Monday, May 28, 2007

Countdown to a big decision

Wednesday 30th May is likely to play pivotal role in the future of Thai politics, and Thailand as a whole. So great is the tension that even HM The King has made a speech voicing concern and requesting calm.

I shall elucidate, but first let me explain that the story I am about to tell - like all the greatest dramas - has many turning points, sub plots and twists. Usually I try and enlighten on all these but for reasons of time, clarity and lack of internet access, I shall eschew this style and keep right to the point.

Also note that for these same reasons, I cannot check on facts and have to rely on my own personal memory for this article. It's likely some names, dates and sequences of events are inaccurate. I apologise for this and will revise the story as soon as possible. In the meantime, the story is still crucial reading for understanding the situation that is currently reaching a climax.

During the anti-Thaksin protests last year, the rat-faced one himself decided to dissolve parliament and call a general election in an audacious effort to clear himself of all wrongdoing. The major opposition parties of Democrat and Chart Thai anticipated Thaksin's tactics and boldly boycotted the election. The thinking behind this was that it would vitiate any victory by Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.

However, the Bangkokians still wanted an outlet for their discontent at Thaksin and thus sprang a 'Vote: no vote' campaign. Since all Thais were constitutionally bound to vote, the campaign was designed to use that vote to express protest. The 'no vote' campaign gained momentum and indeed 'no vote' matched or came close to the TRT count in many constituencies. During this fiasco, Democrat secretary Suthep came forward and claimed he had solid evidence of TRT personnel bribing politicians of minor parties top run in the polls.

Why would they do this? Well, under Thai law a candidate must have twenty percent of the local vote to claim victory in any district if he is the only candidate. However, if TWO OR MORE candidates are contesting any district, it is simply a case of "the most votes wins" regardless of the overall percentage. Thus, TRT had a great need to find opposition in districts where the turnout was expected to be low.

Suthep came forward and presented a grainy but visible security video of a TRT member meeting a minor politician inside a major government building ( I think it was the Department of Defence but I can't recall) and presenting him with an envelope. The building had only very recently had security cameras installed and most people were unware of their presence.He also claimed to have a witness from another party who claimed to have been offered large cash sums to compete against TRT.

The TRT defence was of the standard one expects in Thai politics. The security video? "It wasn't me, I was wearing a different colour shirt that day" stated the TRT defendent (No this isn't a joke, if you were wondering) and the minor politician stated "The envelope I was handed contained a press release". A press release handed to him in secret by a rival politician? Hmmmmm................

And for the witness who claimed to have been offered bribes? She was kept in Suthep's home until she was taken by the Thai Police "for safety" and mysteriously reversed her statement later. The Thai Police, of course, were well under Thaksin's control.

The Democrats gathered more evidence and submitted it to the relevant bodies. Thus began problem number two. The 'relevant body' in question was the Election Commission, known as the EC. Set up under the 'people's constitution' of 1997, the EC were a supposedly independent body formed to crack down on vote buying and ensure fair elections. But, like almost every other control body, they became compromised by Thaksin's power and became part of the problem. Every complaint against TRT was ignored, rejected or simply delayed forever.

All was not lost though. The head of the EC investigative panel was no other than judge Nam Yimyen. Nam was one of the annoying few who simply insisted on pathetic practices such as integrity,the rule of law and even efficiency. Nam worked quickly and concluded charges should be pressed on TRT. The EC directors were displeased. They ordered Nam to "repeat" his investigations to which Nam replied "The answer is no. They know what's going on and so do I".

By now, all the media had become aware of the case and seen the pictures. The EC were robbed of their usual stalling tactics, they tried one more delay by asking a different authority to press charges on their behalf, but it didn't work. They reluctantly agreed to press charges against their "golden geese" of TRT.

TRT had a response though. The EC had the power to recommend charges but the actual body responsible was the Office Attorney general, known as the OAG. Thaksin had a plan. The day before the OAG was due to announce charges,Thaksin met with the head. Now, both parties denied the issue of pending charges that would destroy Thaksin's empire even arouse during the chat. The conversation was solely about the problems in the south, they said. No conflict of interests in a private meeting between the head of a party and the head of the body responsible for that party's fate the day before judgement then? Of course not.

By curious co-incidence, the next day it transpired that not only would TRT be charged, the Democrats would too. The later facing charges for encouraging an "unconstituional no vote campaign" and bribing minor parties to claim that TRT had bribed them! A book of more than four hundred pages of evidence was submitted to the EC. The same EC that dragged its feet for weeks for weeks over charging TRT, decided to charge the Democrats within six hours of receiving the four hundred pages of detailed evidence.

More fallout was to follow. The five head members of the EC faced court themselves for abuse of power that ultimately resulted in the election being annulled. The sheer arrogance, childishness and utter lack of remorse shown by the remaining four members of this time would take a blog in itself. Suffice to say some of their comments were sickening. (Still, the annulment must have disappointed the sole non - TRT politician who made parliament, the small time guy from a small time party was set to be named as the official opposition all by himself!)

The two cases went to court, with many predicting that the real reason for the sudden charge of the Democrats was to appease Democrat supporters when TRT were let off. To let two parties "off" seemed fair, never mind the fact that the solid evidence was against TRT.

Then the coup happened and the whole picture changed. Suddenly TRT didn't have control over all the independent bodies. The bungling old junta needed a way to neutralise their younger and smarter foes who were looking for their power and money back. For all the martial law and media censorship, the remaining TRT factions still had communication and manipulation over the North Easter masses. The Democrats - being the oldest active party in Thailand - had their methods too. As the "Dad's Army" junta reached an astounding level of incompetence and ignorance, the tensions grew. It became more and more obvious that a hammer blow was needed from one side. The constitutional judges repeatedly denied that they were being lobbied, but more and more warnings of tension and troubles to come eminted from various sectors of the press and the military.

The verdict is set for Wednesday. This week, HM The King gave a speech to judges appealing for them to rely on the rule of law. His speech should help to ease some tensions. To their credit - though I suspect they may have received a few 'friendly warnings' from the junta - both TRT and Democrat heads have appealed for calm, though both have also lobbied in the press.

Make no mistake, this is huge. We are talking dissolution of the longest running political party and the party that swept to power just a few years ago and still has huge support from easily manipulated members of Thai society of whom some are prone to use violence and have done so before. The army admitted this week that some "sections had reached Bangkok although we tried to block them".

The best case scenario is that the strong police presence and the appeals for calm pay off. Supporters of any dissolved parties accept what happened and the politicians will jump ship to the next cash cow.

The worst case? I don't like to dwell on it. The class tensions were exposed in Bangkok during the Thaksin protests when the mainly middle class protested and the mainly "lower" class accepted donations to travel to Bangkok and in some cases physically assaulted the opposition. Given the existing tensions and the army's long documented incompetence and willingness to use violence to control the crowds, well, let's just hope it doesn't happen.

Either way, we'll know on Wednesday.

1 comment:

Thai Chat said...

Thai politic is just a mess!