Thursday, 30 January 2014

Thailand’s political crisis: The show staggers on

Nguồn tin:

On the way to the revolution

IN FRONT of the Royal Thai Army Club the rump of a people’s revolution gathered to collect their reward. Inside, the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was locked in talks with the election commission over whether to suspend a snap poll which she had called for February 2nd. Before the meeting, the commission had cited disruption and the risks of violence as reasons for delaying the poll by four months. The revolutionaries were clear about what they wanted: the announcement of a temporary interruption of Thai democracy so that an appointed council of “good men”, as dreamed up by their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, could save the country. Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister with the opposition Democrat Party, and his followers were disappointed. Ms Yingluck emerged to say that the election would go ahead.

It was unexpected, and takes Thailand into uncharted territory. The young men outside the army club were veterans of a three-month protest that at times has brought Bangkok, the capital, to a standstill. The men have vowed to rid Thailand of the influence of the “Thaksin regime”, meaning Ms Yingluck and her elder brother, a former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they see as pulling the strings from his refuge in Dubai. Violence against people on both sides of the stand-off is mounting, with ten deaths to date. At one point outside the army club, a self-appointed guard of the protesters was shot in the leg and packed off to hospital. The gunman was quickly apprehended.

Deferring the poll no doubt carried risks that the government must have deemed to be intolerable. Ms Yingluck’s supporters would have hated to see a postponement. Two other factors may have coloured the government’s decision to risk a showdown. First, an opinion poll suggested that four out of five Thais intended to vote were an election held on February 2nd. Second, American and Japanese diplomats have been telling politicians on all sides that Thailand’s frail democracy and its economic prospects should not be held hostage by an angry minority.

Now that Ms Yingluck insists the poll must go ahead, the police and army, likely to be deployed in huge numbers, may try to disperse Bangkok’s protesting crowds. A state of emergency exists in and around the capital, though it has not yet been enforced. Over the weekend, roving mobs shut down all 50 of the polling stations open for early voting in Bangkok. It is hard to see how voting can take place there on February 2nd without army protection.

All the same, a landslide in elections that will be boycotted by the opposition is unlikely to help Ms Yingluck. She may not even be able to form a government. The constitution stipulates that 475 members of the 500-seat parliament are needed to convene parliament—and the protesters have already prevented candidates from registering in 28 out of the 375 constituencies open to direct elections.

Thailand’s political crisis, in other words, will only grow. The Democrats close to the royalist establishment have thrown in their lot with the street protesters and are prepared, even willing, to see electoral democracy sidelined. Ms Yingluck’s chief fear must be that the opposition steps up its efforts to overthrow her by resorting to legal action. The Democrats have filed a case with the anti-corruption commission to impeach her over a controversial rice-subsidy scheme. Another fear is that at some point the army may decide it must step in to reimpose order in a coup. After all, it unseated Mr Thaksin in just such a coup in 2006.

For now, the advantage is with Ms Yingluck. The army offers to mediate in the stand-off, but is reluctant to be seen this time round to take sides. The government has vowed to arrest Mr Suthep and other protest leaders. But Ms Yingluck might hold that card in reserve, giving the protesters opportunity to discredit themselves by denying their fellow citizens the right to vote.

But nothing suggests a resolution to the crisis. A measure of the mess is that Myanmar, only just emerging from a half-century of authoritarian rule, is expressing alarm about the instability next door.

Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh



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