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The race begins -Thai elections kicks off as the King returns to the palace

Updated On: Nov 09, 2007

Thailand is in a jubilant mood.

First off, the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej has recovered sufficiently enough from his illnesses (insufficient blood flow to the brain and an intestinal infection) to leave the hospital on Wednesday (7 November). He was greeted by adulating crowds cheering “Long live the king”. King Bhumibol will continue to undergo therapy to strengthen his muscles as he recuperates.

Second, the long-awaited elections are just round the corner. On the same day as the monarch left the hospital, registration for the political parties intending to contest the December 23 general election opened with the traditional numerology rite. Eighteen political parties registered their party-list candidates and party leaders had to choose one of 18 plastic balls containing the number that would represent their candidates in the polls. According to superstition, the number dictates the political fortunes of the party to which it belongs. The Democrat Party got a seemingly inauspicious “Number 4” while its nemesis the Thaksin Shinawatra-linked People's Power Party (PPP) picked “Number 12”. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was nonchalant, saying, “Number four is fine. It's time for the country to move on and get out of its crisis. It's time to make our economy a strong economy again.”

The upcoming polls are expected to yield a coalition government. No one party has sufficient support of the people to form a solid base. Many expect the real tussle to be between the Democrats and the PPP but it is questionable as to which of these two will emerge victorious. Thus, many of the parties are busy forging alliances with the “second tier” parties like the Pua Paendin Party and the Chat Thai Party which are certain of entering the next coalition government. This has caused some ruffled feathers among the leaders of these parties.

Chart Thai party leader Banharn Silapa-archa has snubbed the PPP in favour of the Democrat Party to form the next government if the latter wins the most seats in the elections. Banharn declared firmly, “Absolutely, Chart Thai will not join a coalition with the People Power Party. If we do that, we will not survive [the public anger]. The punishment would be heavy. And if we did, we would be forced to play second fiddle.” The stung PPP leader Samak Sundaravej rebutted, “There is nothing wrong with being a nominee of Thaksin… if the PPP gets a mandate to form a government, Thaksin will return and fight the charges in court. Banharn will regret tying himself to the Democrat party.”

Meanwhile the PPP has other troubles to contend. Its last minute change yesterday to place two controversial anti-coup figures –Jatuporn Prompan and Manit Jitjanklab –among the top five positions of its party list for Bangkok has upset the rest of the other PPP candidates who intend to run for a Bangkok constituency, saying that the inclusion of these two will be detrimental to their chances of winning at the polls. Wattana Sengpairoar and other politicians now want Samak to make a clear explanation for the sudden changes.

Over in the violence-torn South, the same euphoria is not shared. The same day (Wednesday) saw insurgents attacking a military patrol with a homemade bomb and gunfire in Yala. There was another serious bombing the day before, on Tuesday, wounding 28 Buddhists. Additionally, the fatal shooting of a school director and teacher in Narathiwat on Tuesday has caused the indefinite closure of over 60 schools in the area. Nonetheless, Prime Minister General Surayud Chulanont who was visiting 14 southern province governors to prepare for the upcoming elections remains firm that the continuing violence will not affect the polls.

While the politicians remain so upbeat about the re-institutionalisation of democracy in the December elections, some people are not as keen. The Bangkok Post carried an editorial slamming the sham democracy, comparing Thailand to Pakistan as both countries were infamous for their history of coups. It said that “corruption is the ultimate claim in ushering in military rule and the consequent sweeping out of elected administrations”. It noted like Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin’s ouster of Thaksin, corruption was the keystone to General Pervez Musharraf’s claim when he unseated popularly elected Nawaz Sharif. More ominously, it noted that although Pakistan faces a worse threat of national security by the al-Qaeda, the same fears could arise from South Thailand insurgency if the government did not manage things carefully. (8 November 2007)

Sources:

PM says southern violence won't affect polls (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)

Which is worse: Thailand or Pakistan? (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)

Sixty-one schools shut in Narathiwat (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)

18 parties register for party-list contest (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)

I'm with Abhisit:Banharn (Nation, 8 November 2007)

Shinawatra's shadow (Nation, 8 November 2007)

Late change causes rift in PPP (Bangkok Post, 8 November 2007)

Thailand rejoices as king leaves hospital (AFP, 7 November 2007)

Top parties brace for a tight race (Nation, 7 November 2007)

Campaign 2007 begins (Bangkok Post, 7 November 2007)

Parties kick off contest today with candidacy registration (Bangkok Post, 7 November 2007)

Army officer killed, 5 others wounded in insurgent attack in southern Thailand (AP, 7 November 2007)