Thaksin’s ‘proxy’ poised for landslide

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Peter Alford, Bangkok | December 24, 2007

THAI voters have delivered a stunning vindication of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister the military overthrew 15 months ago on the grounds he was corrupt and a threat to democratic government.

Exit polls yesterday showed the People’s Power Party, overwhelmingly seen as a proxy for Mr Thaksin’s banned Thai Rak Thai, winning 256 seats in the480-member House of Representatives.

PPP leader Samak Sundarajev, who intends to bring Mr Thaksin back from exile to clear his reputation, is likely to become prime minister.

If the results follow the exit poll, this would be only the second time in Thailand’s coup-riddled history a party has achieved an absolute majority.

Mr Thaksin, 58, the first to achieve the milestone, was ousted in September last year after almost a year of controversy and protests against his business dealings and his government’s abuses of democratic process.

The Democrat Party, which the military-led interim Government hoped would form a coalition administration and a barrier to Mr Thaksin, has won 162 seats, according to the poll conducted by Thai news organisations.

The result leaves coup-maker General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, then the army chief and now Deputy Prime Minister in charge of internal affairs, in a difficult position.

While many senior military officers, disheartened by the clumsy interim administration, want to return to barracks, younger and politicised officers now claim a right to intervene whenever voters make an unsatisfactory choice.

However, there is strong support for Mr Thaksin and PPP in the ranks, especially in field units in the northeast and north. Mr Thaksin is expected to return to Thailand, from his exile in London and Hong Kong, in mid-February. The tycoon says he has no interest in returning to politics.

Mr Samak insisted yesterday Mr Thaksin would have no role in his administration, and that his responsibility was to answer the regime’s charges of corruption and malfeasance.

“He must come back to face the charges and he cannot touch any politics in the country because it is against the law.”

Having served as a minister five times, deputy prime minister three times and as Bangkok governor, Mr Samak bridled at suggestions he needed Mr Thaksin’s advice on governance.

“Now I am the one who holds the helm – I am the captain of this ship. Why must I consult another captain?”

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the choice was between him and a Thaksin proxy: “The electorate will pick either me or Mr Samak to take charge of the problems of the nation – if it is me I will take full responsibility.”

However, the election turned on the comparison of Mr Thaksin’s five years as prime minister and 15 months of military administration. For most voters the comparison was deeply unflattering to interim prime minister Surayud Chulanont and General Sonthi.

This hugely benefited Mr Samak, 72, a pugnacious right-winger who formed PPP after a regime-appointed constitutional tribunal in April ordered Thai Rak Thai be dissolved and 111 executives, including Mr Thaksin, be banned from politics for five years.

Incompetent administration, no obvious abatement of the institutional corruption that was a pretext for throwing him out, and bullying attempts to erase the former leader from the public mind, have shrivelled approval for the military intervention.

“I agreed with the coup at that time because the country was unstable and I thought the coup might stabilise it,” said lawyer Narongrit Songphrasit.

“But today I think we shouldn’t have had that coup because of the bad effect on the country and on the economy.”

“I think Mr Samak is a good man, he is here to help us,” said Chalaiyakorn Suwan, 20, a student of the generation that 15 months ago was jostling to garland young soldiers with flowers.

“The coup brought the country more chaos and for us, for my family who are market vendors, it was bad for business.”

These are people in Bangkok, where massive street protests against Mr Thaksin’s government created the climate for his removal. Most other Thais were confused or sullen onlookers.

Educated, politically discerning Bangkok claims the right to correct the nation’s bad political choices, according to apologists for Mr Thaksin’s overthrow.

But Bangkok has only 4.1million of the nation’s 45 million eligible voters. Thai Rak Thai drew overwhelming support from the hard-scrabble countryside of the northeast and north, whose voters number 23.6 million. There, Mr Thaksin’s welfare and development programs were hugely popular, in a country that has almost no institutional safety nets for its poor and sick.

The interim Government tried to remind Thais of the dark side of Mr Thaksin’s authoritarian populism. On Saturday, former chief prosecutor Kanit na Kakhon described the findings of his investigation of the former prime minister’s extraordinarily bloody “war on drugs” in 2003.

In three months 2921 people were killed. Police and soldiers shot at will and often, it seemed, at random. Many local scores were settled and some politically inconvenient people found themselves fatally labelled as drug traffickers.

But that seemed to matter little yesterday. Many PPP supporters ignore Mr Samak’s pretence that his party is more than a rebadged Thai Rak Thai.

“I like the Thaksin party,” says motorcycle taxi driver Jaran Sripraphai, 36. “For the ordinary people, Mr Thaksin helped the country and supported the people.

“I didn’t agree with the coup, but I’m just an ordinary person. I had no voice.”



  1. […] Analysis/Comment/News (11:32pm:) Some articles. SMH, The Australian, The Telegraph. The PPP numbers seems to go up and down. The latest it was 226. It is hard to say […]


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