Archive for December 2007

Pro-Thaksin party wins plurality in Thai elections; now what?

December 26, 2007

The long-awaited elections in Thailand to elect a new post-coup government have taken place, with the People’s Power Party, affiliated in all but name with Thaksin, making an impressive showing. The PPP won 232 of 480 seats and is presently seeking to form a government in coalition with smaller parties.

Assuming that effort eventually succeeds, the next question is how Thaksin will fare under the new government. He still insists he is retired from politics (but here’s a skeptical take on that claim),  but his informal (or semi-formal) influence will still be very substantial in a PPP-led government, in all likelihood. The big questions as I see it are as follows:

1. What will happen to the court cases against Thaksin, which the Democrat Party still wants to see prosecuted in full?

2. Is Thaksin really capable of returning to Thailand and (after the initial splash of publicity) keeping a low profile, refraining from over-obvious political activity?

3. What are Thaksin’s long-term aims? Does he simply want to get his name cleared, his money unfrozen, and his ability to business restored? Is he happy to see out his days as a patron of sport?

4. If he does clear his name and get his money back, will he maintain continued interest in owning Manchester City? (The guess here is yes, for the time being.)

5. Will the investigation into the 2003 war on drugs initiated by the military government proceed under the new government, or simply be pushed to the background?

Based on my reading of the Thai press post-election coverage (there are far too many articles and analyses out there to link here, but follow the standing links on the right to see what is being said), it seems that even anti-Thaksin folks can accept his return to Thailand as simply a private citizen, while even pro-Thaksin folks in the PPP believe he must stay out of politics for the foreseeable future, both for his own sake and to avoid endangering a still-fragile recovery from the coup.

Personally, I’m not displeased to see the PPP do well in the election; I’ve never denied that the PPP/TRT does a better job than any other large-scale Thai party of representing the interests of the Thai majority. What was problematic about Thaksin’s rule was not his strong support among the rural poor or the efforts his government made to address their needs, but the abuses of executive power that also characterized his rule, as well as the ultimately destructive political polarization Thaksin provoked. A PPP-led government that managed to attend to the needs of the poor while avoiding executive overreach and minimizing unnecessary antagonism of other sectors of society seems to me like the best achievable outcome at this stage of Thai history.