In a lose-lose scenario, the crisis continues as the Democrats use the bureaucracy to battle the government
With Thailand’s emergency election
over with a minimum of violence but a maximum of confusion, it appears the
government’s opponents were successful in disrupting the polls just enough to
prevent a decisive outcome. The Bangkok Post called it a “lose-lose” outcome in
an editorial Monday.
The results won’t be known for weeks
or months but it seems unlikely a new parliament can be convened after 438 of
Bangkok’s 6,671 polling places and several constituencies in the south were
denied the right to vote by anti-government protesters.
That leaves Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra weakened and vulnerable to the end game in her opponents’ apparent
strategy: the use of the government bureaucracy and the courts to finish off
her government and perhaps put an end to electoral democracy in Thailand for an
While Yingluck and her Pheu Thai
party remain popular, she does not have enough strength in the armed forces to
impose her will and any attempt to use her allies in the police to clear the
streets of illegal protesters under an existing emergency decree could provoke
a military backlash. The result is stalemate.
Having boycotted the polls and
orchestrated the street protests that have roiled Bangkok in recent months, it appears
that the Democrat Party and its business and royalist backers have given up all
hope of beating the forces of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra at the polls.
Instead, they have done all that they can to make any polls meaningless, while
creating as much chaos as possible.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in
2006, can thank his own hubris for creating the conditions that gave his
opponents an opening for the crisis they wanted. He and his Pheu Thai allies
(with Yingluck’s apparently reluctant consent) pushed forward a blanket amnesty
bill late last year that would have forgiven thousands of corruption cases,
including Thaksin’s own, thus clearing the way for him to come home from his
self-imposed exile in Dubai.
When the foolish and ill-timed bill
was passed in parliament, the outraged public reaction was immediate and
heartfelt. Yingluck withdrew the bill but the damage was done and the
Democrat’s had the opening they needed to create a crisis in the streets.
Yingluck played into their hands by
dissolving parliament on December 9 and seeking a fresh mandate with a snap
election. ‘Asia Senitnel’
“Suthep Thaugsuban [the protest
leader and one-time Democrat politician] and his team took two years to prepare
for this to happen," Jatuporn Prompan, a senior Pheu Thai member, told
Reuters recently. "He was preparing with the support of a network of elite
The protests, sustained by massive
donations from numerous large businesses in Bangkok and backed by a combination
of popular support among the middle classes and thugs providing muscle, created
unease, harmed the economy and allowed Suthep’s calls for ill-defined reforms
to appear reasonable.
Violence along the edges, some of
which has been blamed on Suthep’s People's Democratic Reform Committee
(PDRC), claimed ten lives and caused hundreds of injuries in recent
weeks, adding to a sense of an impending cataclysm.
Now the Democrats can use their
control of the permanent bureaucratic machinery of government to finish the
job. Thailand's anti-corruption commission has already launched an impeachment
investigation into Yingluck’s role as head of a wasteful rice-pledging scheme
that had a devastating impact on the treasury and has left unpaid farmers
There are other cases in the
Constitutional Court brought by the PDRC seeking to nullify Sunday’s polls. In
addition, the Election Commission itself seemed to be more on the side of the
Democrats than the government in the run-up to the polls.
Thaksin himself is said by sources to
expect his sister to soon be out of a job. He is said to be supporting his
long-time ally, the current foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, to take
over the leadership of the party should Yingluck be indicted.
There are at least two new groups of
supposedly nonpartisan figures proposing a series of reforms as a way out of
the crisis, but it remains to be seen how much traction they will gain. There
is also the murky role of the monarchy.
It has long been presumed that the
king is gravely ill and that a transition to a new monarch will be underway
fairly soon. Inevitably, a new monarch will be weak and uncertain during a time
of crisis and many analysts believe that the Bangkok establishment deeply fears
having Thaksin and his forces in control of the country during that crucial period.
So is there a way forward? In the
north and northeast, furious “Red Shirt” enemies of the Bangkok status quo are
said to be ready to fight against any coup d’état, which means that
while massive violence has been avoided so far, the nation remains on a razor’s
edge. The Red Shirts, backed by Thaksin’s resources, would far outnumber any
street heavies Suthep could muster and the prospect of pitched battles even
against the army is not out of the question.
Meanwhile, the elite bureaucrats will
likely push Yingluck out of the way relatively soon but that will neither give
the country a government nor forge a consensus for a way forward.
For that to happen, a change will be
needed in a mindset of confrontation. There appears no sign of that anytime