AW and NF in Canberra, 1.30 AM: The coup of September 2006 was a bold roll of the dice. It was based on the hope that what has been termed the “network monarchy” could displace the electoral appeal of Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup was followed by a concerted ideological campaign that sought to contrast the disinterested virtue of the king’s “sufficiency economy” with the profligate populism of Thaksin’s path to economic development.
But the gamble has not paid off. Thaksin’s proxy party, People Power, will form Thailand’s next government (unless the military wants to chance its hand on an even more reckless gamble). People Power will not command a parliamentary majority, but its electoral authority in the parliament will be considerably greater than the drafters of the post-coup constitution would have hoped. A deal with just one other minor party may be enough to achieve a workable majority.
Since the pre-coup political crisis, respect for electoral legitimacy has been steadily eroded in Thailand. But now the electorate has given a clear signal that Thai voters want to choose their own government regardless of the ideological and constitutional manipulations of those who seek to disenfranchise them. The electorate’s affection for the king is not at issue, but this vote represents a rejection of the “sufficiency democracy” path mapped out for them by the military regime over the past year.
AW and NF in Canberra, 11.30 PM: The Democrat Party have only themselves to blame for their disappointing poll result. They have been given every assistance to win. Their nemesis, Thaksin, was removed by military force. Their opposition, the Thai Rak Thai Party, was dissolved. And in the campaign leading up to this election they received not-so-subtle backing from the palace and the military. But, even with all this extra-electoral support, they still seem incapable of putting together a convincing electoral performance.
In early 2006, at the height of Thaksin’s political crisis, the Democrat Party made a fateful decision. Knowing they would lose Thaksin’s snap election they decided to boycott it. Of course, they tried to justify the boycott from the high moral ground of anti-Thaksin outrage but to many observers it was clear that they were simply not willing to join Thaksin in an electoral fight.
This was a short-sighted act. Of course, they would have lost the election of April 2006 if they had contested it. But the Thaksin vote was soft, even in parts of his heartland, as indicated by the low voter turnout and the high “no-vote” recommended by the boycotters. In all likelihood they would have gained ground, considerable ground, from their low-point of 2005 when they won only 96 seats in the 500 seat parliament. With some solid grass roots campaigning they would have been able to steadily chip away at Thaksin’s electoral dominance.
Instead they took the extra-electoral route, sabotaging the 2006 snap election and then endorsing the coup that followed. Now they are back in the political game but not in government. They have put in a much better performance than 2005 but at what cost? The highly regarded 1997 constitution has been torn up. The monarchy, to whom the Democrats have pledged unswerving loyalty, has lost much of its veneer of being “above” politics. And Thailand’s democratic system itself has been weakened by yet another military intrusion into the political system. There is very little for the Democrat Party to celebrate tonight.
AW and NF in Canberra, 9.10 PM: It appears increasingly likely that the People Power Party will form Thailand’s next government. The most likely outcome will be a coalition between People Power and two of the smaller parties (probably Chart Thai and Pua Paendin). But there is some chance that People Power may win more than the 240 seats required to govern in its own right.
The central question for Thailand’s democracy is this: will the royalist-military elite that staged the September 2006 coup be willing to accept the election of Thaksin’s proxy party? Finding themselves back at square one after 15 months will be a bitter pill to swallow. Military action against the election result seems highly unlikely, though it cannot be ruled out. More likely is a concerted judicial attack on the elected government. This may take the form of a series of challenges to constituency results. The current military regime has worked hard to keep the spectre of electoral irregularity and vote buying alive and they may waste no time in arguing, as they did in relation to the Thaksin government, that the People Power victory was bought from an ill-informed and easily manipulated electorate.
How do you say “Groundhog Day” in Thai?
AW and NF in Canberra, 6.30 PM According to the Bangkok Post the king spoke on Friday urging “the armed forces and police to be a strong pillar in stabilising the country.” Thailand, according to the king, needs “strength and honesty to prevent it from collapsing.”
“You are soldiers. But that does not mean you have to rely on weapons for your operations,” he said. The King acknowledged the problems in the country, which is in need of reconciliation. “The country now is still not in order. But you can restore the order and make it strong with your strength.”
Surely this would have been a good opportunity to emphasise the importance of electoral democracy in bringing about stability. Instead of urging respect for the wishes of the electorate the king chose to emphasise the unifying force of the army.