Monday, January 21, 2008
THAI PARLIAMENT OPENS, JUST UNDER THE WIRE
he Thai parliament was ceremonially opened earlier this afternoon, just one day before tomorrow's deadline which is 30 days after the December 23 election.
The Elections Commission had handed out numerous "yellow cards" (requiring the re-running of a constituency election due to electoral misbehaviour) and "red cards" (a re-run which includes the disqualification of the offending candidate) over the past month. But they were able to certify the elections of the minimum number of parliamentary members required for a quorum, enabling parliament to be opened this afternoon. His Majesty yesterday signed the Royal Decree for today's opening.
You can see that Thailand is a football-loving nation ("soccer-loving" for you North Americans).
The Thaksin proxy party, known under the name "People's Power Party" announced the formation of their coalition over the weekend, which includes all minor parties. The second largest bloc in parliament, the Democrats, will be the lone opposition. The re-run elections mostly resulted in no change in winning parties, although the Democrats did lose a seat in the process.
Besides the red and yellow carding, several court cases were either decided or thrown out last week in favour of PPP. A challenge to the advance voting has failed, while a charge that PPP was nothing more than a proxy for Thaksin and his disbanded "Thais Love Thais" Party (which would have been illegal) was deemed by the Supreme Court to be beyond its purview. The court said that only the Election Commission was empowered to bring such a charge, and it would need to be decided by the Constitutional Court.
Which was a handy way out for the Supreme Court, given that anyone on whichever side of the political divide would have still been laughing three days later, had they actually done what inumerable western headlines said they'd done. It's funny, every international story on this contained the correct details in its body (the case was out of jurisdiction, and a decision could not be rendered), yet their headlines told us "Court Backs Thaksin Allies" and variations of that.
The individual who brought the case had already resigned from the Democrat Party, citing pressure from party officials to drop the action. It's clear that dissolution of PPP would have caused yet another huge political crisis, and Democrats just want to get on with things. But no one thinks PPP isn't a proxy for Thaksin, and even the party leader has admitted as much by answering the question with, "So what?" Thaksin campaigned for them from abroad, by video disc.
The small parties bargained hard for goodies in joining PPP, for this is the only chance they'll get at power positions far above what their handful of seats would normally warrant. Thaksin's brother in law is expected to get a minister-ship, as is his lawyer. They've already announced their intention to go on witch-hunts against those deemed to have stood in their way, so it will surely be interesting times ahead.
A mid-ranking party (Chart Thai with around 37 seats) still faces possible dissolution for electoral offences by party officers, for which the party would be held responsible. Chart Thai has been hit with a deluge of non-stop angry phone calls, citing that leader Banharn had promised never to join a PPP-led coalition. Ah, but that was before the election.
PPP leader Samak Sundaravej has not made his intentions clear with regard to the mysterious (not!), invisible "dirty hand" claimed to be behind most of their troubles. He still hasn't been brave enough even to name this secret foe, although everyone knows he means Pa Prem (Prem Tinasulanonda, former PM and currently head of HM the King's Privy Council) -- with whom he has a long-standing animosity. Samak is expected to be chosen by parliament to be the next Prime Minister, at the end of this week.
Known as one of the Kingdom's biggest loudmouths, the former talk-show host rarely misses the chance to make an ass of himself. Like I said, interesting times ahead. Samak will be a boon to political cartoonists and comedians, and hopefully not too much of a bane on the country's other sectors. Here's a bit from a short profile I saved after the election. Picking up after a chastisement of the military,
Samak was not always so harsh on the armed forces.See why the political satirists are rubbing their hands with glee? But how long we'll have enjoying such entertainment is yet to be determined. Samak himself is under the shadow of several pending corruption scandals from his time as Bangkok Governor, involving the procurement of some "unusually expensive fire trucks."
During an October 6, 1976, military-led crackdown on students in Bangkok, Samak played a key role in stirring up a ring-wing frenzy against a purported communist plot to seize power that resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Thais and the return of military rule.
In the aftermath of the March 1992 general election, Samak and his Thai Citizens Party threw their support behind the appointment of General Suchinda Kraprayoon, the leader of a 1991 coup, as prime minister.
Suchinda's premiership sparked anti-military demonstrations in Bangkok that resulted in yet another bloodbath on the capital's streets.
Samak's recent transformation into a champion of democracy and staunch enemy of coups has understandably been greeted with some scepticism.
When confronted with his pro-military past in a recent television interview, Samak said, 'Principles can change with the situation. That was then, this is now.'
Samak is also well-known for his combative communication style, especially with the press.
In a notorious recent interview with the local press, Samak - when persistently pestered by one reporter on a sensitive political issue - countered, 'Did you have sinful sex last night?' leaving the roomful of journalists dumbfounded.
'The mobsters are back,' Kraisak Choonhavan, a rival politician in the Democrat Party, said of Samak's pending premiership. 'The next government is going to have an image problem, but the Thai people have asked for it.'Unfortunately, he's right. The Thai people have asked for it, and will have to live with it for as long as this six party coalition can hold together. It could be months, and it could be years, but one thing is for certain. It will be entertaining.