Thailand: Elections


Cavan Hogue

Campaigning is well under way for the Thai national elections to be held on 6 July 2001. While no party will receive more than fifty percent of the votes, there are two parties battling to lead a coalition which will attract the lesser parties on a pragmatic basis, ie numbers will be more important than principles. They are the ruling Democrats led by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and the newly created Thai Rak Thai led by communications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatr.

The Democrats remain strong in their traditional southern power base but have suffered from the voters’ unhappiness about the problems besetting Thailand over the last few years. Their traditional clean image has been tarnished by some well-publicized scandals. Chuan has a personal reputation for honesty but his government has been criticised for not being firm enough in tackling Thailand’s economic problems.

Thai Rak Thai was founded and funded by Thaksin Shinawatr who has attracted – some would say bought – many well-known politicians. He says he will run the country like a business and deal quickly with economic problems like unpaid business debts. He appears to be getting considerable support from young people to whom this notion is appealing but his critics accuse him of old style money politics. However, most importantly, the anti-corruption commission is investigating him and, if he is found to have breached the rules, he could be banned from political activity for up to five years. Should this happen, and it is a strong possibility, there are some unanswered questions. Can Thai Rak Thai win with someone other than Thaksin as leader? If so, who? If Thaksin is forced out of politics for five years, will he lose interest in politics or will he continue to direct his party behind the scenes?

For what they are worth, the polls have Thai Rak Thai comfortably ahead of the Democrats but it is still too early to be sure of the result. Both parties favour the continuance of political and economic reform and are likely to be well disposed to foreign business but Thaksin does not have political track record on which to base judgments. The Democrats, for all their virtues, need to take more tough decisions sooner. Whoever wins, the fact that the elections will decide who governs the country is a positive development. Also the many justified accusations of corruption may not represent an increase in corruption so much as an increase in transparency.

WATCHPOINT: Many justified accusations of corruption may not represent an increase in corruption so much as an increase in transparency.


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