Opposition may boycott Thai election; demonstrators want Thaksin out

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

Having outlined his manifesto in his last pre-election radio broadcast, beleaguered Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has failed to deflect calls for his resignation.

Offering an increased minimum wage, additional debt relief for farmers, and pay rises for civil servants the PM starts the election campaign with his Thai Loves Thais (Phak Thai Rak Thai) party in good shape for the snap election announced last Friday.

Thaksin's dissolution of the lower house of parliament, and move to re-establish his authority through elections has met with criticism from leaders in the troubled southern provinces as well as from political opponents. Zafi-in Jae-loh, the deputy chairman of Narathiwat Islamic Committee said the move would do nothing to help the situation faced by ethnic Malay Muslims in the south. The three southernmost provinces, Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala face near-daily bombings and shootings with a considerable armed forces presence contributing to tensions in the area.

Opposition parties concerned that the three years early election will not resolve the current political situation have announced that they may boycott the April 2 poll. The Democrats (Phak Prachatipat) and the smaller Great People's Party (Phak Mahachon) took over 25% of the vote in the February 2005 elections. Third placed at the last election with 11.4% of the vote, the Thai Nation Party (Phak Chart Thai) have yet to announce their decision, leaving party leader Banharn Silapa-archa to decide.

Despite the upcoming election, and in the face of rumours of violence, a mass protest against the Prime Minister still went ahead. The People’s Alliance for Democracy was reported to be monitoring a crowd they were suspicious of ahead of the rally in Sanam Luang, Bangkok. However the main rally went off peacefully. Noon saw the arrival of former politician Chamlong Srimuang with the Santi Asoke Buddhist sect, including barefoot monks and nuns. Reports indicated that the total number in attendance and supporting the call for the now-caretaker Prime Minister to go were in the tens of thousands. Many protesters vowed to stay overnight. Alluding to past protests that had toppled Thai governments, Chamlong said "We can eat anything, sleep anywhere. Tonight we will sleep here". Anti-Thaksin banners displayed at the open-air rally stated that the he had "No right to rule", while others read "Thaksin=Toxin" below an image aimed at comparing the PM with Adolf Hitler.

Calls for the PM to go have a long history, with his policy of pursuing his opponents through the courts drawing the attention of the King, thus leading to Thaksin dropping cases against media firebrand, Sondhi Limthongkul. A challenge through the country's Constitutional Court was brought by 28 of the country's senators following the PM's family selling their 49% share in Shin Corporation tax-free. The sale, to Temasek Holdings, was widely seen as allowing control of key telecoms infrastructure to pass into foreign hands. Wikipedia describes Temasek as, "the investment arm of the Singapore government."