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Thailand’s elections: Protests and posturing

Updated On: Dec 14, 2007

With less than ten days to go till the elections, Thai politicians are working themselves into frenzy.

All the usual “entertainment” surrounding Thai elections have arisen –vote-buying, back-stabbing, mud-slinging, plus the “open secret” of how the junta is deliberately trying ways and means of tripping up the Thaksin Shinawatra-linked People Power Party (PPP).

It is obvious that the incumbent authorities are in cahoots with the junta. Michael Montesano, a political analyst at the National University of Singapore, said, “It’s PPP versus the rest, really. The military has to be seen as being part of a network that is pressuring the PPP not to form the new government.”

The Election Commission (EC) members have already voted 4-1 in favour of the Council for National Security (CNS) on Wednesday (11 December), clearing it of “any wrongdoing for its role behind the secret documents scandal” which purportedly strove to curtail the PPP. With such a verdict, it is very likely that the EC will vote against the PPP’s distribution of VCDs containing Thaksin’s speech. Further persecution of the PPP by the EC has been carried out as it seeks criminal action against the PPP on its alleged signature forgery on a membership application for Puea Pandin deputy leader Sitthichai Kwosurat. If the action is realised, the PPP could be promptly dissolved, just as its predecessor Thai Rak Thai party was, thereby losing all chances to compete in the election.

Coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin has also ordered a probe into the Bt60 million cash brought into Thailand by six Hong Kong businessmen on suspicion that the money was to fund campaign activities. He said that if the Anti Money Laundering Office and the Immigration Bureau uncovered that the money was linked to the upcoming poll or political parties, the case would be forwarded to the Election Commission (EC) for appropriate action. Sonthi remained silent on Thaksin’s “possible involvement” as he was just in Hong Kong last week.

These dirty tricks have been observed by the international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has recently released a report that the junta is “abusing laws to prevent ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra from influencing the Dec. 23 election, and is targeting his supporters”. Brad Adams, the Asia director of HRW, condemned, “The military's efforts to restrict the campaign activities of Thaksin's allies should be of concern to all political parties. It's not a matter of human rights taking a backseat in the Thai elections, they are not even present.”

Obviously, the PPP is hopping mad about all these obstacles. PPP spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said, “We are facing all kinds of tricks from the military and government officials to do everything to prevent PPP candidates from winning the election. I hope that the statement of Human Rights Watch will stop them from this kind of actions.” However, PPP opposers disagree. Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has said the rules are fair and do not penalise the PPP. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the director of Bangkok's Institute of Security and International Studies, wrote in a Wall Street Journal Asian editorial, “If this party wins the vote, as polls suggest it might, the country could be plunged into political turmoil.”

Besides jeopardising the PPP’s chances, the authorities are trying to influence the elections in other ways. There is a furore about the legitimacy of having opinion polls in the run-up to elections. The EC has banned the display of opinion polls in the seven days leading up to December 23 ballot as they are said to have an undue influence on how people vote. This is particularly so for the Northeast provinces –the stronghold of Thaksin. Academics are against this ban, saying that it smacks of authoritarian control and prevents the people from thinking and exercising their democratic choice.

Other groups are also protesting against the government in other ways. Yesterday (12 December), fifty protestors scaled the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) compound, overpowered the twenty policemen and demanded that the NLA stop working. Jon Ungpakorn, a Chulalongkorn University lecturer, was one of the leaders of the 1000-strong protest, said the NLA should stop enacting new law during its remaining term. Jon insisted, “We want the NLA to stop doing its job now. Please let the bills be considered by people with the mandate to do it. We see no point in your still working, except to speed up bills to serve the military.”

Over in the South, more than fifteen soldiers were injured when a bomb went off in Pattani on Wednesday (12 December). The HRW report has slammed the junta’s perpetuation of human rights violations in the South –that while it condemned Thaksin’s drug war, it had never put in place policies to alleviate the conflict. Adams also criticized the other political parties saying that they had not put up a real platform to effect change in the provinces but were instead acquiescing to the junta’s agenda so as to undermine the PPP and boost self-interests. Adams called this political compromise a “dangerous game” and that “ifThailand's political parties really [saw] the December elections as a transit point toward democracy, they should present concrete foreign policy proposals to end Thailand's embarrassing ties with Burma's generals”.  (13 December 2007)

Sources:

Bomb wounds at least 15 soldiers in South (Bangkok Post, 13 December 2007)

Rights group: Military perpetuates its rule (Bangkok Post, 13 December 2007)

Sub-panel formed to probe Thaksin VCDs (Bangkok Post, 13 December 2007)

Activists storm House (Bangkok Post, 13 December 2007)

Fraud claims just slander, PPP rally told (Bangkok Post, 13 December 2007)

CNS off the hook in secret documents case (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

Thailand Uses Law to Block Thaksin Allies, Group Says (Bloomberg, 12 December 2007)

HRW: Political parties ignore rights issues (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

PPP faces criminal action (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

Call to scrap pre-election poll ban (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

Sonthi orders poll probe into Bt60m (Nation, 12 December 2007)

Protesters break into Parliament's compound (Nation, 12 December 2007)

Abac chief warns of 'opinion polls' meant to mislead public (Nation, 12 December 2007)

B60m carried into country sparks concern (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)

It's time to start building a welfare state (Bangkok Post, 12 December 2007)







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