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The “free and fair” Thai elections: Democracy for politicians and not the people

Updated On: Oct 30, 2007

In recent weeks, the election frenzy has intensified in Thailand.

As the election date of 23 December is confirmed, there have been strong debates about electoral rules, the formation of new parties ties, the scramble to get popular politicians onboard, and the planning of manifestos. However, all the activity seems to be at the upper echelons of elite power. This makes the proclamation –that Thaksin’s ouster and the bringing of fresh elections is to usher in a new era of democracy and empowerment for the Thai people –ring false.

Incredibly enough, the latest Assumption University Abac poll showed that only 60.3% of the respondents knew that the election would be held on December 23. If the survey done on 2,993 persons in Bangkok and the surrounding areas shows such a high level of ignorance about the political events, how much more will people in other parts of Thailand be kept in the dark? PM Surayud Chulanont’s hopes that the voter turnout will be 70% will surely crumble.

Obviously the politicians and the incumbent authorities have been busier arranging their own agenda than educating the public about the upcoming elections and the exercise of its democratic vote. Perhaps this does not matter so much as at least half of the respondents (54.3%) already have favourite political parties in mind.

However, it is exactly this “favourite party mindset” that worries the junta. It is desperately trying to prevent the resurgence of pro-Thaksin factions, especially the People’s Power Party (PPP) as it tries to get Thaksin to act as an economic adviser. There are rumours of a plot to destroy the PPP, murder its leader Samak Sundaravej, gerrymandering, and the deployment of troops to the Northeast (a pro-Thaksin stronghold) to intimidate the electorate. PPP spokesman Kuthep Saikrajang said, “This has really happened and the soldiers really exist.” Moreover, Kuthep alleged that the soldiers were acting on Sonthi’s instructions.

Coup leader, former head of the Council of National Security (CNS) and incumbent Deputy PM Sonthi Boonyatraglin has repeatedly denied he is not plotting against the PPP. Sonthi declared, “As I am now in charge of a committee tasked to ensure fair voting, I would like to see a free and fair election and don't condone biases towards any party.”

Similarly, Gen. Somjet Boonthanom, head of the CNS secretariat, has denied the involvement of the army. Somjet said the “two classified documents were doctored” before the PPP exposed the suspected ploy to the public. However, army commander-in-chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda remains mysterious on the topic, saying, “It is an internal matter… I am unable to comment on who was responsible and whether the documents had been faked.” The Election Commission has since asked the PPP to “surrender the classified documents… and cooperate” with investigations.

Nobody quite believes that the army is not intricately involved in the upcoming elections. The Nation editorial castigated the heavy hand the junta is demonstrating in the run-up to the elections –from the tight election rules, martial law and Sonthi’s persistent and unwelcome presence. Even Democrat party chief Abhisit Vejjajiva who formerly displayed a benign stand on the junta has now rallied against it. Opposing the draconian election rules and martial law, Abhisit said, “The CNS and the government must come clean. We want a fair election. The only way to heal the rift is to uphold the principles of democracy and the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats are busy consolidating their power base in a bid to win the elections. It is now having talks about a possible merger with the Pracharaj Party but nothing is yet confirmed. The Democrats have also unveiled their economic strategy to scrap the 30% reserve requirement so as to encourage foreign investment to stabilise the baht, thus alleviating Thai unemployment.

Another hopeful for the premier’s seat is Prachai Leopairatana, leader of Matchima Thippatai party. Prachai declared his aspiration to be prime minister or finance minister, if his party and allies can form the next government, based on his economic management credentials. He previously managed debt of more than Bt150 billion during the Thai petrochemical crisis –the biggest in Thai corporate history. He announced that he wanted to use his experience for the welfare of the Thai people through numerous populist policies –free healthcare for everyone, free education, free food and books for children, the vow to overhaul the budget system and to fire up the Thai economy through mega public infrastructure projects. Prachai said that Matchima Thippatai party’s vision would beat the previous TRT government’s promises hands-down. He affirmed his clean credentials, emphasizing, “There is no private economics in my political ambition.” (29 October 2007)

Sources:

Army chief tight-lipped on secret document (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2007)

Call for easing of election rules (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2007)

Democrats, Pracharaj discussing an alliance (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2007)

Sonthi dismisses PPP's allegation (Nation, 29 October 2007)

Supreme Commander insists military is neutral (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2007)

Sodsri: Campaigning rules could not be amended (Nation, 29 October 2007)

Democrats defend economic policy (Nation, 29 October 2007)

Prachai's populist policies go further than Thaksin's (Nation, 29 October 2007)

EC urged to seek ruling on Thaksin's role (Nation, 29 October 2007)

PPP alleges soldiers intimidate canvassers (Nation, 29 October 2007)

Storming the elections (Nation, 29 October 2007)

Voters just don't know (Bangkok Post, 29 October 2007)

PM hopes voter turnout will be 70% (Bangkok Post, 27 October 2007)

Junta to decide on PPP: Sonthi (Nation, 27 October 2007)

“Keep out of poll", Thai Democrat chief tells army (Reuters, 26 October 2007)