A Pretty Face for a PM...
THE lesson from Thailand’s general election could not be more emphatic. Five years of strenuous attempts by the Thai establishment to destroy Thaksin Shinawatra as a political force have come to naught.
In 2006 the army pushed the democratically elected Mr Thaksin out at the end of a gun barrel. The establishment and courts hounded him into exile, confiscated his assets and twice disbanded political parties loyal to him. Despite all that, Pheu Thai, the party headed by Mr Thaksin’s telegenic younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, swept the board on July 3rd. Pheu Thai won a majority of the national vote, with a high turnout, securing 265 of the Parliament’s 500 seats. For good measure it swiftly announced a governing coalition with a bunch of smaller parties; the coalition now accounts for nearly 300 seats. The Democrat Party under Abhisit Vejjajiva, the outgoing prime minister, got just 159.
There was much to object to about Mr Thaksin’s time in office. He was corrupt, and autocratic in the mould of Hugo Chávez. And never forget the extrajudicial squads he sanctioned that killed thousands of drug users and peddlers. Yet Pheu Thai’s victory underscores Mr Thaksin’s profound innovation, one that will outlive him. He transformed the old politics of local patronage into a wholesale machine spreading goodies such as universal health care and microcredit nationwide. That challenged the establishment’s notions of a perfect and deferential hierarchy, with the king at the top and the poor at the bottom as grateful recipients of occasional largesse, while the elites and the army carried on enriching themselves. On July 3rd Thais voted, yet again, against deference and hierarchy.
The fear is that such an emphatic win will reopen divisions in what not so long ago was South-East Asia’s brightest democracy. Last year’s chaos led Thailand to the brink of civil war, after 92 were killed during the army-suppressed protests by pro-Thaksin “red shirts”. It is natural to wonder about fresh divisions. Yet there are reasons to hope that Thailand has the best chance in years to start putting its divisions behind it.
To begin with, the scale of Ms Yingluck’s triumph makes it very much harder for the forces of the establishment to deny her victory, through legal or extralegal manoeuvres. Mr Abhisit deserves credit for calling for elections and for accepting defeat with good grace. The army, which made a mess of governing the country after the 2006 coup, says it will stay in its barracks.
Next, the relative calm of the election campaigns underlined how very broad a swathe of the country wants to take politics from the streets and put it back in parliament. Ms Yingluck herself has often talked of reconciliation. As for the pro-royal “yellow shirts”, hotheads whose anti-Thaksin protests created the conditions for the army coup, they appear to be a busted flush. They have fallen out with their former allies in the Democrat Party, accusing them of being soft over a territorial dispute with Cambodia. Their jingoism alienated supporters among Bangkok’s middle classes. They got little kudos for boycotting the elections (see article).
Above all, Yingluck Shinawatra is not Mr Thaksin. It is true that he refers to his younger sister as his “clone”. He masterminded and bankrolled the election campaign, and his claim that he wants to retire from front-line politics is simply not credible. In office, Mr Thaksin revelled in power. Every bone in his body wants to be out before adoring crowds. But the army and perhaps the king would resist his return: indeed it could tip the country back into chaos.
So it is crucial that Ms Yingluck sticks to her promise, repeatedly made on the campaign, not to rush to grant Mr Thaksin an amnesty and bring him back. She has after all a mandate that transcends the influence of her brother. And she must remember that reconciliation is a loaded word. Red shirts have been targeted by the courts, and their media outlets shut down. They bore the brunt of the violence a year ago, even if there were armed pro-Thaksin provocateurs. Ms Yingluck must oversee the search for justice, but she will have to ensure that it does not degenerate into a witch-hunt.
Just as Ms Yingluck must stick to her promises over reconciliation, so she will have to find a way to defer many of her campaign promises to spend. These pledges helped secure her victory, but they are unaffordable. For instance, she proposes a rise in the minimum wage, to 300 baht ($10) a day. That would be hideously costly for the country, especially for small businesses in precisely the poorer regions the Thaksinites claim to embrace. When financial markets rose on news of Ms Yingluck’s victory, it must surely have been in part because they doubted she would really see the worst of her spending plans through. The Democrats had some better ideas: for instance, varying the minimum wage according to regional pay levels. Ms Yingluck should ditch her plan and embrace theirs.
It will be an early test of whether she will pursue sensible policies rather than populist ones. It will also be an indication of whether this unusual new prime minister really is the person to return Thailand to a steady path.
