Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thaksin mania lives on as Red Shirts go two-up against govt


THE score so far for Thailand’s recent by-elections is: Thaksin Shinawatra 2; Democrat-led coalition government 0.

Last Sunday, the Puea Thai Party (the successor of Thaksin-backed People’s Power Party and Thai Rak Thai) clobbered Chart Thai Pattana Party, a member of the seven-party ruling coalition, in Si Sa Ket province. A week earlier, Puea Thai thumped Bhum Jai Thai Party, another coalition member, in Sakon Nakhon province.

Two constituencies out of 400, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, “should speak little”.

“However, in a turbulent and fluid body politic, what happened in Sakon Nakhon and Si Sa Ket bears several immediate repercussions,” Thitinan wrote in the Bangkok Post on Tuesday.

The political analyst argued that “it reaffirms that Thai Rak Thai (TRT) fever, which should have been extinguished when the party was dissolved more than two years ago, is resilient in the face of the military coup of 2006, a coup-induced constitution, party dissolutions and various other coercive side measures to overcome the TRT platform”.

Thitinan also pointed out that if Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party’s objective “is to retake power after the next election, its coalition partners’ resounding defeats do not augur well for the ruling party”.

Should the Democrats be worried about these two defeats?

“It is far too early to tell because in the last by-elections at the end of January the coalition won almost all of the seats (which became vacant when the court banned PPP and two other parties). So the public sentiment is continuously changing,” countered Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks.

However, Pitch Pongsawat, a Chulalongkorn University political lecturer, pointed out that Thaksin was not actively involved in January’s by-elections.

By and large, Buranaj added, the results really reflected local sentiment more than approval or disapproval of the Abhisit government because his (Abhisit’s) major economic stimulus packages were only passed last week.

For example, he said, government funds were not yet disbursed to benefit the people, suffering through the political and economic crisis, especially in the impoverished north-east region (which is Thaksin’s stronghold and where Si Sa Ket and Sa Sakon Nakhon are located).

But still, the by-election results show that the self-exiled Thaksin is back, politically.

“You can’t deny the fact that Thaksin is still actively exerting his influence on the course of events in Thailand. For example, during the April riots, he explicitly called for more people to take to the streets while the riots were in full swing,” noted Buranaj.

But why is Thaksin, who was overthrown in a 2006 coup, still popular?

“Well, you can’t underestimate the power money has in determining populist movements in Thailand. We can still see a clear continuation of his political activities through his different vehicles – UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, also known as the Red Shirts), Puea Thai and his former political affiliates who are banned from politics,” the spokesman said.

But is Thaksin still popular?

“Oh yes, but I think people are also realising the (shifting) rhetoric of the movement supporting Thaksin. The UDD said it opposed dictatorship and then it said it wanted to bring down the privy councillors (advisers to the Thai king) and then last week it wanted to bring back Thaksin (through a royal pardon signature campaign) so that he doesn’t have to face his trials,” Buranaj said.

“It is really a movement using majoritism (pressure through people power) to overrule the rule of law.”

But isn’t Thaksin just “doing a PAD” (People’s Alliance for Democracy, also known as the Yellow Shirts, which seized two Bangkok airports and the Prime Minister’s office when the PPP-led coalition was in government)?

In reply, the spokesman gave the standard answer: The would be no double standard in the way Abhisit’s government deals with the two colour-coded street movements.

On the constant media reports that Abhisit’s coalition government was unstable, Buranaj said: “Many of these rumours are spread by Puea Thai which still can’t find a party leader.

“In Thailand’s constitutional democracy the leader of the opposition is essentially a prime minister in waiting in case the government (collapses).”

Well, 2-0 is not a bad result for a leaderless party.

(Published in The Star on July 4, 2009)


Anonymous said...

Democrat party spokesman should wait for the next event on 26 July when pro-Thaksin Isan villagers plan to celebrate his 60th birthday. I can give him suggestions for comments: "these uneducated people have been duped and lured by Thaksin's cheap populist policies. They should listen to our handsome Oxford-educated leader instead."

Steve said...

"in the improvised north-east region" ?

I assume this should be "impoverished"........