For all intents and purposes Thailand is counting down the days until the 2014 ThailandÂ election. However, while anti-government / anti-democracy protesters clash with riot police in an attempt to disrupt the vote and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra publicly remains committed to the election process, it may in reality be an election that no one really wants to take place, at least not on February 2 as scheduled.
That the anti-government / anti-democracy protesters do not want the 2014 Thailand election to take place is clear, protesters under the moniker of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot) have been calling for the removal of the so-called “Thaksin regime” since early August. (See: No Place for Foreigners )
The so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) also do not want them to proceed with its secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, former secretary-general of the Thailand Democrat Party and a 34-year career politician vowing to shut Bangkok roads down to stop the vote proceeding.
Other groups and individuals who are either tired of the corruption, who vehemently hate the Shinawatra family, or simply subscribe to the philosophy that their rural dwelling Thai “brothers and sisters” are to irresponsible to vote also clearly do not want the election to take place, with up to 400,000 of them at a time rallying on the streets of Bangkok to protest in recent times.
Thailand’s oldest surviving political party, the Democrat Party, also clearly do not want the 2014 Thailand elections to take place. A general meeting of the party last week reportedly voted unanimously to boycott them after all of its members of parliament resigned en masse so they could join the protest rallies.
The latest voices to join the call for the 2014 Thailand elections to be postponed is the that of the Thailand Election Commission (TEC). After being spirited away by helicopter from violent protests at the sporting arena where ballot paper positions were decided for party-list registrations the TEC issued a statement calling on the government to postpone the February 2 poll, claiming that if the election is held as scheduled, it will surely be an election of debris and blood.
Smoke and Mirrors Pantomime
The reaction from pro-democracy supporters on social media platforms such as the micro-blogging platform Twitter was immediate. The general consensus being that the TEC was caving in to pressure from the anti-government, anti-democracy mob.
However, in reality the opposite might be the case and the violent street protests, injuries and shooting death of a 45-year-old police man may be all part of the smoke and mirrors pantomime of Thai politics.
One of the most surprising aspects of the current political unrest has been the benign stance taken by the Thailand military, particularly the Royal Thai Army (RTA).
In the last 80 years the Thailand armed forces has staged or attempted 18 coups d’Ă©tat, the most recent in 2006 which removed the government of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the elder brother of current caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who had won five consecutive elections and in the process kicking off the last seven years of political unrest.
Apart from a few public comments expressing concern over the increasing violent clashes, calls for negotiations and denials that another military coup is in the pipeline, Royal Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has taken a low public profile, publicly supporting the election process and Ms Shinawatra’s government.
The Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces,General Thanasak Patimaprakorn has also voiced his support for the elections, rejecting a call by Mr Thaugsuban to throw the support of the armed forces behind the “people” saying â€śthe best way to solve the problem is through negotiationâ€ť.
While Thailand’s “red-shirt” movement might be eager to head to the polls to re-elect Ms Shinawatra and the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PTP) the reality is that history appears to be repeating itself and a February 2 Thailand election may beÂ neither in their, PTPs, or deposed prime minister Shinawatra’s best interests.
In 2008 as pro-royalist, Democrat Party-supported People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), aka the “yellow-shirts”, ran amok in Bangkok seizing Government House, both Bangkok airports and five provincial airports, then RTA chief General Anupong Paochinda refused to allow his troops to be used to protect government property or to evict protesters from the airports.
In 2010 when hundreds of thousands of red-shirts took control of large parts of Bangkok calling for elections after the Democrat Party seized power in 2008 by a vote of the parliament in the wake of Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolving the Peopleâ€™s Power Party which had won the 2007 general elections, it is claimed he was reluctant to see the army’s role increase beyond perimeter containment
A similar event is occurring today. General Prayuth is due to make a statement on the RTAs position regarding the recent violence and the 2014 Thailand election later today, December 27. A statement comprising anything less than support for the 2014 Thailand election proceeding will be a surprise.
