Friday, February 24, 2006

Thaksin dissolves parliament calls snap election for April 2

some snippets from The Nation

PM puts semblance of faith in democracy

On the surface, [dissolving Parliament] appears to be the best option. Since the whole political crisis revolves around one man, why not have a public referendum about him?

Why not have the Thai people decide whether Thaksin....should continue to rule? Is there a fairer or more democratic solution...?

Thailand's political reality is much more complicated than that. The present trouble stems from Thaksin's exploitation of a badly weakened system to maximise gains at the expense of fair play and democratic principles. Even his bitterest foes admit there is no way to challenge Thai Rak Thai in the snap election, scheduled for April 2. This somehow represents one big irony: in fearing his return through an election, democracy advocates - most of whom have become Thaksin's sworn enemies - are doubting the very power of democracy itself.

As for Thaksin, it's a desperate, risky and yet tricky move. Often taunted as democracy's worst enemy, he has tried to put an expanding alliance, hell-bent on toppling him in a rather awkward situation.

He attempted to blur the line between being a defender of democratic values and its destroyer. Last night's message was designed to portray a prime minister who wants to play by the rules but is harassed by rivals who don't respect them.

Some truths were missed though. First things first, the supposedly pro-democracy speech failed utterly to recognise the rights of those who had justifiably questioned his legitimacy by voicing their resentment through public protests. He called them a mob, a bad element trying to bring down an elected administration, without mentioning the reason why the growing movement of middle class citizens, intellectuals, activists and students so badly want him out of office.

The speech was peppered with words brought straight from the dictionary of past military strongmen: "provocation", "infiltration", "possible violence" and "third party".

He failed to mention that the previous two major gatherings at the Royal Plaza were perfectly peaceful, despite the largest turn-outs since the 1992 May Crisis. The protesters were all but described as troublemakers whom a very patient government could not reason with.

Strategically, Thaksin has in effect abandoned Bangkok, whose voters will most likely switch back to the Democrats in the snap election. In other words, he has cut loose Thai Rak Thai Bangkok MPs in a bid to save himself, or, even less nobly, buy more time as the House dissolution is by no means an end to the national crisis.

The April 2 poll won't resolve two key issues: the controversial Shin Corp take-over and the urgent need for political reform. His likely triumph will mean a nightmarish deja vu of conflict of interest, policy corruption, destruction of checks and balances and the deterioration of political morals.

All his opponents can hope for after the election is a shaky Thaksin government that can be knocked out in one punch, if the opposition has enough parliamentary strength to censure him directly. But it seems the present alliance doesn't want to wait until that day. They want to end it at Sanam Luang, whether or not it will be perceived as compromising democratic principles.

To the alliance, Thaksin came to power at the expense of those principles to begin with. To put it bluntly, if a leader who once declared "democracy is not my goal" is to be neutralised in a somewhat undemocratic manner, it sounds like fair deal.

Two major problems of Thai democracy:

1) unchecked vote fraud in the provices (many newspapers ran stories last election of direct payouts to villagers of 400-600 baht each for pulling the lever for TRT). It was commonly known, reported by some, and disputed by none. When Thai Rak Thai was on a roll, it did not feel it even had to respond to such allegations. Calls for an inquiry went nowhere.

The million baht village fund and other ludicrous handouts were also deployed to ensure provincial support.

2) procedural rules which prevent potential candidates from running if they have not been affiliated with a specific political party for 90 days prior to the election. This keeps current MPs from switching sides and contesting the upcoming snap election under a different party banner.