Trouble in Thailand

February 02, 2014 - 2:47:57 am
Thai people will go to ballot box today. If in most countries election is a solution to a crisis, in Thailand, unfortunately, it will mark a continuation of the problem. There is little chance that the voting will break the political deadlock that is crippling the country.

Bangkok has been in turmoil for almost three months, pulled in different directions by opposing sides. Thailand’s long-running political struggle pits its royalist establishment, backed by the courts and the military, against Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who lives in Dubai to avoid a prison term for corruption. 

On one side is the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her ruling Pheu Thai Party and on the other side is the protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, a Bangkok-based movement which will be satisfied with  nothing less than the resignation of the government. Caught between them are the ordinary Thais who don’t find a way out of the crisis.

The snap poll was called by Shinawatra in an attempt to quell rising tensions in the nation but the election will complicate matters. The protesters have vowed to besiege polling stations a day after gun battles between pro and anti-government groups in the capital heightened fears of ongoing political unrest. The elite-backed opposition Democrat Party has not won an elected majority in around two decades and therefore is boycotting the vote. This leaves the field open for Yingluck, who is expected to win the polls helped by strong electoral support among rural and urbanised communities from Thaksin’s northeastern heartlands.

The only way forward for Thailand is to implement reforms to strike a balance between the ruling party and the opposition. The Yingluck administration has to understand that winning the election doesn’t give it absolute power to do things as they please, especially since some actions of the government have been suspicious, like an amnesty bill that would have absolved former prime minister Thaksin of corruption charges. The prime minister has to invite the opposition for talks and make concrete suggestions to resolve the crisis. The opposition too must come forward with suggestions that can be acted upon instead of insisting on the resignation of the government. King Bhumibol Adulyadej enjoys huge moral authority in the country and had intervened in the past in times of crisis. The king must think if the time has come for an intervention again.

The problem with Thailand is that its crises are protracted, with both sides sticking to their stance. Tourism is one of the mainstays of the country’s economy and unrest is dangerous for tourism. Already, tourist arrivals have declined and will continue to fall further.