Posts Tagged ‘thailand democracy’
I can’t think of a better way to summarize Thailand’s political deadlock, which has arguably persisted since 2006, than Chulalongkorn University professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s one sentence in his WSJ op-ed today looking ahead to the country’s elections on July 3:
That is the curse of Thailand’s distorted democratic deadlock: The election winners can’t rule and the rulers can’t win elections.
That has indeed been the sad tale of Thailand for the past five years. After a military coup in September 2006 that deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a deeply polarizing figure who charmed many with his pro-poor policies and angered others with rampant human rights violations and cronyism among other things, Thailand has been characterized by a toxic mix of paralysis and turmoil. Anti-Thaksin forces, which include powerful voices in the army, palace and bureaucracy, have tried virtually everything to cleanse the political system of Mr. Thaksin’s vast patronage network, including drafting a new constitution, dissolving old parties and breaking up demonstrators.
Yet, barring some sort of major miscalculation by pollsters, the pro-Thaksin Pueu Thai Party led by Yingluck Shinawatra (Mr. Thaksin’s sister) is set to win a decisive majority in polls on July 3. Still more political meddling could ensue thereafter, potentially followed by more violence in the streets and more paralysis. In his piece, Mr. Pongsudhirak lays out a path forward that might help avert this outcome, and I quote the relevant paragraphs below. I hope some version of this ends up playing out, because I fear what the alternatives might be if this deadlock persists.
To navigate a way forward, all sides of the Thai divide must agree first and foremost that election results must no longer be subverted and manipulated. If the voices of the majority are dismissed and disenfranchised again, as in the wake of the December 2007 polls, more turmoil and volatility can be expected.
From this agreement, a flexible election roadmap acceptable to the principals is possible. In the event they win a convincing mandate from voters, Mr. Thaksin and Pueu Thai need to make explicit assurances that they will not take retribution on their enemies.
A grace period of three to six months after the polls, when continuity will be emphasized over change, can create a conducive environment for transition and negotiations. During this grace period, the winners should guarantee that the army chief will not be transferred, the death toll from last year’s violence will be investigated through due process of law, Mr. Thaksin will stay away indefinitely, senior bureaucrats will not be moved, key policy fronts will not shift drastically, able hands will join cabinet, the controversial amnesty plan will be shelved for a certain period, and so forth.
This grace period would allow all sides to internalize the election results and their implications for Thailand. The anti-Thaksin coalition would also have to agree not to take to the streets as in 2008, to refrain from judicial interventions, and to negotiate the terms of a general amnesty that would clear the slate for the persecuted many who languish in jail or face other charges.
The details of any roadmap would have to rely on an actionable timetable and some level of trust, possibly with the assistance of detached third-party mediation. The details should be manageable once a consensus that Thailand has suffered enough is in place. Alternative scenarios are likely to lead to a spiral into chaos or dictatorship. A deal is preferable to déjà vu.