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No end in sight to chaos in Thailand as situation continues to deteriorate

Publication Date : 05-02-2014

 

The political situation has been deteriorating in Thailand, and it is not easy to find even a clue as to how to end the current crisis.

Amid antigovernment protests, a general election was held on Sunday. There were no large-scale clashes between protesters and government supporters, as had been feared, but due to disruptions by protesters, the voting was cancelled in about 20 per cent of the electoral districts.

As things stand now, there will not be enough elected parliamentarians to convene parliament. And in those electoral districts where the voting was canceled, there is no clear prospect for holding another vote.

Still calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, protesters continue occupying major intersections in Bangkok. It is imperative to be on the lookout for worsening discord.

In the latest election, the Yingluck administration took its case to the voters by dissolving parliament, a move that took place amid overwhelming support from farmers and poor people—a group of supporters Yingluck inherited from Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother and former premier, who now is in self-imposed exile.

Meanwhile, Thaksin’s opponents, comprising the wealthy and urban-based middle-class, have called for an unelected council to govern as an interim government, as they are overwhelmed by Thaksin’s supporters in terms of number.

The major opposition Democratic Party, which supports Thaksin’s opponents, has boycotted the vote, in step with the voting disruption by protesters.

As voting was cancelled in a number of electoral districts, the party has shown its readiness to appeal to the Constitutional Court to invalidate the vote on the grounds it counters the constitutional stipulation requiring elections to be held on one day.

Legal overthrow?

Thaksin’s opponents may be aiming to lawfully overthrow the government outside the election.

Under the Constitution, enacted in 2007, the Constitutional Court and the National Anticorruption Commission have strong authority over parliament and public administrative organisations.

Thaksin’s opponents have a majority in all such organisations. Some years ago, the Constitutional Court caused the pro-Thaksin administration to collapse by ruling that electoral fraud rendered an election unconstitutional.

The dynamics of the political conflict are expected to remain for the time being, with Thaksin supporters calling for the principle of majority rule in running the country, while Thaksin’s opponents who attach importance to the “rule of law” by such entities as the Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, the 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has often served as a mediator in times of political instability in the past, has been receiving medical treatment. There is a limit to his influence over the current turmoil.

It is also worrisome that adverse effects on the economy have become apparent. The tourism industry, the country’s major industry, has been hit hard by the political unrest, with Thailand’s central bank revising downward this year’s projected national growth rate from 4.8 per cent to 3 per cent.

Under the current caretaker government of Prime Minister Yingluck, the government cannot compile a fiscal budget or approve any large-scale investment.

As Japanese-affiliate companies are expected to shy away from investing in the country, Thai authorities will continue to face a severe ordeal.

 

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