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How will the political situation pan out as Thaksin steps down?

Updated On: Apr 07, 2006

PM Thaksin’s stepping down is no guarantee that the political situation in Thailand will remain calm. Although he has appointed his trusted aide, Chidchai Wannasathit as interim prime minister until a new government is formed, many difficult issues remain.

For one, Thaksin is declared to be only on leave and has not resigned. Chidchai will hence only cover daily matters and chair weekly cabinet meetings. Important matters will still be the preserve of Mr Thaksin, who retains his position as leader of the Thai Rak Thai party.

This outcome does not appease Thaksin opponents. "We will fight on to achieve political reforms and plan to spell out our goals at the upcoming rally," People'sAlliancefor Democracyspokesman Suriyasai Katasila said. The alliance views the rally as the first step of its campaign of uprooting "Thaksinism". The alliance believes that while Thaksin remains the de facto leader behind-the-scene, the Thai Rak Thai Party will “keep posing problems for society with its populist policies, privatization of state enterprises, free-trade agreements and media harassment”, the Nation reported.

Contrast this with the emotional farewell of Thaksin’s supporters like the Caravan of the Poor. Many cried openly when he promised to ensure that the Thai Rak Thai party served the poor.

Meanwhile, a group of peacemakers, the Non-Violence Group, has recommended reforms on how to heal the rift and bring about political reform. Other group members include Paiboon Wattanasiritham of the Centre for the Promotion of National Strength on Moral Ethics and Values, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, director of the Peace Information Centre at ThammasatUniversity, and Vanchai Vatanasapt, director of the Centre for Peace and Governance at King Prajadhipok's Institute. Their recommendations stress public participation, facilitating political reform effort, and dissolving parliament and calling a new general election right after amending the constitution. Mr Gothom, chairman of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council and director of Mahidol University's Research Centre on Peace- building, added that “the government seek input from the civil society and other concerned parties before making decisions, something akin to participatory democracy because representative democracy does not work in this case as there is only a single [political] party [active in parliament].” He also encouraged the Thai Rak Thai party to involve the public in the selection of the next prime minister.

The former opposition parties also condemn the Election Commission's plan to allow new applicants for by-elections in 38 constituencies where lone Thai Rak Thai party candidates failed to obtain the mandatory 20% vote. The Bangkok Post reported Deputy Democrat leader Jurin Laksanavisit as saying that the move was intended to create competition in the by-elections, enabling Thai Rak Thai to overcome the 20% requirement.

Adding to this confusion is the potential factional turmoil in the TRT. The most powerful faction in the party is believed to back Somkid as the new prime minister, setting them against Thaksin who favours Bhokin.  The Nation reported a TRT source as saying that “Thaksin fears that Somkid might act like Anand [Panyachun], who worked independently after being named interim prime minister by the military after its coup in 1992.” The Nation also reported that Somkid “was keen to become the next prime minister because it would not be easy for him to get the post under normal circumstances.” 

In any case, the fact that Chidchai has become interim prime minister is a cause of worry for the southern conflict. Srisomphob Jitpiromsri, a political science lecturer at Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani, said Chidchai’s hardline stance to the insurgency had caused much tension. Chidchai has been a key supporter of policies “which enabled police and military officers to arrest people without strong evidence and proper investigation,” Mr Srisomphob said. 

In spite of all this uncertainty and pessimism, the Thai stock market has rallied with the news of Thaksin’s departure, closing up 3%.Businessmen have also hailed Thaksin’s stepping down as the way for the economy to resume its growth of 4-5 % this year.

Sources:                

What lies ahead?  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Thaksin's 'political pause' is only the first step  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Go ask Chidchai, Thaksin tells reporters  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Faithful bid PM tearful farewell  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

TRT bigwigs coy over top job  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Alliance to shorten rallies, return to Sanam Luang  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Opposition continues to be wary  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

PM's exit sets stage for part II  (The Nation, 6 April 2006)

Somkid leads potential successors  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Total break or simply a canny ploy?  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Chidchai becomes interim PM  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)    

Thaksin bids emotional farewell to supporters, says he'll stick by them (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Peacemakers advise on healing rifts  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Chidchai at helm leads to fears for South  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Somkid leads potential successors Opposition to allowing new candidates  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

SET surges as Thaksin bows out  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)

Anti-Thaksin rallies to continue  (Bangkok Post, 6 April 2006)