Thailand experiences political chaos in 2008

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2008-12-28 11:21:29

by Shen Min

    BANGKOK, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) — With the usher-in of a new Democrat Party-led government on Dec. 21, 2008, Thailand’s political process, which has gone through a three-year nightmare of struggles and battles, seemed to have seen a short break and it will take time for the new government to restore its tourism business, export industries and reputation wrecked by the political chaos.

    The struggles between “old clique” loyal to ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the long-time anti-Thaksin group People’ Alliance for Democracy (PAD) brought about frequent changes of the Thai government in 2008.

    The People Power Party (PPP), seen as a reincarnation of the disbanded Thaksin-founded Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, won the first post-coup general election in December 2007 and formed a six-party coalition government led by Premier Samak Sundaravej.

    Calling the Samak government a proxy of Thaksin, the PAD had kept on organizing mass rallies and demonstrations since May, which came to the climax on August 26 when PAD supporters seized the Government House, forcing the Samak cabinet to work in offices outside the House.

    On Sept. 9, the Constitutional Court reached a verdict which disqualified Samak as premier for his “unconstitutional acts” by hosting a TV cooking show while in office

    However, then PPP deputy leader Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was elected later to succeed Samak as prime minister and formed a new government.

    The Somchai government intended to amend the post-coup Constitution 2007, which was drafted by a junta-appointed panel and played an important role in bringing down Thaksin and TRT by law. The attempt had prompted more drastic actions by the PAD with an aim to force the Somchai government to step down.

    The supporters of PAD continued their months-long occupation of the Government House, sieged the Parliament when the Somchai cabinet delivered government policy address, and went on to seize the two airports in Bangkok on Nov. 25, the day when Somchai returned from Peru where he attended the APEC summit meeting.

    The PAD’s occupation of the two airports caused the paralysis of air service outbound and inbound via Bangkok for over a week. The political turmoil that also forced the postponement of the 14th the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which was to begin later this month in Thailand.

    On Dec. 2, Somchai was removed from premiership after the Constitutional Court disbanded PPP on electoral fraud charges related to former PPP deputy leader and former House Speaker Yongyuth Tiyapairat.

    In the parliament voting on Dec. 12, 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, which had stayed on the opposition camp since Thaksin’s TRT party gained power in the 2001election and later a second time on 2005, was elected the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand to replace Somchai Wongsawat.

    With the installation of the Democrat Party-led government, observers expect a short break from the prolonged political chaos in Thailand, as the Democrat Party, which enjoys support from the urban middle-class, especially those from Bangkok and southern Thailand, apparently gets support from the military and the royal institution.

    The Abhisit government has pledged to make peace return to the country, but there will be no honeymoon for the new government, analysts said.

    “I bless you to work for the peace and order of the nation,” King Bhumibol Adulyadej said in a speech after the king swore in Abhisit’s new cabinet.

    Abhisit said “I will take His Majesty’s royal advice to heart. His Majesty wished us to work successfully in order to make the country and the people happy and that is the most important.”

    The social divisiveness between the pro- and anti-Thaksin have been widening in the past three years and the reconciliation between the two camps is deemed hard to install.

    People from the pro-Thaksin group Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) were seen angrily attacking MPs’ cars outside the Parliament after Abhisit was elected as new premier, while the PAD has vowed to “return” to fight any new Thaksin-proxies. The two sides had been engaged in violent clashes on the street, causing heavy casualties.

    The DAAD is also planning a mass street protest and a besiege over the Parliament on the day of House debate on the Abhisit’s government policy address.

    A headache for the Abhisit government would be how to calm down and win the hearts of the rural grass-root population in the Northand Northeast, the traditional voter strong base for Thaksin and his allies.

    Newin Chidchob, the former Thaksin’s right-hand man who had made a turn-about to allow his friends in the House of Representatives to support Abhisit’s premiership in the House voting on Dec. 12, reportedly told Abhisit to invest more for the development and benefits of the Northeast and North.

    The Abhisit government is expected to inherit at least part of Thaksin’s populist legacy in its policy packages, pending debate in the Parliament on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

    The line-up of the Abhisit Cabinet, which was sworn in on Dec. 21, has seen some key posts allocated to the pro-Newin group and a bunch of coalition partners, but that still would not secure a strong alliance.

    The leading opposition party, Puea Thai party, a new shelter for the remains of the disbanded PPP, still holds some 200 MP seats in the 480-seat House. Its candidate for premiership, Pracha Promnok, got 198 votes during the Dec. 12 voting, only 37 votes behind Abhisit, who enjoyed the advantage only after the Newin faction joined in the support.

    A planned by-election in January might see more Puea Thai candidate win seats in the House.

    Meanwhile, the new government is faced with how to restore domestic and foreign investors’ confidence in the Thai economy, which has been dealt big blows with a sluggish global trend, and long-time domestic political turmoil, including the recent airport shutdowns that caused the key tourism industry a huge loss.

    The World Bank recently projected that the Thai economy will grow only 3.9 percent in 2008, the lowest in a decade, and an even lower 2 percent next year, while Thai economists have expected one million Thais to lose jobs in 2009.     

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