Ms.Yingluck has luck clinging to her.First,a sibling of a wealthy controversial and arrogantly self-possessed tycoon.secondly,the sympathy out of bloodshed and lives lost in sending a message about democratic means to a peaceful living.thirdly, the ability to splurge and woo votes of women.Fourthly,the timing that was favoring an end to the stand-off between rival Thais going for the throats of themselves.
Interestingly thailand joins bandwagon of South Asia that has been in recent times cluttered with women heads of state and provincial govrnments. Ms.Yingluck welcome to the club and please play by the club rules that apply including shunning nepotism,corrupion,greed,arrogance,extravagance,half truths and blatant lies.
She can realize all her promises just by getting rid of the corruption now widely assumed to be in the order of 40% or more for all government projects.
The idea that Yingluck will act independently is laughable. Thaksin bought the votes again so that he can regain power and the ill gotten wealth that was confiscated. He markets himself as a man of the people but does not really do much to improve their lot. The Universal Healthcare Coverage Scheme was a rehash of an already existing program. And his micro-credit was actually bribes paid to village headmen who delivered their voters. They offer some enticements, such as raising the minimum wage. However, if he was really interested in the poor farmers that support him then he would repeal the laws that give control of agricultural exports to a small group of wealthy families. They make most of the profits that come from rice, etc while the poor farmer gets more debt. Thaksin will not change that situation because he is just another of the elite that unfairly takes the bulk of the wealth in Thailand.
The writer's comments on the election in Thailand as winning against deference and heirachy is wrong. The miscomprehension can lead to many more wrong assumptions. The Thai people always have deference for the king and have nothing against heirachy. The winning of Yingluck is the result of continual efforts in paying the red shirts which expand throughout the country especially a large number of people are paid in the northeast for being a red shirt member. Such continuity brings in more votes than the normal procedure of pay only during the election time. One should ask the queston 'Can money buy Thailand?' To me the answer is 'yes'. The majority of the people are too poor to excercise educated judgement and cannot afford not to vote for the one who pay regularly. The stability of the new government depends on how much money they would steal from the country. The last time it was enormous amount, exceeding hundreds of billions of Baht. This time we must wait and see.
So, there's not much goodwill on these posts towards the landslide victor in the Thai election.
In the interest of balance; I learnt that on the day of the election there were men going around my village here in Thailand buying votes for the number 10 candidate and hey, guess what, he's the Democrat candidate!
Whilst it is hard for the People Against Democracy yellow shirts to accept, that is exactly what they must do. After 5 futile years of opposition to Thaksin with the backing of the army, judiciary and the dubiously elected Abhisit government the people have spoken in a massive turnout. So, GET OVER IT.
I couldn't agree with the content of the article more. I just hope that Ms. Yingluck has read it! I worry about her lack of depth in politics but she is surrounding herself with some seasoned pros. However, this could have its pitfuls and she may lose control if she allows too much meddling from the old guard. Not to mention, the plan will all back fire if it all becomes an elaborate plan to release her brother's frozen assets and to allw him to re-enter the country a free man. I hope this is a new dawn for Thailand with a fair democratic and corrupt free society, but I think there are many bumps in the road still ahead.
Don't worry Yingluck, Peking will support you.
Whether one beleives the elite vs Thaksin stories, or the vote buying stories is not the most important factor that the Thai people have spoken and a government has been elected.
Let us all now hope that EVERYONE listens and gets on with putting the country back on track.
It's sad to see the yellows trotting out the same old lies about Thaksin paying for all the Red Shirt supporters. Could he really do that when we are talking about 65% or 70% of the nation. The truth is, people voted for Puea Thai because it is the best option. Thasin is no saint but corruption in the Democrat coalition was far greater than ever it was under Thaksin. Not to mention the money grabbing military.
Lets hope the ruling elite gives the new government a chance to prove its self.
Thaksin Shinawatra was hardly a Chavez. For one thing, unlike Chavez, he was legitimately elected. For another, he was deposed by a military coup. Perhaps The Economist should refer to Abhisit as the Chavez clone -- put into power as a result of a coup, judicial scheming, and military threats against political opponents who were forced to give up their power at gunpoint.
Really, I'm becoming quite disappointed in The Economist for its seeming support of the Chavezes, the Castros, and the coup leaders. Be happy -- Chavez is possibly dying, the Castros might lose their source of cheap oil, and Thailand has a new democratically elected leader.