The reality is that PTP has been on life support since the Constitutional Court last month ruled its attempt to change the 2007 Thailand Constitution unconstitutional, in the process chastising the government over its lack of honesty, in particular noting three video clips that showed government MP Narisorn Thongtirach using absent colleagues voter identification cards to vote for constitutional amendments. (See: Thailand PM Yingluck Shinawatra Jumps the Shark Again )
|Thailand’s Constitutional Court was highly critical of government MPÂ Narisorn Thongtirach using absent colleagues voter ID cards to vote for the Constitutional amendments|
While the Constitutional Court failed to impose any penalty, its ruling and preamble were akin to loading the executioner’s gun, with the matterÂ proceeding to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate whether those who voted for the changes should be impeached.
Yesterday as Thailand riot police performed their duties under orders and attempted to stop protesters intent on disrupting the 2014 Thailand Election, the NACC announced it had grounds to pursue charges against former Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont and his deputy Nikom Wiratpanij for violating the Constitution over their roles in the passage of the proposed senate composition reforms.
According to the NACC there is sufficient evidence that the two could be deemed to have performed their duty dishonestly, abused their authority, and violated parliamentary ethics, setting January 7 next year as the date when it will deliver its ruling.
If the complaints before the NACC are proven, the ghosts of 2008 which saw the elected government of Somchai Wongsawat removed from office after just 78-days due to vote-buyingÂ allegations against one of hisÂ People’s Power Party (PPP) MPs being proven and his predecessor Samak Sundaravej stripped of the prime ministership for hosting a television cooking show, will return to haunt the Thai political landscape.
A guilty verdict by the NACC could see a similar fate befall PTP and Ms Shinawatra as her and Thaksin’s brother-in-law in 2008, the party de-registered and Ms Shinawatra and the PTP executive barred from politics for five years.
With registration and ballot numbering complete for party-list candidates and constituency candidate registration due between December 28 and January 1, any decision by the NACC will come to late for Phue Thai to morph into a new identity and for its existing members â€“ unless the NACC impeaches all of them â€“ to join in time to take part in a February 2 poll. It will also be interesting to see if all current PTP MPs enter the 2014 Thailand election on the PTP ticket, or under one or more of the many new parties that registered for party-list candidacy on December 26.
Until any uncertainty over the NACCs findings and the future of the PTP is known the PDRC can well afford to take the New Year’s rest that Mr Thaugsuban told his followers last night to take, as any continued violent clashes could see the very thing occur that shadowy back-room power brokers do not want to see happen, the abandonment of the February 2 polling date.
Abandonment of the February 2 polling date raises a number of questions, not the least of which is whether royal assent would be needed for the caretaker government to continue past the maximum 60 days in which an election must be held after parliament is dissolved, or what the process is if a political party in a caretaker role is de-registered prior to a general election.
In any event the stageÂ appears set for a repeat of of modern-day history, though with all Democrat Party MPs having resigned their seats before parliament was dissolved and having decided to boycott the 2014 Thailand election it is unlikely former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would have any claim to heading any form of interim government, unless by royal appointment.
The choices would therefore appear to come down to: 1. the appointment of an interim prime minister and the setting up of a “people’s council” under Section 3 of the constitution as has been pushed by Mr Thaugsuban; 2. abandonment of the February 2 polling date and the scheduling of fresh elections at a later date (which would give any PTP members not impeached the opportunity of joining a new party); or 3. a vacancy ripe for the Thailand armed forces to step up into as a “honest broker” to fill the political void and instil stability.
None of these options will appeal to Thailand’s red-shirt movement who will be enraged if yet another “pro-Thaksin” government is removed from the political playing field by the country’s legal system, despite the real fault of course lying at the feet of those who performed dishonest deeds in their rush to push through electoral reforms, or those responsible for drafting the poorly thought-out blanket amnesty bill that stirred the sleeping giants on both sides of the red-yellow political divide.
Meanwhile, having hung her mantle on democratic elections and receiving international support and praise for her government’s handling of protests to date, Ms Shinawatra is left with no other option than to continue down the 2014 Thailand election path, with January 7, 2014 being the earliest any policy decisions or electoral sweeteners should be expected. In any event 2014 promises to see Thailand’s turbulent political system no less destructive, disjointed and damaging to the country than it has been over the last seven years.
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