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Post-coup Elections: Vindication for Thaksin as Thailand Continues to Teeter?

Updated On: Dec 28, 2007

To a large extent, the junta has been proven wrong in their ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Thai people have voted and the Thai Rak Thai party’s successor –the People Power Party (PPP) –has won in a significant manner, though nowhere near the resounding electoral successes of Thaksin. The PPP won a total of 233 seats out of the 480 available, and their biggest rival, the Democrat party, trailed with only 165 seats, though it won Bangkok and the South.

Now that the elections are over, what does this result mean for the future of Thailand?

Of course, PPP leader Samak Sundaravej, is crowing about his victory. He declared triumphantly, “The coup is dead. Now the people have had their say. The numbers that came out are an answer to those people [meaning the junta].”

Meanwhile, Thaksin is also making his plans to return to Thailand in February to “live as a normal citizen”, be an adviser to the PPP or just to promote sports. While PM Surayud has motioned that Thaksin is free to return, Samphan Sarathana, chief of international affairs for the Attorney General, has told the AFP that Thaksin and his wife will be arrested upon return as their arrest warrants remain open. The Democrat party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has also warned Thaksin to keep out of politics for the good of Thailand.

Samak is now busy wooing other parties to form the necessary majority to become the ruling coalition and be prime minister. In fact, PPP Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee has proclaimed that with the support of Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Matchimathipataya and Pracharaj, PPP will take a total of 254 parliamentary seats. He added that “the Chart Thai and Puea Pandin parties still have time to make their final decisions, but the PPP would go ahead with or without them”. However, there are rumours that these two parties will join the coalition by 3 January. The PPP is targeting to form a coalition of 280 to 300 seats.

Still, the PPP should not count its chickens before they hatch. Already the EC is hot on its trail, investigating three counts of alleged electoral fraud of the candidates Prasert Chantraruangthong, Linda Cherdchai and Boonlert Krutkhuntod who won in Constituency 3 in Northeast Thailand.

Moreover, the Democrat party is fighting fiercely to undermine the PPP influence. Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban denounced the PPP’s announcements as empty boasts, saying that they were only “advertising their attempts to form the next government rather than really forging an alliance with other parties”. Additionally, Suthep stated that the only condition that the Democrat party had for those who would join its side is that members must “accept its people agenda and let Abhisit be prime minister.” If the Democrats get their way, more than half of Thais would probably be happy. In the recentRamkamhaeng University poll, 52.2% of the respondents supported Abhisit as the new prime minister while Samak only got 39.1% approval.

As can be seen, the elections have not resolved the underlying issues of the political strife in the country. The PPP continues its stronghold in the North and Northeast of Thailand, while the Democrats take control of Bangkok and the South.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said, “We have a clean winner but not a clear-cut outcome.” Moreover, with the Democrats winning the coveted Bangkok seat, it is definite that the PPP and Democrats will lock horns, paving the way for political instability and “a weak coalition government that is not likely to last long”.

The business sector is also gloomy about the PPP victory. Santi Wilassakdanon, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, believes that if Samak became prime minister, confrontations between the PPP and anti-Thaksin groups will again hurt investor confidence, to the point that Thailand may “have to go through another general election.” This disappointment was shared by Adisak Rohitasune, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, the kingdom's largest business group. Adisak said, “Stability of a new coalition government is questionable. We don't know how well the new government can unite (a divided country) and push forward economic policies.”

This political uncertainty is not only bad for Thailand; it also bodes ill for the region. It will definitely slow the speed at which ASEAN is aiming for economic integration by 2015. There is also no telling if another coup will not appear soon and send Thailand into its “start-stop” mode of politics. (27 December 2007)

Sources:

Thaksin faces arrest if he returns to Thailand: senior official (AFP, 27 December 2007)

Core leaders celebrate PPP victory abroad (Bangkok Post, 27 December 2007)

Poll shows most favour Abhisit as new PM (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

Final election results announced (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

Thaksin wants to return in Feb (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

EC books three PPP candidates (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

Democrats sweep South, win 50 seats (Bangkok Post, 24 December 2007)

People Power ready to form a coalition (Nation, 26 December 2007)

Thaksin warned to avoid politics (Nation, 26 December 2007)

Three parties agree to join PPP : Surapong (Nation, 26 December 2007)

Thaksin will focus on sports if he returns home (Nation, 26 December 2007)

Police chief guarantees safety for Thaksin (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

No whitewash for former PM (Nation, 26 December 2007)

The nation's head and heart spoke at once (Nation, 26 December 2007)

Junta, Sonthi vow to protect ASC from revenge (Bangkok Post, 26 December 2007)

Exiled Thai premier makes Hong Kong his base for comeback (Nation, 27 December 2007)

PPP certain of alliance (Nation, 27 December 2007)

Thai Coalition is Claimed (Wall Street Journal, 27 December 2007)

Prem calls for unity, patience (Bangkok Post, 27 December 2007)

Thaksin can return (Bangkok Post, 27 December 2007)

Industrial sector not in favour of Samak (Bangkok Post, 24 December 2007)

Thai business leaders pessimistic on economy after poll (AFP, 24 December 2007)