The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has returned control of Thailand’s major airports to authorities. But it doesn’t mean that Thailand’s political troubles are ending.
PAD activists, who had occupied Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports for a week, left after the Thai Constitutional Court (the equivalent of the Philippines’ Supreme Court) gave them a face-saving way out by disbanding the ruling People Power Party and barring Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and other PPP leaders from politics for five years for electoral fraud. PAD leaders claimed victory in their six-month campaign to remove Somchai. But there’s general agreement that Thailand has not yet seen the worst of the political crisis, which not incidentally is costing its economy billions.
The Court ruling on Somchai and other PPP leaders did not include most of the PPP’s MP’s, who, in any case, have been preparing for it by creating a party they can move into. Together with its five allies in the majority coalition, the PPP can elect a new prime minister from its ranks and form a new government as early as December 8.
PAD is not expected to just sit by and allow someone it’s likely to regard as another “puppet” of Thaksin Shinawatra—i.e., in the same mould as Somchai– to be prime minister. Its thousands of activists are thus likely to converge on parliament to prevent the MPs from meeting.
If PAD manages to prevent the formation of a new government, the slide into chaos will continue. Some commentators have referred to the crisis as “a black hole” of uncertainty and impending violence, and as the prelude to total state failure. Even now, in fact, the Court ruling could lead to violent retaliation against PAD and/or its parliamentary ally, the Democratic Party, by the pro-PPP/Thaksin groups, which include the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD).
Street violence could erupt—as indeed suggested by the attacks on PAD by pro-government groups during PAD’s occupation of Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang. Should that happen, the military, while apparently inclined towards supporting PAD, could seize power in another coup similar to that of 2006, when it intervened in the political crisis and ousted Thaksin.
Where is King Bhumidol Adulyadej, who celebrates his 81st birthday today, in all this? Practically every Thai claims to adore the king, and that includes both PAD as well as DAAD activists. PAD, however, claims to be the king’s better advocate in the present crisis in that it says it’s protecting the monarchy from an alleged Thaksin and company plot to convert Thailand into a Republic.
But while the king is widely regarded as a force for stability and moderation precisely because of near-universal Thai respect for the monarchy, he hasn’t managed to prevent past unrest. Thailand has been far from immune from crisis in its turbulent recent history, which has been peppered with military coups and political violence. The verdict so far is that political unrest will continue despite the king, Thailand being severely divided.
The main source of the division over the last two years has been Thaksin Shinawatra, whose rise to the premiership was achieved through a combination of patronage, political wheeling and dealing and astute nurturing of the rural electorate, which led to his former political party’s (the Thai Rak Thai) 75 percent majority in parliament. Accused of corruption and conflicts of interest, Thaksin was ousted from power in a 2006 military coup and is currently in exile. But he has retained his influence through various allegedly surrogate personalities and groups, among them Somchai and the PPP.
Thaksin’s continuing to cast a long shadow over Thai politics and governance in the post-coup period drove the PAD campaign against his two successors. Backed by the middle classes and segments of the military, despite its name PAD is staunchly royalist and even anti-democratic, condemning Thaksin and his surrogates’ mandate from the rural electorate as proof of the latter’s ignorance and need for “re-education,” and even implying that the democratic doctrine of one person, one vote is inapplicable in Thailand.
The pro-PPP/Thaksin DAAD of course has a point when it argues that the Thai Rak Thai did have a democratic mandate, as does the PPP. After all, Thai Rak Thai won 75 percent of parliamentary seats before the coup, and the PPP-led coalition did gain a majority of seats in that body when the military relinquished control of government last year.
Question: do the Thais’ current troubles suggest that Filipinos are more “politically mature”? That’s what deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez implied, when asked if an airport takeover could also happen in the Philippines. No, because, he said, Filipinos “have reached a high level of political maturity” and “respect due process and the rule of law.”
Golez denied explicitly saying that the Thais are less politically mature, but let’s face it, that’s what his statements implied, and more: they also suggested that the Thais don’t respect due process and the rule of law.
Statements like Golez’ make no sense except when seen in the context of simmering concern over his boss’ and her House allies’ efforts to push through charter amendments before 2010 so they can either cancel elections and extend their terms, or put a parliamentary system in place so they can all run for parliament and retain control of government beyond 2010.
In short: those statements were made in the context of the possibility of another low-intensity crisis that may not be as openly extreme as the current crisis in Thailand, but is equally suggestive of the same institutional instabilities and the same breed of politicians. Both the Philippines and Thailand are in fact lands of uncertainty despite periods of seeming instability, and the cliché about the need for the pot to stop calling the kettle black applies.