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Thai elections but no government

Posted by Andrew on 25 December 2007, 2:21 pm

As tourists sunned themselves on the beaches Sunday, Thais across the country went to the polls to choose the first democratically elected government since the Sept 2006 Coup. But despite all results being announced by Monday, it remains uncertain just who will lead the country, and an outcome is only due long after the holiday season is over.

The average tourist may be oblivious to the meaning of this election nor the background but most Thais and local experts are keenly watching the results. The eventual outcome will result in two very different directions for the country beset by political uncertainty since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military Putsch 16 months ago.

The telecoms tycoon, who is exiled in London and recently purchased Manchester City Football club, appears to have made a giant leap forward in his quest to return to the power-frame. The People’s Power Party (PPP), widely acknowledged as Thakin’s proxy and formed out of the ashes of his banned TRT party, has won 232 of the seats in the 480 seat parliament. It now needs just one or two minor parties to form a governing coalition. And if so, the party has pledged to ‘bring back Mr Thaksin’.

But this is not a foregone conclusion. Despite it’s stunning victory, which surprised the second placed Democrats who managed just 165 seats, there is still a good chance the old power clique will succeed in denying them a return to power. The three largest other parties have so far ruled out joining a coalition, and the PPP is likely to lose some of seats when red cards are dished out by the Electoral Commission this week for vote buying offences.

At stake is the principles of justice. As the new government, the PPP will push to overturn the banning of the TRT and 111 of its executives, following a ruling for cheating in the April 2006 snap poll. It also intends to drop the multiple corruption charges against Thaksin and will probably try to disband the Assets Scrutiny Commission. This will reverse progress on many of the issues that lead to the coup, and is likely to return the country to the mass protests experienced in Bangkok prior to the crisis when Thaksin’s ethics came under the spotlight.

But the PPP have gained an overwhelming mandate from the poor masses, mainly in the North and Northeast, who are keen for a return to the populist policies of the Thaksin era, regardless of his background. Should the Democrats manage to form a government by cobbling together a six party coalition, they too are capable of initiating a boost to the sluggish economy and addressing the needs of the poor, but a fractious coalition will mean they will be less effective and might not last a full term.

For the next few weeks the country will have to wait in suspense as the usual backroom dealing takes place. Either the country will end up with a weak multi-party government, or more of the protests and disunity that Thaksin’s party seems to elicit. Although both options will still kick-start economic growth and investor confidence, promoting tourism in the process, most commentators agree that government stability will remain elusive this year. However, the security situation for visitors remains safe and unchanged.

Nation newspaper

Bangkok Post

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