SUCH is the distrust and rancour pervading Thai politics that a meeting on April 22nd merely to pick a date for an election quickly descended into chaos. A poll on February 2nd was nullified by a court order, so the election commission had convened a meeting of over 50 political parties to plan for a new one. But they could not agree on a date, and Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the main opposition Democrat Party, did not even show up, citing a threat to his safety. The Democrats boycotted the February election and are demanding reforms before they agree to take part in a new one.
So Thailand remains stuck in political limbo. The eruption of anti-government street protests by the self-styled People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) nearly six months ago first brought Thai politics into deadlock. Since the February election was overturned, the current caretaker government, headed by Yingluck Shinawatra, is gradually exhausting its constitutional powers to raise the money it needs for even basic administrative tasks.
Central authority is withering away, damaging the economy and the long-term political health of the country. Extremists on both sides of a yawning political divide are flourishing. The “red-shirt” supporters of Ms Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party, mainly from the north of the country, remain loyal to her and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a military coup in 2006. They are sounding increasingly aggressive. Thousands have joined militias, training in martial arts to protect the government from the PDRC mobs or the courts, should they try to bring it down.
The other side of the divide is occupied by “yellow shirts” representing the Bangkok establishment and claiming legitimacy as defenders of the Thai monarchy. A PDRC stalwart has set up the “Rubbish Collection Organisation” (RCO), to “exterminate” those involved in anti-monarchical activities. Thailand has scandalously strict lèse-majesté laws, but even these, apparently, are not robust enough for the RCO. The mood in Bangkok is now as divisive and intimidating as many can remember. A prominent red-shirt activist was shot dead by unknown assailants on April 23rd. Politics “is beyond logic and reason now, it’s about faith”, argues Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist.
Ms Yingluck herself seems ever less likely to survive the turmoil. She faces two court cases for abuse of power. Either could lead to her resignation or impeachment. One, before the anti-corruption commission, concerns her government’s administration of a disastrous rice-subsidy scheme. The other, before the Constitutional Court, is more technical but potentially more threatening; it relates to the way she moved the former head of the National Security Council to make way for her own appointee. If that goes against her, some argue, not only she but all her ministers would have to resign.
Even if she survives these legal challenges, she may not stand as Pheu Thai’s leader in the next election, whenever it is held. Having no Shinawatra as leader would be an obvious way to defuse some of the tension. Prasert Patanaponpaiboon of Pheu Thai says many in the party think she should step down temporarily in favour of a leader less close to Mr Thaksin.
The rural vote in the north and north-east has won Pheu Thai five successive elections since 2001. Ditching Ms Yingluck, a main demand of opposition parties calling for reform to precede the election, might oblige those parties to take part. So if it won again, Pheu Thai would have a stronger mandate and greater legitimacy. The protesters would have achieved the very opposite of what they intended.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh