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Thaksin factor all over again
Publication Date : 16-12-2013
Coups and elections have become a routine fixture in Thailand. And this time around, will it be the pro- or anti-Thaksin forces who will prevail.
On Monday, in a televised address, Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced she would dissolve parliament and hold a snap election.
“Wah, another election in Thailand,” said a colleague at Menara Star in the Petaling Jaya office.
“There might not be an election,” I said.
On that Monday, hundreds of thousands were marching to the Government House (the office of the Thai prime minister) to force the Yingluck government to step down.
The prime minister’s attempt to pass an amnesty bill in parliament that would have pardoned her older brother, Thaksin, of his criminal conviction sparked the latest street protest.
Under pressure from demonstrators who have flooded the streets of Bangkok for weeks, Yingluck told the Thais: “At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide.”
There might not be an election because the Thai people – three fifths of the voting electorate mostly from rural north and northeast of the country – will decide to vote into power a party linked to Thaksin, who was Thai prime minister from 2001 to 2006.
Since 2001, parties – Thai Rak Thai (TRT), People’s Power Party (PPP) and Pheu Thai – controlled by Thaksin have comfortably won all Thai polls.
So how do you get into power without allowing the Thai people to decide?
If you can’t beat Thaksin in this game called elections, what you do is launch a military coup while he is in New York to attend the United Nations general assembly.
On the night of Sept 19, 2006, a few weeks after I started working in Bangkok as The Star’s Thailand correspondent and Asia News Network (ANN) editor, I received an SMS informing that there was a military coup.
I told my then fiancee, Vera, to stay in the apartment, lock the door and not open it unless it was me, and I walked for five minutes to The Nation’s office, a Thai English newspaper that together with The Star are members of ANN, an alliance of Asian newspapers.
“The military has launched a coup,” a jubilant journalist at the newsroom told me.
Later, I looked out of the window of the ANN office and saw soldiers surrounding The Nation building.
“They are friendly soldiers,” a Nation journalist told me. “They are here to protect us.”
The military installed a caretaker prime minister. To make sure Thaksin’s political grip was uprooted, the courts banned TRT.
In December 2007, elections were held in Thailand and PPP (a TRT reincarnation) won most of the votes. The self-exiled Thaksin – or to be precise his proxy – was back in power. His brother in law, Somchai Wongsawat, was even elected prime minister.
The anti-Thaksin forces (with allies in the military, courts and monarchy) then did what they did before the 2006 military coup.
They unleashed the Yellow Shirts to bring down the People’s Power Party government to step down.
One of their crippling stunts was to occupy Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok in late November 2008.
It was a surreal experience covering the siege of Suvarnabhumi that paralysed the Thai tourism industry. Inside the airport, instead of passengers flying in and out of the airport, hundreds of yellow shirts protesters occupied the arrival and departure halls. Outside the airport, it was no man’s land. You could sense there were hidden “black shirt” gunmen guarding the parameters.
The PPP government asked the military to take over the two airports.
Instead, it did a TV coup.
On television, the Army commander General Anupong Paochinda flanked by his generals told the government to resign.
Then came the judicial coup in December 2008. The court dissolved PPP over alleged electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. Once again, Thaksin (or his proxy) was kicked out of power.
A government led by the Democrat party took over. The pro-Thaksin forces in the form of the Red Shirts did a Yellow Shirt on the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.
It launched a street protest to bring down the Abhisit government.
The military handled the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts differently.
It used rubber bullets on the Yellow Shirts and live bullets on the Red Shirts.
My Thailand stint ended at the height of the Red Shirt bloody protests that saw “civil war” played out in the streets of Bangkok between the army and the pro-Thaksin forces in 2010.
In 2011, the Democrat government’s hold on power was untenable and it called for an election.
I was back in Bangkok to cover the Thai polls and it was clear that even Bangkokians – a majority of whom were anti-Thaksin – had gotten tired of the bumbling Democrat government.
In the July 2011 elections, Pheu Thai (a reincarnation of PPP) won the majority of votes and Yingluck was elected Thailand’s first female prime minister.
If polls go on schedule in February 2014, expect Thaksin’s Pheu Thai to win convincingly.
One way for the anti-Thaksin forces to get into power is via a people’s coup.