The celebrations by the yellow shirts at Suvanabhumi will be short-lived. The Constitutional Court has struck a blow against the elected government. Somchai has gone. Twelve cabinet members have gone.
But Thai Rak Thai, soon to take on its third incarnation, remains.
The parliament has not been dissolved and the government looks very likely to maintain its majority. The Democrat-except-when-you-can’t-win-an-election-and-then-a-judicial-coup-is-OK Party simply can’t muster the numbers. More blatant judicial or military intervention will be required to remove the government.
After the respectful lull for the king’s birthday, the People’s Alliance for Democracy will be back with new targets and provocations. But their yellow ranks may be thinner. Their international and national reputation is in tatters. Released from the cult-like hot-house atmosphere of Government House and Suvarnabhumi a good number of the “aunties with clappers” may decide that dabbling in terrorism is not for them.
The greatest threat to the PAD is, of course, the formidable political machine that is Thai Rak Thai. It has proven to be an extraordinarily resilient party political force. Formed in 1998 by police lieutenant colonel turned telecommunications magnate Thaksin Shinawatra, it has survived concerted efforts to destroy its popularity and legitimacy. It has endured large-scale popular protests, a military coup, corruption convictions, a bloody record of gross human rights abuses, two dissolutions and the dismissal from power of three of its prime ministers. With the end of the People Power Party, the Thai Rak Thai cadre will now line up under a new banner, Peua Thai.
When it first won an election, back in 2001, the memorable Thai Rak Thai campaign slogan was “new thinking, new action, for all Thais”. Delivering on many of its promises to devote attention and resources to rural issues and the plight of the poor, it has been deeply unpopular with parts of the middle and upper classes. The Thai Rak Thai government challenged powerful players in the existing social and economic order while Thaksin helped himself and his family to some of the spoils of office. Thai Rak Thai has paid the price ever since.
Nonetheless all previous efforts to remove it from Thai political life have failed. If pushed it could mobilise crowds on the streets of Bangkok that would dwarf the anti-government forces. Of course, in the coming months, Thai Rak Thai 3.0 is likely to face even greater threats to its existence. It is clear that some people have staked their futures on a Thai political system where elections have a diminished role.
This is a future that former Prime Minister Thaksin and his populist tacticians are working very hard to avoid.