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  • More ...

  • Back to the bad old days:
    Thailand slips back into a cycle of coup and military domination

    On 18 January 2008, the Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver its verdict on whether the People Power Party (PPP) is a proxy of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and hence should be banned like its predecessor the Thai Rak Thai party. The decision will indicate whether Thailand’s Supreme Court is independent or if it belongs to the Military junta. A ruling against the PPP will have implications that have much wider consequences for Thailand’s enjoyment of human rights, democracy and long term stability. But even a ruling for the PPP is unlikely to reverse the poor prospects for democracy in Thailand.

    I. Background

     

    Thaksin Shinawatra’s party, the Thai Rak Thai and all the members of the Executive Committee were found guilty of electoral fraud on 30 May 2007 by the Constitutional Tribunal. The Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved and its Executive Committee members including Shinawatra were banned from politics for five years.

    Most Thai Rak Thai members regrouped, joined the previously little known People Power Party (PPP), and chose veteran politician Samak Sundaravej, a former Bangkok governor, as the party's leader. Samak stated publicly that he was Thaksin’s nominee and adopted all his populist policies.

    There appears to be no cause for further action against those who formed the People Power Party and contested the elections arranged by the military. The fact that the complaint against the PPP has been admitted by the Court is itself a cause for concern over the influence of the Military.  

    II. The Elections

    On 23 December 2007, the general elections were held. The PPP emerged as the single largest party winning 233 seats out of total 480 seats. The military backed Democrat Party won only 165 seats while the Chart Thai Party won 37 seats and the rest seats were won by smaller parties. The PPP has announced a coalition with three smaller parties to form a new government that will garner 254 seats in the parliament. It seems probable that two more parties will join later to strengthen the coalition to secure more than 300 MP seats. The Democrat Party, which won 165 seats, has rejected the idea of joining a PPP-led coalition government.

    The PPP leader Samak Sundaravej alleged that an “invisible and dirty hand” was conspiring to subvert the PPP’s prospects of forming the government. [1] So far, six elected members of Parliament – four from PPP and two from Chart Thai Party - have been disqualified by the Election Commission on charges of vote-buying.

     

    Over a dozen candidates, mostly from the PPP, have been given “yellow cards” implying that they have been found guilty but are eligible to run re-elections. A total of 83 winning candidates, including 65 PPP candidates and six candidates from the Democrat Party are facing investigation into allegations of vote-buying. [2]

     

    III. Partiality of the Election Commission

     

    The Election Commissioners were appointed by the Military. There are valid concerns over their impartiality.  The PPP released copies of a memo dated 14 September 2007 allegedly issued by the military regime, the Council for National Security (CNS) and other documents allegedly approved by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. The memo ordered state agencies including the security forces to harass the People Power Party candidates and their supporters prior to and during the elections.

     

    The Election Commission set up a probe panel which on 29 November 2007 found that the junta had acted to rig the polls. [3] Yet on 12 December 2007, the Election Commission dismissed the complaint filed by the PPP against the military junta on the ground that the CNS “only referred to some plans which were not implemented” and that “no actions had taken place damaging any political party”. The five Election Commissioners, appointed by the military following the coup, ruled 4-1 exonerating the military junta on the ground that the CNS was authorised under the Interim Constitution to maintain national security. [4]  

    IV. The Southern Conflict  

    As the politics of Bangkok play out, Thailand’s southern conflict remains a serious and growing security and human rights concern. There are regular reports of killings by the armed opposition groups and human rights violations including extrajudicial killings by the security forces. Since 2004, over 2,700 people have reportedly been killed in the Southern Thailand. [5] On 14 January 2008, in the deadliest attack since June 2006, eight soldiers were killed in an ambush in Narathiwat province. As the state response fails increasing reliance on paramilitary forces and civilian militias is a cause for greater concern.

     

    V. The Mute International Community

     

    International community failed to protest rights violations and the increasingly anti-democratic stance of the government led by Thakshin Shinawatra. Faced by an internal security crisis the international community continues to extend the benefit of doubt to the Military junta despite its repeated failure to abide by its commitments to democracy and increasing human rights concerns.

     

    The view is short sighted at best. The security situation clearly necessitates a military response but for the security component to any counter insurgency strategy to be successful, it must be also accountable. A failure to address human rights violations perpetrated during operations will compound grievance and deepen the conflict. Their silence on democracy makes even less sense. It is unclear how backing a dictatorship is likely to promote democracy.

     

    VI. The Prospects

     

    Thailand is again reverting to a familiar cyclical pattern where coups, not elections, are the means to power.

     

    Clearly, if the Court rules against the PPP the Military will remain in power. If the Court does not rule against the PPP credible observers fear that the military appointed Electoral Commission will give the Generals another avenue to remain in power.  The Election Commission may ‘find’ sufficient levels of malpractice to annul the results of the December election and justify another Military organized election. A Military junta remains a junta even when shabbily dressed up as a democracy.

     

    And even in the unlikely event that the PPP is allowed to take power, the Military’s influence will stifle any attempt at reform as it always has. Its influence will ensure that democracy is once again probed a failure. Thailand will slip, once again toward Military rule.

     


    [1] . Thaksin ally victory 'undermined', BBC News, 4 January 2008

    [2] . Vote-buying claims mar Thai poll, BBC News, 3 January 2008  

    [3] . Human Rights Watch, “ Thailand : Military Interference Undermines Upcoming Elections”, 20 December 2007

    [4] . Thai military election plot charge dismissed, Reuters, 12 December 2007, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSBKK31848020071212?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

    [5] . Ambush kills eight Thai soldiers, BBC News, 14 January 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7186501.stm  

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