Saturday, November 10, 2007

The A to Z of Thai polls

Campaigning for Thailand’s first general election since last year’s coup kicked off on Wednesday. Here’s the A to Z of the Dec 23 Thai polls.

A IS for Abhisit Vejjajiva, the 43-year-old Oxford-educated politician who is tipped to be Thailand’s prime minister, if his Democrat Party can persuade the smaller parties to come into a coalition government.

Banharn Silapa-archa, the 76-year-old former prime minister and leader of the Chart Thai Party, is expected to have a say on which party will form the next government. He also has an outside chance of becoming PM again.

Constitution: Under Thailand’s new constitution, the number of elected Members of Parliament is 480 (80 party-list MPs and 400 constituency MPs). Forty million-plus voters will cast two ballots, one for local candidates and a second for party-list candidates who are meant to represent the political parties’ platforms.

Democrat Party: Thailand’s oldest political party is the front-runner in the race to form the next government.

Election Commission vows to be politically neutral.

Free and fair elections. Many are doubtful.

General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin: The 61-year-old coup leader, who is now deputy prime minister, has declined to rule out another coup if the People Power Party (PPP), labelled as ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s ‘nominee’ party, forms the next government. Sonthi will announce his political plans on Monday.

Horse-trading will be at its peak among politicians once the outcome of the elections is known.

I’m with Abhisit,’ says Banharn, in dismissing reports that he could ditch his coalition partner if the PPP wins the most seats in the elections.

Junta: The military junta, which ousted Thaksin, is in command of one-third of the country (still under martial law), raising the question on how free and fair the elections can be.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The Thais’ mood for elections perked up when the 79-year-old revered king was released from hospital after more than three weeks of medical treatment.

London is where the 58-year-old Thaksin is living in self-exile. He is believed to be a major financier of the PPP.

Matchima Thipataya Party is the political vehicle of 63-year-old tycoon Prachai Liewphairatana, who has announced his willingness to join a coalition with anyone as long as he is in government.

Numbers game: Depending on whom you listened to, the PPP and the Democrat could win more than 100 seats each. The Pua Paendin Party might obtain 50 to 70 seats, and the Chat Thai Party 40 seats. Matchima and Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party are seen grabbing 20 to 30 seats each, and Pracharaj less than 10 seats.

Outright poll majority, which Thaksin’s TRT managed to win in the 2005 polls, is unlikely in this elections.

PPP, the reincarnation of Thaksin’s disbanded TRT, can win the most seats, but not form the next coalition government if it fails in political horse-trading.

Quotable quote: “Who did you fornicate with last night?” Samak Sundaravej asked of a female reporter in an attempt to skirt around an embarrassing query on his party’s infighting over its Bangkok candidates.

Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party, like other TRT splinter groups such as Puea Pandin and Matchima Thipataya, is hoping to enter into a government coalition with the Democrats.

Samak Sundaravej: The 72-year-old PPP leader, who served as deputy prime minister in several governments, is seen as a proxy of Thaksin. He has vowed to bring Thaksin back to Thailand ‘with full honour’. He could be Thailand’s next premier.

Thai Rak Thai: The tribunal court found TRT guilty of election fraud in the April 2006 polls (which were later annulled). It disbanded the party and barred 111 TRT MPs, including Thaksin, from Thai politics for five years.

Uncertain and Unclear: No matter who wins the election, the outcome is unlikely to put an end to the country’s political uncertainty.

Vote buying is widespread especially in rural constituencies, where the people are poor.

War of words: A shouting match between Thepnimit Kongjan, a Samak admirer, and Vichan Santivorakul, an Abhisit fan, turned deadly on Thursday.

X-factor: The unknown factor that can influence the possibility of a possible dark horse candidate becoming PM.

Yes votes’ in the Aug 19 national referendum on the army-backed constitution indicated where the Democrats would obtain their seats (south and Bangkok). And the ‘No votes’ showed strong support for Thaksin in northern and north-eastern provinces.

Zones: Under the proportional representation system, there are eight zones or groups of provinces, with each area to be represented by 10 members of parliament (MPs).

(Published in The Star on Nov 10, 2007)