Asia Sentinel spot on as usual. Well said.
Thailand’s old political bosses are on track to bring back buffet democracy: a little for you, a little for me…
The horse-trading of cabinet portfolios that defined the short-lived governments of the 1980s and 1990s is back and bigger than ever now that Thailand’s military junta has freed up political activity and scheduled an election for December 23.While it’s much too early to determine who will emerge as the first elected prime minister since the military deposed Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup last September, this much seems clear: The Democrat party, the main opposition under Thaksin, and the People’s Power party (PPP), which is basically a proxy of Thaksin’s banned Thai Rak Thai party, will not join together in a coalition.
Since it’s highly unlikely that either the Democrats or PPP will win the 241 seats needed to form a government alone, the notorious political bosses of the 1990s will likely determine whether the Democrat party or Thaksin loyalists form the next government—likely to be subservient to an emboldened bureaucracy anyway under the military’s new constitution.
“The next election will be a circus of old-school political tactics and money politics,” said Giles Ungpakorn, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University. “The coup d’etat, dissolution of Thai Rak Thai and the new constitution have all destroyed political development based on policy.”
Through a combination of cash and populist policies like cheap credit and health care, Thaksin was able to rope many of these regional bosses into Thai Rak Thai after the party was formed in 1998, firming up the party’s strong presence in several northern and northeastern provinces. But when Thaksin came under attack for the sale of his family’s firm to Singapore’s state-run Temasek Holdings in January 2006, many of these old-style bosses stood by silently, and a few turned on the telecoms billionaire altogether.
It wasn’t until after the coup, however, that many of these groups jumped ship. Most are determined to be part of the government to benefit from the spoils of power, so it’s likely that the bargaining will only intensify for the next four months before the election results determine just how much leverage each group has.
The top men who sit on the middle of the fence are very familiar faces in Thai politics. Often referred to condescendingly as “dinosaurs,” most have been political players for decades and ascribe to no ideology except power and money.
The veteran politician who may hold the key to forming the next government is Banharn Silapa-Archa, leader of the Chat Thai party. Nicknamed “The Eel” for his ability to slither into any government, Banharn hopes to leverage the 30-50 MPs he controls from his central Thailand stronghold to help form the next government.
Both the Democrat and People’s Power party claim that Banharn will join them, but he is likely to stay noncommittal until the poll results are tallied. Banharn joined up with Thaksin to form a coalition government in 2001, and subsequently saw some members defect permanently into Thaksin’s camp. Read the rest of this entry »