Another test for Thai democracy

In the wake of elections recently declared void by Thailand’s Constitutional Court, discusses the ongoing political situation in the country

Photo credit: ilf_

Photo credit: ilf_

Round and round we go. March 21st saw the Constitutional Court of Thailand, which has a history of rulings against Thaksin Shinawatra and his proxy parties, side with the opposition yet again by declaring the February 2nd general election void.

This was an election that had seen around 20 million Thais come out to cast their vote, presumably with a view to ending a political crisis which has been raging since November. Instead, a group of militants decided it was acceptable to delegitimise the vote, blockading polling stations and terrorising election officials across Bangkok and southern provinces.

The current situation firmly calls into question the future of Thai democracy. Can it withstand the concerted efforts by the establishment to see off Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party?

February’s election was always set to be high-stakes. The Democrat Party, led by the upper crust Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, boycotted the polls; a decision many saw as indicating the party’s disregard for democracy, upset at its failure to win a national election in over 20 years, and anger that Thaksin’s brand of populism still holds so much sway in Thailand.

Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former premier Thaksin, had been hoping for a clear, decisive mandate in order to ease tensions, and prevent further politically motivated violence. Street movement People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), closely aligned with the Democrats, argued elections “before reform” would be futile.

Suthep Thaugsuban, PDRC chief, is still insistent that he will continue to push for his “People’s Council”, even if that means undermining the next general election, mooted to be held in May. Thaugsuban wants the unelected council to take over the place of government with a brief to pursue radical political change.

Shinawatras’s red shirts and even Democrat Party sympathisers are deeply suspicious of Thaugsuban, as they fear he favours authoritarianism with his claims of wanting to “eradicate the Thaksin regime” and its “lackeys”. The question remains, how can any “democratic” country launch a bold reform programme if there is no elected government to undertake it?

This situation is the latest in a long line of political crises that has afflicted Thailand – military coups, counter-coups, and now judicial coups are almost de rigueur. The only constant has been King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Unlike in previous occasions, so far he has not been drawn into commenting. Despite the King’s efforts in the early ‘90s to give power to the people when he forged the way for a new political settlement, democracy is in a lamentable state today.

Fast forward to September 2006 when Thaksin was ousted, and the subsequent new constitution adopted through a rigged referendum (the military junta made it illegal to criticise the draft in the run-up to the vote). Restricting civil liberties and political rights, the “Coup Constitution” arguably laid the roots for the recent dramatic twists and turns in Thai politics. For example, the reduction in the Constitutional Court’s membership from 15 to 9 judges has clearly concentrated decision-making in the hands of a few. The Constitutional Court’s recent annulment of the election by a 6:3 majority vote outweighed the views of the 20 million citizens who voted.

The reality is that underlying the ruling of course is the illegal activity of Thaugsuban’s PDRC which disrupted the elections in the first place. Fingers could also be pointed at the independent Election Commission for its tardiness in scheduling the catch-up voting dates; they had only managed to stage five re-runs, moving the rest to late April. They were surely well aware of the constitutional 30-day timeframe for the new Parliament to start working after an election.

The country has no elected government and there is significant uncertainty ahead, as the establishment redoubles its efforts to further destabilise Yingluck Shinawatra and her party. The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation over Ms Yingluck’s involvement in the controversial rice policy may prove a portent, particularly if it leads to her impeachment. Thailand may not be under a military coup but the country is clearly divided with no easy resolution in sight. It may again be a matter of time before tanks are back on the streets.


  1. 30 Mar ’14 at 5:29 pm

    Timothy Anderson

    Timothy Anderson approves this message

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    • One doesn’t really enggae in conversation with a compulsive liar and cheat. If you were daft enough to be taken in by his increasingly lame stunts, you would actually be forced to endure a patronizing sermon. What this man seriously needs (to be taught the lesson of a lifetime, that he so obviously did NOT receive in his spoilt-rich youth) is to be subjected to a sustained aggressive attack by someone with some real convictions. (It wouldn’t really matter very much whether the rest of us actually supported the views of such a protagonist. All that would really matter would be that for the very first time in his arrogant life, Thaksin came up against someone who did not cave into his power/money equation at the earliest possible opportunity.) Local politicians are a sneaky bunch, but they basically only ever enggae in backbiting. They have no taste for a real face-to-face toe-to-toe slugfest. Seh Ai would never be up-to-it, as he far too much a part of the local face-saving culture. Both figures are seriously in need of some major league humiliation, to bring them both down to the level of us mere humans. The local world has revolved around such worthless blowhard incompetents for far too long.By setting up such an apparently obsequious enggaement, the Asia Society and the ABLF are showing themselves up laissez-faire appeasers, incapable of learning anything from Thaksin’s very obvious errors.

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  2. Interesting how the writer doesn’t even consider the possibility that Yingluck Shinawatra is guilty and just hides behind ‘democracy’. Thais want the political system reset and the Shinawatras are a barrier to that!

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    • Yingluk is guilty of what? We can read this article with hindsight – and yes Yingluk was found guilty of moving civil servants to different positions (against constitution conduct) but how does that compare to the accusations she had against her? Or the crimes committed by Abhisit and Suthep circa 2010?

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  3. Good piece but no mention of the succession struggle?

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    • Because he doesn’t want to be accused of lèse-majesté?

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    • However, the worst of all the government has done so far brefoe the upcoming confrontation tomorrow would be putting concertina around Chidladda Palace the act which getting a big cheer from those Anti Monarchy elements within UDD men but a big REBUKE from Pitak Siam or even Silent majority Even the government has claimed that they are going to Protect Royal Family in Chidladda Palace from Pitak Siam by putting concertina around Chidladda Palace, it has exposed that the government may have some nefarious motivation to do so. Furthermore, when the government telling UDD men to take off their familiar red shirts to wear yellow on 5 Dec 2012 when HM is at the Sihabunchorn (Lion Window) of Ananthasamakhom Throne hall, it has fueled paranoid to the royalists that the government has planned very serious and nefarious conspiracy If this has been folded they may even plan the government in exile with a hope to get a support from Uncle Sam after selling out their country

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