Trouble in Thailand

May 12, 2014 - 4:19:42 am

The removal of prime minister by the constitutional court has brought the country to the brink.

See the tectonic changes Thailand is going through.  A decade ago, the country was touted as a shining example of how, in South-East Asia, a vibrant democracy could go hand-in-hand with a thriving economy. Compare that to what is happening now. The hard-won gains are fizzling out as the country is convulsed by a series of political crises. The bottom of that slide was hit on May 7 when the Constitutional Court demanded that the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down with nine members of her cabinet over her decision to remove the country’s head of national security in 2011 in favour of a relative. We have every right to disagree with all that Shinawatra has done, and there could be truth in what she has been accused of, but this is not a crime that merits her removal from power. The court verdict only shows how far Thailand has fallen, how its society has been divided and how its institutions have been eroded by the ongoing crisis.

The court verdict is no solution to the current problems. It will further polarize the society as pro- and anti-government groups are massing for protests. The country risks falling into violence, anarchy and more and more violence.

In the controversial verdict, the Constitutional Court ruled that Shinawatra and several of her ministers could no longer serve in their positions because, according to the court, the prime minister had abused her power when she reassigned a government official in 2011 and gave his job to a relative. This is not the first time the court has acted in a suspicious manner. In 2008, it removed the then prime minister, who also belonged to Shinawatra’s political movement, because he accepted payments to appear on a TV cooking show.

The only solution to the crisis is for the warring sides to step back from the brink. But that is easier said than done, with both sides hardening their positions and determined not to make any concessions in the interest of the country. The crisis has hit the economy hard, with tourism, which is the mainstay of the economy, suffering a serious blow. But the court verdict offers no solution. It will only drag state institutions into the crisis.

In a sign of impending descent into chaos, opposition demonstrators delivered an ultimatum yesterday for a new leader to be appointed by Monday or they will step up efforts to topple a government clinging to power after premier Shinawatra was ousted by the courts. At the same time, authorities warned that the opposition efforts to hand power to an unelected regime risked unleashing new violence, as rival protesters prepared for a showdown over the fate of the crippled government.