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Thai legislative poll has sobering lessons

Thai legislative poll has sobering lessons

On Saturday, Thailand held its first National Assembly elections since the overthrow of the previous ruling and now outlawed Thai Rak Thai (or Thais Love Thais) party of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra by a military "Council for National Security" in September 2006.
The elections for the 480-seat legislature, originally scheduled for October 2006, thus became the first national democratic election in Thailand since the coup and attained a high turnout of over 85 percent of Thailand's 45.60 million voters in 76 provinces and 157 small constituencies with 400 seats being directly elected and 80 seats divided among Thailand's eight political parties based on proportional representation on a regional basis.
Since the election system is broadly similar to the dual vote, single-seat constituency system to be used to elect a halved 113-seat Legislative Yuan on January 12, the Thai election has considerable reference value for Taiwan.
First, the military coup that deposed Thaksin and the subsequent declaration of martial law played havoc with Thailand's political stability and inflicted a heavy price on the Southeast Asian state's economy.
The decision by the military government to outlaw the TRT and ban its executives from running in elections for five years finally became a national political joke as ex-TRT politicians formed a new "People's Power Party."
Despite the alacrity and rich experience of the Thai military in carrying out coups and exercising military rule with the pro forma approval of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current military junta has failed in its efforts to purge Thaksin's influence from the Thai political stage.
Moreover, the Thai people generally are no longer so submissive as in the past and evidently decided to use their ballots to boycott the military chieftains.
As a result, the rather mis-named pro-Thaksin "People's Power Party" tallied an impressive virgin performance, winning 232 seats with approximately 37 percent of the ballots , falling just short of a majority, while the liberal Democratic Party mustered 165, the pro-military right-wing Thai Nation Party won only 37 seats and the "For the Motherland Party" 25 seats.
Take heed
Taiwan's former authoritarian party should take heed of this result and refrain from encouraging any military action that could be seen as assisting the restoration of the Kuomintang rule, much less attempting to directly intervene in our hard-won democratic system.
Second, Thailand's farmers have long been the most disadvantaged and preyed upon class in Thai society and have long had a reputation for passivity and lack of political ambition or interest.
Nevertheless, in an apparent attempt to follow the example of Japan's long-time ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Thaksin's former TRT devoted its greatest efforts during the past five years to cultivating support among farming communities and in the rural areas.
This strategy of political patronage harvested a rich crop of farmer ballots that allowed the tycoon and politician to carry out his own corrupt and repressive rule without having to worry overmuch about negative reactions among the politicized urban elite and working class.
This huge change in the Thai political structure clearly influenced the results of Saturday's National Assembly election.
Hence, politics in Thailand is no longer monopolized by the middle class or professional politicians, another development that is worthy of close attention in Taiwan political circles.
If PPP leader Samak Sundaravej, a former minister in a previous military regime, is able to use the PPP's status as the largest single party in the National Assembly and together a coalition government in the face of intense pressure by an infuriated and frustrated military on smaller parties, it is possible that a PPP government could invite Thaksin, who is now in Hong Kong, to return to Bangkok as early as February to face corruption charges.
In such a scenario, it is quite possible that the new constitution set in place by the military and ratified by a national plebiscite in August could be dumped in favor of a return to the 1997 Thai constitution and that Thaksin himself along with his former TRT associates could be amnestied and return to power.
If the PPP should fail to organize a new government, it is possible that the Democrat Party could put together a anti-Thaksin and anti-PPP coalition of smaller parties with the assistance of the military.
In this case, Thailand, despite the return of some semblance of democracy, is likely to continue its current state of political instability and deadlock until the next National Assembly polls.
The prime lesson for Taiwan citizens of the Thailand imbroglio is that the new electoral system to be implemented in the upcoming Legislative Yuan elections may not necessary be a panacea to end Taiwan's own political deadlocks between the governing Democratic Progressive Party and the former authoritarian and now opposition KMT unless proponents of genuine democratic and clean politics boldly go to the polls and block the former ruling KMT from retaining its unquestioned control over the legislative branch.
Reports of pervasive vote buying and the growing likelihood that the controversy over whether a "single-step" or "two-step" voting process will be adopted may well result in a low voter turnout in which "mobilization votes" gain greater relative impact and ensure the continuance of a "blue" and "black and gold" Legislature.


Updated : 2021-01-21 13:26 GMT+08:00