Official campaign begins for first general elections since Thai coup

 International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

Published: November 6, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand: Official campaigning began Wednesday for Thailand’s first general elections since then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in last year’s coup, with 18 parties fielding candidates for a contest expected to yield no overwhelming winner.

Many of the 480 seats in the lower house of Parliament are likely to be won by the Democrat Party and a new group comprised of Thaksin supporters, the People’s Power Party, but neither is expected to win an outright majority in the Dec. 23 balloting.

Traditionally the party that wins the largest number of seats is allowed to lead a coalition government with smaller parties.

The new government will face sagging economic confidence, a Muslim insurgency in the country’s deep south, and lingering divisions over Thaksin’s ouster in a bloodless coup in September last year following months of street protests. Thaksin, now living in exile, was accused of massive corruption and abuse of power.

A military-backed interim government has wielded power since the generals toppled Thaksin. But his populist policies continue to resonate among the poor in rural areas, where the People’s Power Party, lead by veteran rightist politician Samak Sundaravej, is likely to receive strong support.

Samak said he expects the party to capture more than 200 seats and would bring Thaksin back to Thailand “with full honor” — something the powerful military would strongly oppose.

The Democrats, also hoping to woo rural voters, have incorporated some of the ousted prime minister’s policies in their program.

“The Democrat Party has been working hard on its ‘people come first’ policy during the past year and we are getting a good response from the people nationwide,” party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said.

Abhisit declined to predict how many seats the Democrats, the country’s oldest party, would win but said he was ready to lead a coalition.

“The Democrat Party is giving priority to the well being of the people, regaining economic confidence and resolving the problem of southern Thailand, while the People’s Power Party gives priority to bringing back the previous regime,” Abhisit said.

Banharn Silpa-Archa, a former prime minister and leader of the Chart Thai party, which is expected to emerge third or fourth in the elections, said he would join a Democrat-led coalition.

Official campaign begins for first general elections since Thai coup – International Herald Tribune


Thai election campaign under way

BBC News

Wednesday, 7 November 2007, 04:56 GMT

Coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin

It is the first election since Gen Sonthi led last year’s military coup

Official campaigning is under way in Thailand for the country’s first general election since last year’s military coup.

Eighteen parties began registering candidates for the polls, which are due to take place on 23 December.

The two main blocs are the Democrat Party and the People’s Power Party, newly formed by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Neither party is expected to win an outright poll majority, analysts say.

Thailand’s military seized power from twice-elected Mr Thaksin in September last year, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.

A military-backed interim government has been in power ever since and martial law remains in place in a third of the country. The elections will return the country to civilian rule.

Coalition likely

Mr Thaksin has been living in exile mainly in the UK, where he owns Manchester City Football Club.

Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin was ousted from power in a coup last year

But support for him in Thailand remains strong, particularly in poor rural areas which benefited from populist policies such as cheaper health care.

His Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved by a military-backed tribunal earlier this year and many of his party’s lawmakers banned from politics.

But his allies have regrouped to form the People’s Power Party (PPP).

Leader Samak Sundaravej said he expected the PPP to win more than 200 seats in the 480-seat lower house and bring Mr Thaksin back “with full honour” – something resolutely opposed by the military.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, meanwhile, said his party was “getting a good response from people nationwide”.

“The Democrat Party is giving priority to the wellbeing of the people, regaining economic confidence and resolving the problem of southern Thailand, while the People’s Power Party gives priority to bringing back the previous regime,” he said.

Several smaller parties are also contesting the election, with a weak coalition government seen as a likely outcome.


  Thailand’s pre-election jostling

Nov 6th 2007
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

The polls may restore democracy but not stability

Thailand is scheduled to hold a general election on December 23rd, and the country’s political scene is heating up as political parties jostle for position ahead of the polls. Having been under the control of a military-appointed government since last year’s coup, Thailand could have a democratically elected government in place by early 2008. However, even if this occurs a swift return to political stability is unlikely.

The installation of an elected government could help to end the country’s recent period of political turmoil. However, such a benign outcome is by no means assured. Voting patterns in the recent referendum on the new constitution highlighted still deep and potentially disruptive divisions within society. Tension emanating from such divisions will inevitably build in the pre-election period.

Even assuming that the election goes ahead as scheduled and without any major disruption, the ensuing balance of political power is likely to create difficulties. The political scene is set to return to the era of weak coalition governments comprised of unruly factions that neither last a full term nor provide policy continuity and effectiveness.

The People’s Power Party (PPP) will be a potent force in the election–it has in effect become the successor of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, now that many former TRT members of parliament (MPs) have joined it. Although the TRT’s founder, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the coup in September 2006, is set to remain in exile at least until after the election, his tacit backing of the PPP ensures that it will fare well in the north and the populous north-east, where he remains popular. The PPP will also have a proven policy agenda as a selling point–its policy foundation is likely to be similar to that of the TRT when Thaksin was in office. The PPP may therefore be capable of mustering sufficient support in the new 480-member lower house to lead a coalition government after the election.

Opposing the PPP in the election will be the Democrat Party (DP), which could emerge with a large number of MPs, owing to its support in the south and from the middle class in the capital, Bangkok. However, the DP still appears to be out of touch with Thailand’s grassroots, and this undermines its potential to garner an overwhelming victory in the election.

Other than the PPP and the DP, there will be a clutch of smaller parties contesting the election. Their alignments have become fluid as the election has approached. Amid talk of mergers and alliances, a host of parties, some of which are breakaway factions of the TRT, are all currently battling for recognition as the leading “third choice”, but few offer any genuine alternative policy platforms to either the PPP or the DP. If these minor parties do pick up votes, it will be because of the personalities of their leaders, many of whom are veteran politicians. It is unlikely that the small parties will win sufficient seats to lead a coalition government, but they will play a major role in enabling either of the two main parties to build one.

Although the Council for National Security (CNS, the military body that launched the September 2006 coup) has pledged to ensure that the election will be free and fair, it is likely that it will attempt to keep Thaksin and his supporters out and will be in favour of a coalition government that excludes the PPP. Indeed, in late October the PPP leader, Samak Sundaravej, accused the military of having plans in place to denigrate him and stir up resistance to the return of a TRT clique.

The recent appointment of General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin to lead a panel tasked with preventing voter fraud in the next election has given the PPP further cause for concern that its candidates and supporters will not be treated fairly in the run-up to the election. General Sonthi stepped down from his post as chairman of the CNS on October 1st, the day of his mandatory retirement as the army’s commander-in-chief. He has since been appointed deputy prime minister in charge of internal security in the interim government. There also remains much speculation as to whether he will seek a leading political role after the election; some political parties have been receptive to the prospect of General Sonthi’s entry into the political arena. However, if the former junta leader aims for the prime minister’s post, he will run into public opposition, especially in Bangkok, resulting in a confrontation that could lead to turmoil and violence.

Whoever wins the election, the outcome is unlikely to put an end to the country’s political uncertainty. There could be another general election in 2008 or 2009, owing to the fragile basis of coalition politics and to the latent political instability resulting from the protracted struggle between Thaksin and his political opponents. Moreover, the new constitution may not yet be set in stone, as politicians on different sides are likely to compete for popularity by pledging to make the charter more supportive of democracy. However, elected politicians may struggle to push through constitutional amendments now that a greater degree of power rests in the hands of civil servants.

The military-appointed government has sternly rejected a proposal by the EU to send election observers to monitor the vote scheduled for December 23rd. Although this rejection is not expected to create any major diplomatic ruction between Thailand and the EU, the episode is another example of the current government’s opposition to any hint of foreign interference in its political affairs. Over the past year, the US government has maintained pressure on the CNS and the interim government to adhere to their pledges to restore democracy by the end of 2007, with some suggestion that Thailand’s status as a “major non-NATO ally” of the US, which was granted in late 2003, would be under threat if there were any slippage. Despite these signs of tension, relations between Thailand and its Western allies will return to a more even keel in 2008-09, assuming that the election goes ahead as planned.



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