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Thailand: Anti-democratic campaign continues

November 19, 2011
Saturday, September 20, 2008 – 10:00
By Tim Dobson

On September 17, the Thai parliament elected a candidate from the People’s Power Party (PPP), Somchai Wongsawat, to be the next prime minister.

Wongsawat, brother in law of former PM Thaksin Shinawantra, was elected after PM Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign following a constitutional court finding him guilty of a conflict of interest.

The conflict of interest was due to Sundaravej being paid US$2300 for hosting a cooking show. The ruling came after a sustained campaign for his resignation by the right-wing opposition group the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

After Wongsawat’s election, a PPP spokesperson stated: “The party has made it clear to the public that the most important task for us is to promote reconciliation … to bring back unity to the country and to assure the public that the PPP will avoid confrontation with any group of people in the society.”

Wongsawat has lifted the state of emergency imposed by Sundaravej on September 2.

However, the PAD has made it clear that its campaign is not over, vowing to continue their blockade until the PPP is out of power.

Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesperson for the PAD stated, “If Samak was Thaksin’s proxy, Somchai is even more so. They are related and this is not acceptable to us. It captures the essence of what we are protesting about, that Thaksin’s regime is still in power.”

The PAD believes that the one person-one vote system gives too much power to the rural poor — who overwhelmingly support the PPP because of their deliverance of universal health care and low interest loans — and are proposing a system where 70% of parliamentarians are appointed by bureaucrats, the military and the royal family.

The political crisis looks set to continue, with the spectre of another military coup similar to 2006. The Asian Times reported that Wongsawat is not expected to hold much sway within the military and the military has refused to evict the PAD protestors from government house.

As a way out of the political crisis, army commander general Anupong Paochinda — one of the officers that ousted Shinawantra in the 2006 coup — suggested the formation of a “national unity government” of all major political parties, which the PPP has rejected. The next few months will also see the Supreme Court ruling on whether the PPP should be disbanded, as recommended by the election commission, for alleged vote buying.

If the PPP were to be disbanded, fresh elections would be called, with members of the PPP already vowing to regroup into another party if they are dissolved. The election commission, appointed by the military during the coup, failed to act when the military engaged in harassment and intimidation of PPP activists during the 2007 election.

Human Rights Watch reported that the election commission found that the military failed to be neutral during the elections but that “it did so under the grounds of safeguarding national security and therefore its actions had constitutional immunity”.

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