Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thai Leader Will Ask King to Dissolve Parliament

Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters
The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke at a news conference in Bangkok on Friday.
The early election, which would take place 45 to 60 days after it is approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been a key demand of the political opposition since mass demonstrations a year ago that ended in bloodshed, deepening the country’s political crisis.
“I am confident that this is the way to make the country move forward,” the prime minister said in announcing parliamentary dissolution seven months ahead of the end of his term. “While the process is under way, I’d like to insist that there’s no necessity to criticize this matter.”
Mr. Abhisit said he would hold a news conference when he returns on Monday from a meeting in Jakarta of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Thailand has been unstable since the military staged a coup in 2006, with protests and violence on both sides of a deep political and social divide. Political analysts said the outcome of an election was unlikely to resolve these conflicts and could touch off further unrest.
The main contest will pit Mr. Abhisit’s governing Democrat Party against the Pheu Thai Party, which is backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 but is still a political force from his refuge in Dubai. He has fled Thailand to avoid prison on a conviction for corruption.
Mr. Thaksin enjoys the continuing loyalty of many residents of the poor but populous north and northeast, the home of many of the “red shirt” protesters who besieged Bangkok in April and May of last year and who form the largest regional bloc of voters.
Clashes between troops and protesters paralyzed parts of Bangkok and led to the deaths of about 90 people.
If neither party wins a majority, the outcome will depend on competition for coalition partners from smaller parties whose allegiances are driven by political calculation and personal ambition rather than policy.
Mr. Abhisit’s Democrat Party holds office in a coalition with smaller parties and analysts say that if it is to retain power it is likely once again to need the help of a coalition. Parties loyal to Mr. Thaksin dominate the red-shirt regions and have in the past won the most votes.
Many analysts expect the aftermath of the election to be unstable, with renewed demonstrations by the red shirts if they are excluded from government. If they win, the military and the establishment could overturn the result with a coup or an intervention by the courts, experts say.
“If we are talking free and fair elections, I think the pro-Thaksin red shirts party has a chance to win,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an expert on Thailand at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
But he said, “I think the Democrats will work with other smaller parties to form a coalition, with again the help of the military and influential figures.”
The election, like the turmoil that has preceded it, is part of a long-running struggle between a royalist establishment elite and the mass base of poorer urban and rural Thais who have been energized by Mr. Thaksin’s populist policies like low-cost health care and cheap credit, and by his challenge to the country’s hierarchical power structure.
Prompong Nopparit, a Pheu Thai Party spokesman, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Abhisit had no choice but to dissolve the house or commit “political suicide.”
“The thing we are concerned about is the aftermath of the election,” he said. “If the majority of representatives cannot form the government, there will be another people’s uprising.”
He was referring to the possibility that, although Pheu Thai might win the most votes, a Democrat-led coalition could hold on to power, adding to a sense of disenfranchisement among the opposition.
Mr. Prompong said it was crucial that the party with the most votes should be the one to form the next government. “If not, the people will come out on the streets again because they cannot bear it any longer,” he said.
The government appears to have been preparing for this election by maintaining tight censorship on opposition media, particularly community radio stations, and shutting down thousands of Internet sites.
Leaders of the red shirt protests have been arrested, some charged with terrorism for their part in the demonstrations. Some have been charged with insulting the monarchy for statements they have made. Hundreds of lower level red shirt supporters remain in jail or in hiding.
Meanwhile, the opposition is in disarray, with leaders squabbling and shifting alliances. “A weak point among the reds is their fragmentation and lack of clear leadership,” Mr. Pavin said.