to realign around two major blocs–one led by the People’s Power party that supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the other led by the Democrat Party, which campaigned for his ouster.

As an initial step in the transition, the military junta made clear its intention to withdraw from politics when it chose a successor to current leader and military Commander in Chief Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who is seen as a moderate and unlikely to interfere in the political process after the election.

This commitment helped accelerate the realignment of Thai politics, according to observers. However, the fact that the political realignment centers on Thaksin’s supporters and opponents suggests that the military interim government, which came to power in September last year in a coup, failed to reconcile public discord over the fate of the former prime minister.

While the People’s Power party, which unites former members of Thaksin’s now-disbanded Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, stands on one side of the realignment, the Democrat Party, which was formerly the largest opposition party and which spearheaded the campaign against Thaksin, stands on the the other.

After Thaksin was ousted, his supporters took over the then fringe People’s Power party, turning it into a leading party.

Thai Rak Thai leader Samak Sundravej, 72, told The Yomiuri Shimbun recently that he would follow Thaksin’s policies if he is elected prime minister.

As for the 111 former senior members of Thai Rak Thai, including Thaksin, who were barred from public office for five years by the Constitutional Tribunal in May, he pledged to give them a pardon.

But he said the former prime minister would not return to the political world, saying Thaksin simply wanted to prove his innocence in court after facing charges including abuse of power.


Photo: Google

Samak was confident of his party’s victory in the general election set for Dec. 23–a bullishness that flows from a national referendum on a new Constitution in August, in which more than 40 percent of voters nationwide and 60 percent of residents in northeast Thailand, the party’s stronghold, voted against it.

Since his party also opposed the new Constitution, Samak said that the “no” votes represent support for his party and Thaksin.

He was critical of a recent move to form a third group centering on former non-mainstream members from Thai Rak Thai.

“They’ve broken away from Thaksin, but they plan to contest seats in the region where Thaksin has his political base. It won’t be easy for them to win [a seat],” he said.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 43, gives some credit to the interim government, saying Thailand’s standing in the world has recovered after the government formulated the new Constitution and fixed the date for the general election that will pave the way for a civilian administration.

However, he also expressed dissatisfaction, saying, “Judicial moves to prosecute corruption charges against former members of the Thaksin regime have been unduly delayed.”

Regarding the strategy of the People’s Power party, Abhisit would only say that he planned to carefully monitor the situation, but implied he was hopeful of competing strongly with the People’s Power party if developments went the right way between now and the general election, due to take place in three months.

“We have criticized the former Thaksin regime as well as the military junta, which failed to manage the economy after the coup. First, it’s necessary to make the military withdraw from politics and restore democracy,” Abhisit said.

“If I become the prime minister, I will solidify the foundations of democracy, namely basic human rights, press freedom and the rule of law,” Abhisit added.


Photo: Pantip.com

Samak and Abhisit are the leading candidates to be the next prime minister at this stage. The military junta expects that their withdrawal from politics will not be followed by turbulence if the anti-Thaksin Abhisit takes power and adopts a gradual approach relying on the bureaucratic apparatus. But if the pro-Thaksin Samak becomes premier, then the political comeback of his mentor may also be in sight, even if Samak denies such a possibility.

If Samak takes power, the relationship between government and military could soon be just as strained as it was on the eve of the coup.

(Sep. 19, 2007)



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