Thai poll flags spirit of Thaksin

The Age

Connie Levett, Bangkok
December 23, 2007

Thai security officers in Bangkok stand gard during the final checks of ballot boxes prior to the general election.

Thai security officers in Bangkok stand gard during the final checks of ballot boxes prior to the general election.
Photo: AFP

THE silvery moon hanging over the last big political rally of the Thai election campaign was emblazoned with a big heart containing a familiar face — that of exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — in seeming defiance of election laws.

Under the silvery moon balloon, mingling in the crowd of 50,000 who came to the People Power Party rally, were a troupe of supporters in realistic rubber Thaksin masks with “our very dearest squarehead” slogans on their T-shirts. Thaksin is nicknamed TV-head for the rectangular shape of his noggin.

His caretaker government was brought down by a military coup on September 19, 2006, amid allegations of corruption and disrespect for the monarchy. Thaksin and 110 of his party faithful were banned from politics for five years. He cannot campaign or be used by others who campaign in this election.

But in five hours of fiery political rhetoric in the heart of Bangkok on Friday night, you would never have known it.

“It’s time for Thaksin to return home,” a People Power Party speaker told the largely working-class crowd. They roared their approval. The People Power Party is a proxy party set up by Samak Sundaravej at Thaksin’s request and looks set to win the largest block of seats in today’s election.

Fifteen months ago, Thaksin’s supporters had to pay people to show up for rallies and his astrologer told him to “zip his mouth” for a while.

This week, the monk told the Thai press things were looking up. “People Power Party will have more than half of the MP seats (250-300) and Samak will be a prime minister 1 million per cent.”

On the other side of town, the rival Democrats had their final rally, with fewer than 5000 attending.

“This Sunday’s election is not just about the junta and Thaksin. Thais cast their ballots this Sunday for the future of the country,” leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said, according to the Bangkok Post.

“Thai people have learned the lesson of old politics. This Sunday we have to bring a major change to restore peace in the country.”

Mr Abhisit narrowly escaped serious injury when he was involved in a freeway accident at the start of the week. His back-up vehicle broke down the next morning. Not a good sign for a man under pressure in Bangkok, which should be the heart of his liberal middle-class power base.

Thais are anxiously watching the military, which sees Thaksin as a bitter foe and does not want his proxy party to take power in its own right or in a coalition.

“Whether they succeed will depend on the margin of victory,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “If the PPP has a 50-seat majority, how can you deny them?”

To prolonged applause, PPP speaker Chalerm Yoobamrung told the crowd: “Thaksin will come back on February 14, because that is the day we will form government. It is Valentine’s Day.”

Oh silvery moon.

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