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What Can Thailand Hope for in 2008?

Updated On: Jan 02, 2008

Now that Thailand has conducted its eagerly-awaited post-coup polls, what can it look forward to in 2008?

As is clearly seen, the 19 September 2006 coup did not achieve anything and set Thailand on the good footing towards national reconciliation. Not only did the junta-installed Surayud Chulanont administration not clear up the alleged corruption of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra to ‘justify’ the coup, it messed up the political, social and economic spheres of the kingdom.

For one, there were far too many economic flip-flops –from the currency controls to the laws on foreign ownership. Foreign investors were apprehensive of the inept fiscal management of the country and the lack of economic reforms is also exacerbating the spectre of unemployment in key Thai industries such as textiles and manufacturing. Second, the insurgency in the Southern provinces escalated with bombings, beheadings, school closures, and the dwindling livelihoods of villagers as businesses were constantly interrupted by the unstable situation. The rift between the ethnic Malay-Muslim minority in the South and the ethnic Thai Buddhist majority widened, such that the Southerners have a great mistrust and suspicion that the central government will actually work to bring peace. As it stands, despite the thousands of troops deployed in the South, violence from the insurgents has intensified while civilians suffer extra-judicial abuse from security personnel. Third, the socio-political fabric of Thailand is even more shredded than before. The junta did not manage to eradicate the people’s regard for Thaksin. Instead, he has managed to keep up a highly-visible profile and has had the last laugh when the closely-aligned People Power Party (PPP) won the 23 December 2007 elections. In a way, Thaksin for all his wrongdoings and allegations of graft has been vindicated by the latest polls.

Given this recent history, what can Thailand expect in 2008? Many political commentators have opined that much will remain the same. Thailand will not be able to transform itself so rapidly in the face of the great internal tensions. On one hand, while the PPP has won, it is being thwarted constantly by powers adamant on keeping it from forming the next government. Moreover, coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin is stubbornly trying to remain on the political scene. The power struggle continues in Bangkok and the business outlook for Thailand in the coming year remains poor as it is unlikely that a weak coalition government dogged by a fierce parliamentary opposition will be able to take any strong measures to tackle the various challenges facing the country – from decreasing economic competitiveness to the southern insurgency.  The Southern insurgency looks set to snowball and risk getting out of hand.

This week, the PPP is scrambling to form a coalition to make the next ruling government despite “trip-ups” by shadowy opponents. The Election Commission (EC) has red-carded and effectively disqualified the three successful PPP candidates in Buri Ram's Constituency 1 –Prakij Poldej, Pornchai Srisuriyanyothin and Rungroj Thongsri –for vote-buying and transporting voters to polling stations. PPP secretary-general Surapong Suebwong-lee complained that this ruling was unfair and a deliberate attempt to “block the PPP from becoming the government by issuing its winning candidates with red and yellow cards”. PPP deputy secretary-general Choosak Sirinin added that he believed the PPP would get “more red and yellow cards than other parties because it had won the election”, the “other parties must get some cards” too.

Nonetheless, the PPP may still win the upper hand. After much debate and wooing from the PPP, Chart Thai Party leader Banharn Silapa-archa has finally confirmed his decision to join the PPP’s coalition on Monday, December 31. This seems to assure the PPP’s trump card for a parliamentary majority as Chart Thai was highly sought after as a coalition partner in the run-up to the elections. In fact, up until the very last minute, Banharn was averse to cooperating with the PPP, until Somchai Wongsawat, a core member of the PPP, agreed to Chart Thai’s five demands of joining the coalition. This now brings the total number of parties in the coalition to six.

Over in the South, a string of explosions went off at the town of Sungai Kolok bordering Malaysia, went off in succession in the parking lots of two hotels and a discotheque. This comes just after Thai authorities detained 5 suspected members of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) extremist group after a clash between soldiers and eight RKK suspects. One soldier was killed and two RKK suspects died in the clash.

With such a backdrop, the Thai people’s top wish for 2008 –national reconciliation within the kingdom with the Southern provinces –is unlikely to be realised. The latest Suan Dusit poll revealed that about half of the 8,367 respondents wished for “peace and order in Thailand, particularly in the three violence-plagued southern provinces”. The other top wishes for 2008 were unsurprising as well, given the upheavalsThailand has seen since the abortive Thaksin administration in 2006. 30.45% hoped for robust economic growth while another 20.19% wished for a good government headed by a capable prime minister. (1 January 2008)

Sources:

Top New Year's wish: Peace in the South (Bangkok Post, 31 December 2007)

Three blasts in Thailand south wound 27 (Reuters, 30 December 2007)

PPP: A powerful man is trying to block us (Nation, 31 December 2007)

Banharn confirms decision to join PPP-led coalition (Nation, 31 December 2007)

The King's recovery from illness the best joy (Nation, 31 December 2007)

Six-party coalition led by PPP confirmed: Banharn (Nation, 31 December 2007)

Three pro-Thaksin poll winners disqualified: Thai election body (AFP, 30 December 2007)

People Power TRIUMPHS (Bangkok Post, 30 December 2007)

Matchima insists on 2 Cabinet seats as condition to join coalition (Nation, 30 December 2007)

Red cards, more yellow cards to be issued on Thursday: Sodsri (Nation, 30 December 2007)

Thai generals in fear after tycoon’s victory (Times, 30 December 2007)

Poll: Nearly half of respondents want to see peace in Thailand (TNA, 30 December 2007)

Govt urged to promote oil palm in deep South (Bangkok Post, 30 December 2007)

5 suspected RKK members arrested (Bangkok Post, 30 December 2007)