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Increased political agitation as political parties geared up for elections

Updated On: Jul 24, 2007

However people may criticize the new draft charter, one thing is for certain –it looks set to pass and the long-awaited elections will be held after the upcoming referendum on 19 August as the referendum law requires only a simple majority to endorse the charter, with no requirement for a minimum turnout of voters.

This fact is bolstered by findings of the most recent Suan Dusit nationwide poll. 56% of the 4,536 respondents of said they would support the draft. The poll also showed that nearly one-third of the respondents (29%) were uncertain of their stand while only 15% stated that they would cast a negative vote.

While the law academics of Thammasat University rail away at the draft constitution, claiming it will “lead to government by an aristocracy”, the trump card lies with the authorities. Not only is a simple majority the basic requirement, all provincial networks nationwide are “in top gear to canvass on behalf of the interim government and the Council of National Security, work for the passage of the constitution… and making deals for ‘yes’ votes with several promises for groups, such as the disabled”.

The opportunistic Democrat party is not wasting its chances to claim victory in the forecasted December elections. It is the first political party to unveil its platform –other opposition parties like Chat Thai and Mahachon have not yet kicked off their publicity campaigns. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva proclaimed “a [practical] vision of democratic rule, economic fixes, education reform and peaceful resolution of the southern unrest” and urged Thais to “give the party a chance to run the post-coup government”. Abhisit announced that “the restoration of democratic rule was the linchpin of his four-point campaign for the general election as Democrats deem it time for effecting drastic changes to uproot chronic problems and meet the people’s aspirations by serving them with honesty.”

However, as much as Thaksin’s influence has waned, he is still a force to be reckoned with. The Bangkok Post editorial cautioned that while the Democrats are in a leading position, “the first starter of the race may not necessarily end up the real winner”. In addition, “it would be wishful thinking for supporters of Gen. Sonthi that [he] would have an easy ride to lead the [next] government for the simple reason that they have the muscle to manipulate the leaderless political groupings”. Former Democrat leader Chuan Leekpai has also warned against over-confidence, saying, “Do not forget one nature of elections: people do not always vote for the party. There are people who have bondage with some candidates. So wherever their favourite candidates are, they will vote for them.” 

It would be good for all political candidates to remember the fact that cult-like support for Thaksin still remains in the North and Northeast of Thailand and this would carry over to whatever form the new “Thai Rak Thai” (TRT) party resurrects as. Already TRT member Kuthep Saikrajang has sneered at Abhisit’s grandiose dreams of becoming the next prime minister, saying that the junta was unlikely to relinquish power to him.

As Thailand races towards the referendum, opposition to the authorities is peaking. Strait-jacketed by the months of political clampdowns, about 10,000 anti-junta protestors from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) vented their frustrations in front of the residence of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda on Sunday (22 July) night. They accused him of masterminding the September 19 coup and demanded that he resign. The demonstration turned violent and teargas was used against the protestors. The incident apparently left more than 100 protestors and policemen injured.  Several arrests were also made.

Like every other Thai protest, there was a simultaneous counter-demonstration. The pro-government rally led by Sondhi Limthongkul and Samran Rodphet, consisted of members of the People's Alliance for Democracy, Buddhist monks and Islamic leaders pledging support for Gen. Prem.

The authorities are getting impatient and threatening emergency measures. Adisorn Nonsee, head of the Bangkok police, said, “We have been very patient in the past. But last night, the protesters reached an unacceptable point.” PM Surayud has often threatened the imposition of “emergency measures in the capital if protests turn violent”. Gen. Sonthi added, “The behaviour of the demonstrators today gives us some idea of what to do in terms of legal action… we will have a meeting with security agencies about tonight's events.”

Further underscoring the sensitivity of the issue as the attention turned to General Prem, the King’s top adviser, General Sonthi, army chief and chairman of the Council of National Security (CNS) yesterday (23 July) paid a visit to General Prem and apologise.  He added that he did not expect the protesters to target Prem as he (Prem) “has been working for the country for years”. (24 July 2007)

Sources:

Thai anti-junta protestors vow to continue rallies (Straits Times, 24 July 2007)

Police, protesters clash outside Prem's home (Bangkok Post, 23 July 2007)

One-third still undecided on charter (Bangkok Post, 23 July 2007)

Thaksin will cast shadow on next polls (Bangkok Post, 23 July 2007)

ThailandPolice Arrest Six After BangkokProtest Turns Violent (Bloomberg, 23 July 2007)

Abhisit sets out 4-point poll platform(Nation, 23 July 2007)

Law lecturers call for rejection of charter (Bangkok Post, 23 July 2007)

Counter rally held against anti-coup group(Nation, 23 July 2007)

Charter Set To Pass (BangkokPost, 23 July 2007

PM calls on public to vote in referendum (Bangkok Post, 21 July 2007)

Govt launchs campaigns on referendum (Nation, 21 July 2007)

New Thai Rak Thai leader to be announced next month(Nation, 21 July 2007)Drumming up support for new TRT name(Nation, 21 July 2007)

Democrat announce party agendas (Bangkok Post, 21 July 2007)

Abhisit calls for unity (Nation, 21 July 2007)

Democrat launches 'People First' campaign(Nation, 21 July 2007)

Abhisit rouses his troops(Nation, 21 July 2007)