After Wednesday’s ruling that the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party had flouted electoral procedures, resulting in the order to dissolve the party, and a ban on its 111 executives from the electoral process for five years, reactions across Thailand have been loud and diverse.
At the forefront, the TRT party and its followers have been vocal in their dismay and outrage. Acting TRT party leader Chaturon Chaisaeng declared, “The verdict strips me of basic rights, which is not acceptable.” He added that he felt like a “second-class citizen”.
Full of indignation, Chaturon said he would not ask for “a royal pardon from the Constitution Tribunal decision” as he believed the party has not done anything wrong. Instead, he said he would fight the decision to dissolve the party and the ban on him and his 110 party colleagues to participate in politics for five years “through parliamentary process”, the Bangkok Post reported. He also intends to get “law students throughout the country to study the tribunal verdict that ordered the dissolution of TRT and translate the verdict into English and send it to international institutions including human rights organisations to study”. Chaturon said that it was his right as a citizen to “criticize the tribunal” and “fight for justice”.
On Saturday, 2 June, the Nation reported that “more than 6,000 people attended a People’s TV (PTV) rally at Sanam Luang yesterday demanding the removal of the junta”. Amid the crowd were former TRT parliamentarians Ekkaporn Rakkwamsuk, Pimpa Chanprasong and Waipot Arpornrat. Protesters also chanted for the return of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Unsurprisingly, there was a simultaneous counter-rally at the nearby Democracy Monument. The Bangkok Post noted that about 300 demonstrators calling themselves the “Yellow Shirts United” pressed for the upholding of the tribunal’s decision.
Incumbent Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was firm in calling for respect of the tribunal’s decision. In a television interview broadcast on Saturday, Surayud said, “I want everyone to respect the ruling… There are lessons to learn here. What is wrong should not be repeated.” He also announced that the bans on political party activities would not take more than two weeks. Surayud concluded with optimistic views for Thailand, saying, “I hope it will be better, for brighter future.”
It is uncertain what is going to happen in the foreseeable future and whether the rural electorate will change loyalties from the TRT to the other parties. For sure, the Democrat Party which was cleared of its electoral fraud charges has seized the opportunity to come to the forefront. On Saturday, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said, “If the Democrat Party earns the House majority, Abhisit [Vejjajiva] will become prime minister.” He affirmed that “the party was well united and had no factions, unlike in the past”, the Nation said.
In an interview with Reuters, Surin Pitsuwan, former Foreign Minister and a leading member of the Democrat Party, said, “The landscape of politics has changed since Mr Thaksin because of his very effective populism. Any government from now on will have to take that into consideration.” This indicates that the Democrats will now work the TRT strongholds to garner support.
However, the Democrats may not stand a chance if the former TRT members have their way. As the Thai Election Commission allows a dissolved party to seek a new registration under its old name, the TRT may well be resurrected. The Nation observed that in the TRT strongholds of northern Thailand, “supporters not only vowed to continue supporting the party ‘ideology’, but also wanted founder and former leader Thaksin Shinawatra's shoes to be filled by his wife, Khunying Pojaman”.
Meanwhile, Council for National Security (CNS) chairman Sonthi has come under strong criticism for “showing support for a proposed amnesty for former executives of the dissolved TRT party”, the Bangkok Post said. While Sonthi intends the amnesty as a national reconciliation measure, people like Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD) secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila insisted “it was too soon to discuss any amnesty which would allow certain former TRT executives to undermine the verdict [as] some groups might use [the amnesty] to claim that the ruling was unjust and unlawful and that the CNS has to grant them an amnesty to clear their names.”
Thammasat University law expert Vorachaet Phakeerat reiterated this point, saying “that while an amnesty was possible, it would in effect ‘overrule’ the Constitution Tribunal's verdict”. Tul Sitthisomwong, of Chulalongkorn University, said “a group of academics will submit a petition against the proposed amnesty to the CNS and the government”, the Bangkok Post reported.
Sonthi has since retracted his statement on the amnesty offer. He explained that the amnesty issue was actually raised by people outside the CNS, but the CNS was willing to consider it to help achieve reconciliation and set the country back on the path to democracy. (4 June 2007)
Sonthi backtracks on TRT amnesty idea (Bangkok Post, 4 June 2007)
Amnesty idea comes under fire (Bangkok Post, 3 June 2007)
300 gather for counter-rally (Bangkok Post, 3 June 2007）
PM says no decision yet on amnesty (Nation, 3 June 2007)
6,000 protest against junta (Nation, 3 June 2007)
Chaturon: I am a second-class citizen（Bangkok Post, 2 June 2007)
PTV to hold anti-coup rally tonight （Bangkok Post, 2 June 2007)
PM: 'Of course Thaksin protests'（Bangkok Post, 2 June 2007)
PM: Govt may soon lift ban on political activity (Bangkok Post, 2 June 2007)
EC mulls criminal charges against TRT execs (Bangkok Post, 2 June 2007）
Govt and NLA to decide on who will get amnesty: Gen Sonthi (Nation, 2 June 2007)
Loophole could benefit TRT execs (Nation, 2 June 2007)
Generals 'can't bar Thaksin' (Nation, 2 June 2007)
Chaturon to remain active (Nation, 2 June 2007)
TRT loyalists want Pojaman to take over (Nation, 2 June 2007)
Democrats united now, Suthep says (Nation, 2 June 2007)
Not the end of the road for TRT (Star, 2 June 2007）
Exiled Thaksin banned, not broken (Reuters, 1 June 2007）
INTERVIEW - Thai Democrat Party to woo Thaksin's rural base (Reuters, 1 June 2007）