Sunday, December 07, 2008
THE DUST SETTLES, HORSE-TRADING OVER
back-room dealing and horse-trading was running fast and furious over the past four days, over who would form the next government of Thailand. Tuesday's Constitutional Court ruling, which dissolved three of the governing coalition parties (in turn prompting the airport hostage-takers to finally go home), had thrown the political landscape into the air -- despite the fact that the Court's decision had been widely expected.
It's advisable to remember that this entire long-running episode was mainly about one man, Thaksin Shinawatra -- now a fugitive from justice in exile -- and the political machine he had built (and its various incarnations). He had been deposed in a peaceful and popular coup d'etat five months after returning to power in an illegitimate April 2006 election. His self-funded vehicle, the Thai Rak Thai (Thai Loves Thai) Party was legally dissolved as a result of fraudulent electoral behaviour. The same group reincarnated itself as the Palang Prachachon (People Power) Party, winning a plurality one year ago in the election which returned democratic rule from the interim military-appointed government.
The PPP needed support from the smaller parties in order to keep the government out of the hands of the second largest group in Parliament (the Democrat Party), settling on the firebrand ex-Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej for party leader and Prime Minister. Samak was recently disqualified from the position due to his commercial media activities, so the PPP replaced him with Mr. Thaksin's brother-in-law, the rather wimpish Somchai Wongsawat. Following last week's decision by the Constitutional Court, Somchai and many other executives of the three dissolved parties were prohibited from playing for five years.
[A more detailed blow-by-blow account of the following events may be enjoyed in a diary format, beginning on Wednesday night by one of The Nation's editors, Tulsathit Taptim. I quite like his attitude. When mulling over a couple of early front-runners for the PM spot -- controversial old dinosaurs both -- he came up with this eminently quotable line: "Anyway, if you put a gun to my head and ask me to choose between Chalerm and Snoh, my choice is simple. Pull the damned trigger."]
The members of People Power Party (those not losing their seats by the Court's decision) have now reconstituted as the Peua Thai (For Thais) Party -- now the third incarnation of Thaksin's machine -- though not all PPP members have signed up. The handful of small parties had been expected to stay loyal, and the parliamentary session tomorrow was expected to anoint whomever the Peua Thai chose this weekend as its leader.
But it is not to be (yippee!). Some of the small parties had been giving mixed signals, and a faction of the ex-PPP (known as "Newin's Friends") were not going along with the plan. Mr. Thaksin, apparently in Hong Kong, began to panic. He is said to have called the faction leader, Newin Chitchob, to summon him out of the country for a bit of persuasion. Newin refused to go. Thaksin's panic attack got worse as he saw the possibility of his protectors losing their grip. So on Friday he sent his (recently divorced - and yes, for political and financially beneficial reasons) ex-wife Pojamarn to Bangkok to sort out the mess.
I can only wonder how Mr. Thaksin's blood pressure is doing today, for Pojamarn has failed in her mission. In a last ditch effort to re-stitch the torn garments of Thaksin-proxy government, inducements were offered to the minor parties (including offering the Prime Minister-ship to a minor party "senior advisor").
Too late. Most of the minor parties had resolved to "stay together" and act "for the good of the country." In a press conference last night (right in my own neighbourhood) which was delayed somewhat by all the last minute attempted deal-making, Democrat officials along with representatives of most of the minor parties announced a coalition which should prevail in any vote tomorrow. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, absent any funny business or trick manoeuvres by Thaksin's cronies, will most likely become Thailand's next Prime Minister.
The new Democrat-led coalition claims 252 sitting MPs at the moment, in a depleted House which should have 480 MPs. Of those, 33 members are now banned from political activities and by-elections will need to be held. From the remaining 447, seven others have been suspended and are awaiting trial in the Supreme Court for electoral fraud, leaving only 440 to meet tomorrow.
A Democrat-led government under these conditions will be anything but rock-solid, and likely won't be long-lived either. Minority governments are like that, especially here. But I was impressed by many of the statements of the minor party representatives and the rebellious Newin faction people. They seem to realize that this is correct thing to do for the good of the country, and insisted that there had been no bargaining for personal or vested interests.
One question is whether the "Red Shirts" will be sent out into the streets to "pull a PAD" -- in a mirror image of what we've just been through. I don't think anyone is that stupid, so Thaksin can sit in Hong Kong, or Beijing, and suck on that for a while.
In related news no less important to the Thai people, His Majesty's condition is improving. He is now able to take liquid meals and intravenous feeding has been reduced, along with his fever. Get well soon, Your Majesty! Things are looking up at long last.