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Will it be a free and fair election for Thailand?

Updated On: Nov 16, 2007

By the looks of things, the 23 December election looks set to be contentious.

This is despite the vow leaders of six top political parties –including Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Matchima Thipataya Party chief Prachai Leopairatana, New Aspiration Party head Chingchai Mongkoltham and People Power Party representative Plodprasop Suraswadi –have made before the Election Commission (EC). Swearing before Buddha’s statue in Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha, they committed themselves not to commit electoral fraud, buy votes and besmirch the names of opposing parties. The EC officials also vowed to conduct the election in a fair manner otherwise they would meet with misfortune.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Sonthi Boonyaratkalin’s shadow casts a pall over the poll. When asked by reporters whether he would stage another coup if the People Power party (PPP) loyal to ex-premier Thaksin Shinwatra won the election, Sonthi replied sagaciously, “It is a future matter that we shall have to wait and see.” Sonthi maintained Thaksin’s guilt of graft, saying that the PPP’s victory in the election would not exonerate him as only the court could judge. Sonthi then challenged Thaksin to return to Thailand so that the prosecution process could begin.

Meanwhile, the PPP has alleged the army has dispatched 1,000 special warfare soldiers to monitor the party's political strongholds of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Buri Ram. Sonthi has refuted this, claiming that there were insufficient soldiers to spare from the Southern conflict to go up to the North. Gen Panlop Pinmanee, adviser to the director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), explained that the movement of some troops up North was due to the annual seasonal reshuffle. Moreover, acting chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS) Chalit Phukphasuk said the CNS and army are neutral and will not interfere with the political process, adding that officers found guilty of engaging in politics will be severely punished.

Nonetheless, whatever the army does, it cannot obscure Thaksin’s stubborn presence. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont declared that the EC is the only authority to rule whether the PPP telephone Thaksin and have “him speak to his supporters via teleconference at Sanam Luang on Friday”. Moreover, Thaksin has more than enough money to serve his political pursuits if he so wishes. The National Counter Corruption Commission reported that Thaksin has assets of 614 million baht -57 million baht more than a year ago. Together with his wife, Khunying Potjaman, they hold about 9 billion baht in assets.

The latest poll by the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University showed the PPP will win 180 of the 480 parliamentary seats while the Democrat Party would get 160. It said 38.6 percent of 4,410 respondents favoured the PPP and 32.3 percent planned to vote for the Democrats, Thailand's oldest political party. This slim lead predicted for the PPP is bound to cause endless trouble for it especially since the Democrats have sworn to tie themselves with the next biggest winner of the elections and form the next government. Given that the battle for Bangkok is supposed to be the decisive factor for electoral triumph, and that theBangkok population highly favours Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to be the new prime minister, hence party leaders are busy forming alliances. The Dhurakij Pundit University poll showed that in Bangkok, 52.2% supported Abhisit and Samak trailed miserably behind with only 14.7% of the responses.

While Chat Thai’s leader Banharn Silpa-archa had formerly rejected the PPP in favour of the Democrats, PPP leader Samak Sundaravej has now got over his rebuff and is redoubling efforts to woo ChatThai. He told the 400 election candidates at the PPP conference they should persuade Banharn from announcing a pact between the Democrats and Chat Thai. Samak also recalled the previous support he gave Banharn when the Democrat Party challenged him in 1996 and said, “So wouldn't he be happier if he was with Samak after the election?” Samak has obviously forgotten the opposition alliance between Chat Thai and the Democrats throughout the Thaksin administration of six years.

Samak has also rejected Democrat leader Abhisit's challenge to a one-on-one debate because the latter was unqualified to speak. He said, “I am not desperate. I know how to speak and think, but the person who challenged me does not know about this fighting business. It would be pointless.” In his address, Samak exhorted all the PPP contenders to emphasise the populist policies that had swept Thaksin to victory. It is uncertain to what extent this would be helpful as all the other parties are fighting for votes just as strongly by adopting similar populist policies.

Samak seems over-confident of the PPP’s prospects and his own abilities. However, it is fortunate for him that the other party members are more down-to-earth and are trying to avoid his ruining their chances of a parliamentary seat. The PPP has decided that instead of letting Samak debate with other party leaders, party-list candidate Mingkwan Sangsuwan should take the stand. An anonymous party source said, “Samak's behaviour with the media and his rigid stance about debates have made the party's popularity numbers in the capital drop dramatically. Having Mingkwan take over will help Samak not lose face and regain the party's popularity.” Earlier this month, Samak had caused ire among the PPP contenders for Bangkok which was resolved after he apologized. (15 November 2007)

Sources:

PPP courts Banharn, Chart Thai (Bangkok Post, 15 November 2007)

Sonthi refutes PPP claims of army sabotage (Bangkok Post, 15 November 2007)

Samak put on ice for debates (Nation, 15 November 2007)

EC to set rules for role of banned 111 (Nation, 15 November 2007)

Sonthi brushes off reports Thaksin lobbied military friends to return (Nation, 15 November 2007)

Six parties take oath not to buy votes (Nation, 15 November 2007)

Sonthi shrugs off reports of Thaksin’s return (Bangkok Post, 15 November 2007)

EC to rule if Thaksin can talk with the PPP (Bangkok Post, 15 November 2007)

NCCC says Thaksin is richer than ever (Bangkok Post, 15 November 2007)

 Ex-Bangkok governor rallies PPP candidates to Thaksin banner (TNA, 14 November 2007)

Poll: Bangkokians wants Abhisit as PM (Bangkok Post, 13 November 2007)

Abhisit issues challenge to Samak for one-on-one debate (Bangkok Post, 13 November 2007)

Democrats vow to govern (Nation, 13 November 2007)

Thaksin's party seen winner in Thai December poll (Reuters, 12 November 2007)

Sonthi plays coup card (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)