With barely three weeks to the post-coup elections, there is a palpable lack of anticipation in the air.
Most of the Thai people just want to get things over and done with, to move on with their lives and for the economy to improve.
There is more excitement over the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 80th birthday on Wednesday than the electoral run-up. Already the week-long celebrations have begun, with a military parade marking the opening in Bangkok on Sunday (2 December). At the event, the King also urged the troops and all Thais in general to act for the unity of Thailand, to overcome the current instability and avoid future calamity.
Nonetheless, even if the people are not excited, the politicians are buzzing with activities over their prospects. What are the general themes of the upcoming Thai elections? For one, given the past successes of Thaksin Shinawatra’s political career, everyone seems to be aping his former tactics and stressing populist policies to win favour with the electorate.
The People Power Party (PPP) has proclaimed that it “will continue to implement the populist policy for the grassroots people”. This will include modernizing Thailand into a regional medical hub; improving the transport infrastructure; and increasing the export of high-quality Thai produce. Public works will be financed by the income from tourism and eventually these projects will boost the economy and improve people’s lives.
The Democrat party has a slightly different method if it wins the elections. It aims to increase foreign direct investment by cancelling the 30% capital controls and revert to the previous Foreign Business Act “to open up the country to reap full economic benefits from globalization”. It also aims to improve the transport network to cut costs of doing business, and reduce the prices of oil, cooking gas and electricity. It promises that when the Thai economy strengthens, economic restructuring will then take place. Similarly, the Ruam Jai Party promises sweeteners for the voters. It said that it “will keep inflation at below 3% and set government spending at no less than 2.5% of the GDP for the next three years [to] inject 600 billion baht into the economy”. Like the other two parties, it also intends to reduce transportation costs by extending the existing railway lines and “link them with road and river transport routes”.
Besides the economy, national reconciliation with the South was also stressed. The PPP proclaimed its “Peaceful South” policy which aims to bring peace to Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani through good relations between the Bangkok government and the Southern provinces; the building of a Halal Food Production Centre operated by local Muslim people; and an educational “project to increase the number of teachers and teaching equipment and make courses more relevant to local customs and tradition”. The Democrat Party concentrated on reconciliation through justice, touting measures such as a special regulation passed within 99 days to handle the unrest; prioritising justice for victims of state abuse of power; as well as the aforesaid promotion of the “Halal food market” to increase halal food exports to boost income and employment for the local Muslim communities. Additionally, the Chart thai Party said that it will “negotiate with the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the World Muslim League to allow more southern Thai Muslims to work in their member countries”; as well as respecting the identity, culture, tradition and way of life of the South.
With so much repetition, it is unsurprising that people are confused about individual parties’ policies. The recent Abac poll showed that only 14.6 percent said they understand every party's policies, with 56.3 percent of the respondents admitted to be unclear about political parties’ policies. Hence, about half –50.5 percent –are undecided on who to vote for. Moreover, Somchai Pakapasvivat, economics lecturer at Bangkok’s Thammasat University and chairman of SCIB Securities, is doubtful of optimistic prospects for the Thai economy that the politicians portray. He said that the Thai economy in 2008 would remain volatile on the back of unpredictable local politics and the US sub prime crisis which could impact Thailand’s exports. This would be exacerbated if business persons were “unable to adapt themselves to rapid changes in the business environment”.
Besides these policies, there is the persistent spectre of work “behind the scenes”. Thaksin continues to exert much influence over the PPP, while the Sonthi Boonyaratglin and the rest of the junta are equally adamant at keeping him out. The latest news over the debacle of Sonthi wanting to destroy the PPP’s chances in the elections is out. The National Legislative Assembly committee’s investigation has found there are “grounds to believe that the CNS was not neutral in connection to the allegation from the People Power Party that the junta's leaders were plotting to destroy the party”. However, whether the confidential document was authentic remains unresolved. Sonthi remains defiant and has declared he will only step down from office if PM Surayud Chulanont orders him to do so. (3 December 2007)
Festivities for Thailand king's 80th birthday start with military parade (AP, 2 December 2007)
Abac poll shows party politicies confusing (Bangkok Post, 2 December 2007)
Academic worried over Thailand's economic growth (TNA, 2 December 2007)
PARTY LINES: Unrest in southern provinces (Bangkok Post, 2 December 2007)
Driving the Thai economy (Bangkok Post, 2 December 2007)
Sonthi may be dismissed over plot to topple PPP (Nation, 2 December 2007)
Sonthi: where is the proof? (Nation, 2 December 2007)
Sonthi won't quit, blames political smear (Bangkok Post, 2 December 2007)
PPP behind Thaksin's policies (Nation, 30 November 2007)
Some certainties in an uncertain election (Nation, 30 November 2007)
Most believe economy will improve after election: UTCC (TNA, 30 November 2007)