Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Letter from Thailand

HUA HIN – Election day. The sound trucks rumble through the streets of this resort town 230 km south of Bangkok, exhorting people to go to the polls in Thailand’s parliamentary election.

The photos on the side of the truck show the smiling portrait of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and another man, presumably the local candidate. The only words I can make out are “Thai Rak Thai” – Thais love Thais, the name of Thaksin’s political party.

As far as I can tell there are no opposition party posters. But then all of the main opposition parties are boycotting the election. So that means that all of the Thai Rak Thai candidates are running unopposed, and thus the new parliament may be a one-party body.

Well, it’s now quite that simple. Even unopposed candidates have to get votes from at least 20 per cent of the registered voters, so it is possible that there may not be enough legitimately returned members to form a quorum, meaning that Thaksin will remain a “caretaker” premier for some months.

It is interesting to me how all the papers meticulously refer to Thaksin as the “Caretaker Prime Minister.” That is technically accurate, but I don’t remember papers in other parliamentary democracies referring to their PM in that way after parliament has been dissolved. Seems like a subtle put-down.

The daily anti-Thaksin demonstrations in the capital have dominated the papers, making their frontpages look indistinguishable from day to day. The only difference seems to be the venue; one day it is a large public park, the next a large shopping mall.

The latest ploy by the opposition was to try to persuade the King to intervene and invoke Article 7 of the Thai Constitution, which would allow for appointment of a temporary, non-party government. But so far the King has not made a move.

Things got a little nasty late in the week. Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, a prominent opponent of the PM, was accused of insulting the King. I don’t know what he (or his editors) is supposed to have written since the papers refer only vaguely to “remarks,” not wanting to repeat the libel. Lese majeste is a serious offense in Thailand.

Today’s Nation newspaper reports that the commander-in-chief of the Thai army attacked Sondhi for making “insulting” the King. Seems kind of ominous to me since the army so far has stayed abofe the crisis.

Meanwhile, Sondhi is reported to be in Quilin, China, resting. He was supposed to have returned to Thailand for the polls, but says he couldn’t get a flight to Bangkok.


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