Thais expect democracy after December polls

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Thais expect democracy after December polls

Associated Press

Thursday, December 20, 2007 (Bangkok)

More than a year after Thailand experienced its eighteenth coup, Thais are now hopeful that their country is steering back toward democracy, as a general election will be held on 23 December 2007.

Posters of election contestants have been put out on every street and election campaigns and rallies have been held across the country.
But many Thais are still sceptical whether the election will immediately bring back stability to the country and whether the coming voting will genuinely represent their voices.

”To the extent that people will cast their votes, yes it’s a return to the democratic rule, but what kind of democracy? It’s a different story,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, said.
”We will have a democratic rule, but we will have democracy under the guardianship, under the custody of the establishment of the ruling elites who have taken power after the coup,” he added.

A military coup led by General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin unseated Thaksin, a business tycoon turned politician, in September 2006 after months of public protests against him.

It has been a year of turbulence for Thaksin who now lives in exile in London, barred from politics and facing several pending corruption charges against him.
The election will fulfil the army’s promise to return the country to democracy after a year of the army-backed government led by the interim Prime Minister General Surayud Chulanont.

General Sondhi stressed that they are not a dictatorship.
”We had to handle the scenario back then, which the people knew well what was happening. So, the coup was a way for us to resolve a crisis in the country. Soldiers came out and helped resolving the crisis,” General Sondhi said in a recent interview.
”We had transferred power to the current government, which is a legitimate government to run the country. It’s been over a year that the people saw how the government and things developed. Now they can decide by themselves,” General Sondhi added.

As the name of deposed Thaksin still loomed large, particularly in Thailand’s north and northeast, his stronghold, a rumour of the military staging another coup if People Power Party (PPP), a proxy of Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, won the election, further deepened pessimism.

Political scientist Thitinan expects the generals to pressure other parties to back the Democrat Party, the main Thaksin opponents, to lead the coalition.
But many opinion polls predict that the pro-Thaksin PPP will win more than 200 seats in the 480-seat legislature, mainly from the north and northeast where his populist policy won hearts of the poor.

If no party wins a majority, the Thaksin grouping will vie with the Democrat Party, expected to finish second, to line up enough support from smaller parties to form a majority and name the next prime minister.

Whether Thaksin would return to Thailand remains unclear.
Corruption charges were filed against him after the coup, and he said he would not return until democracy was restored.

Now, he could be hoping the new party will be strong enough to shield him from prosecution.

No matter what the result yields, there are fears that more protests and instability will return to streets after the election.

Thitinan said the coup option is still very much on the table.
Whoever leads the coalition, analysts predicted the new government to be short-lived.

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