Pro-Thaksin poll victory may be too much to bear

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am


Almost all recent polls put the Peua Thai party, backed by loyal fans of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ahead of the ruling Democrats in the run-up to the Thai election on July 3. The leader of Peua Thai, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, has also emerged as the most preferred premier.

The traditional elite are well aware of Peua Thai's growing strength. Pre-emptive measures have been launched, although they may prove ineffective.

For example, on June 14, the ultra-royalist army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, made a televised announcement urging Thai voters to elect 'good people' to protect the monarchy, and change the country for the better. It was clear that 'good people' meant anyone adopting an anti-Thaksin attitude. Prayuth also threatened to hunt down so-called anti-monarchists. He seemed to assume that some of the Peua Thai supporters are members of an anti-monarchy movement.

Political observers immediately criticised Prayuth for trying to influence Thai voters. It also indicates that the military and the traditional elite are not prepared to accept the election result should it jeopardise their power position.

Thus, many Thais expect them to rely on their old tricks to overturn the outcome should Peua Thai win. There are three apparent options that could be used to prevent the party from forming a government or staying in power. First, the traditional elite could use the judicial mechanism to get rid of the party. Retrospectively, the two pro-Thaksin premiers, Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat, were forced to resign by the politicised Constitutional Court on dubious grounds.

Second, the traditional elite could revitalise their alliance with the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy in spearheading street protests against a Yingluck administration. The alliance played a leading role in the use of 'mob politics' in 2006 to topple Thaksin.

In 2008, it returned to the streets of Bangkok to oust the Samak regime, occupying Government House for months, forcing Samak to work from different locations. During the Somchai administration, it went a step further by seizing Suvarnabhumi Airport for eight days. Yingluck could experience similar predicaments.

Lastly, and as a desperate measure, the military could stage a coup, accusing the Yingluck government of being a source of disunity or even supporting anti-monarchy elements.

These options may assist in maintaining the old status quo but they would surely prolong the Thai crisis - one that has its roots deep in the lack of respect for electoral democracy.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies