24 March 2019
Thailand goes for polls, this Sunday, after nearly five years of direct military rule. The coming election is viewed as a contest between military leader Prayuth Chan-ocha (in the picture above) and a “democratic front” of parties led by the ousted pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai. Prayuth’s five years as junta leader have been marred by complaints of human rights violations and growing economic inequality. Only success the junta had was reinforcing its claim to be the protector of Thailand’s monarchy, an institution at the very heart of Thai society.
A constitutional reform made by the military-backed government gives parties supporting the military government a huge advantage over their rivals, including Pheu Thai, which is expected to win the most votes.
The new constitution written by supporters of the military government allows the 250-seat Senate, to vote with the 500-seat lower house to choose the prime minister. The Senate is entirely appointed by the government. That means that pro-military parties would need only 126 seats in the lower House of Representatives to win a majority in a combined vote, while opposition parties would need 376 seats.
The country’s prime minister will not be directly elected by its 51 million voters. Instead, 750 lawmakers — 500 from an elected lower house of parliament and 250 from a junta-appointed Senate — will decide by simple majority. The prime minister does not have to be a member of parliament.
A military-favoured prime minister chosen with Senate backing will lack a majority in the lower house and there will be chaos in parliamentary decisions.
Prajak Kongkirati, a political science lecturer at Thailand’s Thammasat University said that the coming election on Sunday is likely to produce a weak, unstable government whether it’s a civilian or military-backed. He predicted that the government may collapse within a year or a year and a half, necessitating an election after that. Critics say the new military-designed political system is intrinsically unstable because it is not accepted by all sides and paves the way for a new round of struggle in Thailand.
This election is the third major attempt by either military or legal coup to eradicate the influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said at his daughter’s wedding reception in Hong Kong that his party would win the coming election. Parties affiliated to him have won every election since 2001. Seated beside him was the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi. She shocked the nation last month by accepting a Thaksin-linked party’s nomination for prime minister. The move was overruled by the king and she was quickly disqualified by the election commission and the party was later banned from the race for breaking a taboo of involving the monarchy in politics.
Thailand will request Hong Kong to extradite former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is attending his daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong. Accompanying him is his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, also a former prime minister. Both are in self-imposed exile after being deposed by the military. Thailand and Hong Kong do not currently have an extradition treaty.