I have no problem with listening to the grassroots and seeking to fill their needs; that's what democracy's all about. Thaksin had many good ideas which filled grassroot needs, e.g., universal health care or housing for those w/ low income.
But is he, through his sister, leading Thailand over the cliff, in economic terms? As the article pointed out, his key promises don't make economic sense, and should be broken, e.g., upping the minimum wage by 50% overnight will kill many small businesses and their grassroots employees.
Also, is he a democrat (spelled w/ a small "d"). Hardly. His party's highly centralized, not built from the ground up; its own campaign poster reads, "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai Party acts." He (not even his sister) laid out the party's policies: that's why she didn't dare face Abhisit in a face-to-face debate. Does he really care for the grassroots? During his watch, allegedly 2,500 were killed by death squads; 32 killed at Krue Se(due to use of excessive force; and 83 at Tak Bai (manslaughter)-- yet he did nothing about them, and hasn't mentioned righting those wrongs now. The article notes that he's corrupt -- which means that he stole, on a grand scale, from the grassroots whom he professes to love.
To me, the way out is for the grassroots to realize that, as Nobel laureate Milton Friedman put it, "There is no free lunch." They must insist that the government of the day practice what former prime minister Anand Panyarachun called the "7 Pillars of Sustainable Democracy" -- elections, political tolerance, the rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, decentralization and civil society.
Start w/ reconciliation, going after the truth without fear or favor. Who killed the 92 persons during the 2010 unrest? Were protesters who called for burning Bangkok and flattening Siriraj Hospital (where the king was recuperating)guilty of inciting to riot? Who financed the protests? Give the Truth and Reconciliation Commission subpoena and amnesty powers, to force the authorities to speak, and ensure that they're truly independent.
Dorothy (Yingluck) beware the wicked witch and her evil sibling!, the true power in Thailand will not like what you have done. Some ex prime ministers, Generals and judges are just putty in her hands!
Yes, Thaksin liked his power but the country did well too, who turned a country in trouble and paid the IMF off in record time?
Yes Thaksin played God with drug dealers,( drug dealers kill people slowly) but he never ordered snipers to kill Thai people?
Remember Seh Deng.
Which side where the black gunmen on? the witch's imports from Burma to escalate the trouble?
The people have spoken! Give the lady a chance!
The Chance is the only thing for Politcian, although the Wiseman's Frase could never fail any politician-' People Before Politics_'
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There were plenty of good things in this article which are often missed by the international press - lists of both Mr. Thaksin's achievements and his failings, and the distinction which exists between the yellow shirts and the Democrat party. You could, perhaps, have given readers more flavor of Yingluck's election promises. The promise, for example, to raise (apparently by October) the wage of graduates to 15,000 Baht per month (from its current level of around 10,000 Baht), waiving road tax for first time car owners, distributing tablet computers to all schoolchildren (curiously an election promise provided in both Thai and English on the roadside campaign boards), as well as raising pensions, mega building projects, tax refunds, fuel price cuts etc.
As for Yingluck's independence, here in Thailand I don't think many believe your assertion that she is not [controlled by] Thaksin. The campaign slogan was, after all, "Thaksin thinks, Pheua Thai does". Thaksin famously said that running a country was the same as running a company. During his time of political office he appointed family members to run his businesses on his behalf; during this time of exile he has selected his sister to run Thailand on his behalf. Those who voted for Yingluck voted for a return to a Thaksin Golden Age. Those who voted against (most of the voters) oppose this. Add to that the regional divide in the vote (with Yingluck's party having no representation at all in the South), and the real prospects for reconciliation and a move away from street politics don't look all that bright.
Old export led growth models are largely impracticable in today's weak global economic condition. Wage must be raised massively to enable local consumers to boost domestic consumption and beat inflations that were imported by hardened printers in the West.
....your fawning appraisal of Thaksin overlooks his generosity- he doled out free lead - in the form of bullets - to the heads of all the drug dealers who 'forgot' to pay off the cops.
Over 2500 extra-judicial killings in a buddhist nation that acted more like a third world banana republic on his watch - and at his direction.
Hopefully his sister will avoid his excess.
Nicely written. The article refuted the notion (written in the Bangkok Post forum) that "farangs cannot understand Thai-ness." Straight forward writtings are still hard to find in Thai media.
Choosing Yingluck is a move in the right direction. It empowers the people. However, you can't expect Thailand or any country to turn itself around and be a well-oiled republic over night. It takes generations of clean corruption. As we all know, all government corrupts.