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Thailand’s messy election offers no closure to crisis

Thailand’s snap election Sunday ended inconclusively with the Election Commission postponing announcing results because of the messy nature of the polls. The election will certainly not bring an end to the political crisis that has gripped the country for the past three months, but the fact that they were held at all was dubbed a small victory for Thailand’s electoral process.

“Today is a messy step forward for democracy,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Polling was not held in more than 10 per cent of the voting stations nation-wide because of a lack of ballots, a lack of election officials and blockages by protesters.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee, which has been holding anti-government rallies in Bangkok for the past three months, opposed the elections although its actions were comparatively subdued Sunday.

On January 26, PDRC followers blocked half a million voters from participating in an advance vote, earning themselves international criticism.

One PDRC leader was shot to death by government supporters, which might explain why the movement adopted a more passive approach Sunday, although PDRC supporters did their best on Saturday to make sure that hundreds of voting stations didn’t receive ballots.

That the election was held at all was a blow for the PDRC.

“It’s certainly not a victory for the PDRC because they vowed today would not happen,” Thitinan said Sunday. The PDRC’s stated goal has been to force the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her cabinet. It has demanded that a Senate-appointed prime minister would then set up an interim government and “people’s council” that would legislate reforms to rid Thailand’s political system of corruption.

More specifically, the PDRC wants to rid Thailand of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother and a former telecommunications tycoon-turned-politician whose political machine and populist policies have won his parties every election since 2001.

The opposition Democratic Party has not won a general election since 1992 but continues to have a strong and loyal support base in the southern provinces and parts of Bangkok, especially among the middle class and elite.

It was no coincidence that voting was called off in nine of the southern provinces and in five constituencies in Bangkok.

Voting in the northern and north-eastern provinces, the support base of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, was relatively hassle-free.

Sunday’s election was not only opposed by the PDRC and Democrats, who boycotted it, but also by the Election Commission itself, which has repeatedly called for the postponement of the polls because of problems plaguing the pre-election process.

Protesters blocked political parties from registering candidates in 28 constituencies, which means that even if there had been no problems in Sunday’s polls, a new parliament could not have been set up.

At least 95 per cent of the 500 seats in the lower house need to be filled to convene a new parliament.

The commission has hinted that it might take months for it to complete the election process.

Pheu Thai members have accused the commission of siding with the PDRC in trying to undermine them politically.

Yingluck’s caretaker cabinet faces a series of judicial hurdles in the months ahead, the first of which might be questions about the legitimacy of the election itself.

“The Constitutional Court may rule this election null and void, but no one knows how long that might take,” said Panitan Wattanayakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.

The same court and the National Anti-Corruption Commission have cases pending against Pheu Thai members, including Yingluck, that could see them impeached in the coming months for involvement in an allegedly corrupt rice subsidy scheme.

“The days ahead will be messy and murky, so the election is also not a victory for the Yingluck government either,” Thitinan said.

Peter Janssen, "Thailand’s messy election offers no closure to crisis," Business recorder. 2014-02-03.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Election process , Election commission , Democracy , Politics , Politicians , Elections-Thailand , Thailand