Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Thakshin Shinawatra makes a comeback in Thailand

Posted by harimpeiris on July 7, 2011

Last Sunday was general elections in Thailand and the results were a tribute to the Thai people, their political resilience and their commitment to a democratic, constitutional monarchy. The Thai elections one hopes would not only usher in a more representative government in Thailand but also be a beacon for more participatory political processes and governance in certain countries of the ASEAN region.

1.     The opposition won

The first lesson from the Thai election was that the opposition won by a landslide. During the campaign as the polls indicated support for the opposition, political analysts were suggesting a hung parliament. However, the electorate delivered to the opposition Phew Thai party, two hundred and sixty five seats in the five hundred seat legislature. With allies from other smaller parties, the new ruling alliance has two hundred and ninety nine seats. The scale of the victory is apparent when one considers that the formerly governing party garnered only one hundred and sixty seats. Outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did the decent thing and resigned as leader of the Democratic Party.

2.     The Shinawatras’ are back

The winner of the election was political newcomer and businesswoman Yingluck Shinawatra. At forty four years, Ms.Shinawatra is set to make history not only as Thailand’s first female prime minister but also its youngest. With a master’s degree in political science from Kentucky State University in the United States, she was president of AIS, Thailand’s largest mobile phone company which was founded by her brother, former Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra, who has affectionately referred to his younger sister as his political clone. Never having run for political office before, the younger Shinawatra is largely seen as a front for her politician brother, who from exile in Dubai has been largely and effectively controlling as well as bank rolling the affairs of their Phew Thai Party.

3.     The military coup was repudiated by the people

Five years ago, in 2006, when then Prime Minster Thakshin Shinawatra was in New York to address the UN General Assembly, the Thai military, staged a coup de eta, deposed him and banned him from returning to the country. After briefly running the country directly, the military engineered the defection of several parliamentarians of Mr.Thakshin’s party, arrested a few more and enabled the establishment favored Democratic Party to cobble together a working majority in Parliament, to run a coalition government, which had not received a popular mandate, though having a working majority in Parliament. Last Sunday’s general election was the first real popular and democratic test for the civilian face of the military backed regime and it was routed at the polls. The Democratic Party, an established, traditional and liberal political entity, certainly seriously tarnished its democratic credentials by being a party to and legitimizing a military coup and the subsequent military machinations in civil government. Its rout at the polls and consignment to the political wilderness by the Thai people will enable the Democratic Party to reexamine where they went wrong and how they might more democratically contribute to Thai political reconciliation and nation building.

One hopes, purely for the sake of democratic values, constitutional government and the rule of law that the Thai military would respect the voice and the democratically expressed will of the Thai people. The current leadership of the Army, are all senior officers that were involved in the 2006 coup as well as being responsible for the bloody crackdown on the pro democracy ‘red shirt” protests last year that witnessed at least ninety demonstrators killed and scores more arrested and incarcerated under emergency rule. It is clear that the scale of the opposition victory and the complete repudiation of the military backed regime by the people has caught the generals by surprise and created the recognition that deposing democratic government by military might, necessitates governance through significant coercion and force, which are the very antithesis of what is required for economic growth through foreign investment, exports and tourism, the cornerstones of the Thai economy.

 

There are legitimate political issues and varied views on them within Thai society as well as between its ruling elites and populist politicians like the Shinawatras. Such issues however should be addressed through open debate and dialogued between the parties and decided by democratic means and not through the barrel of a gun or an Army tank. That is the lesson of last Sunday’s Thai election.

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