Monday, January 20, 2014

Thailand to hold early elections in a bid to defuse tension

Tumultous is one word that has often been used to describe Thailand’s political landscape. To most observers, the Asian country has indeed experienced one too many upheavals for comfort. Subjected to the absolute rule of kings for centuries, Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 when the country’s elite staged a “democratic revolution.”

Yet the change in the form of government did little to quell the restiveness. Shortly thereafter, Thailand has been wracked with numerous coups, which often left the country under the rule of juntas and resulted to seventeen charter changes.

The instability came to a head last year, when anti-government forces led a series of occasionally-violent protests against Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first female Prime Minister and sister to exiled ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

In hopes of easing the rapidly escalating tension, the Prime Minister has called for early elections on February 2. The Election Commission has said that it is ready for Election Day, where the country’s estimated 46 million voters are set to elect 480 members of the House of Representatives. 

Yet things are never that easy in this deeply-divided country. The main opposition Democrat Party has said that it will boycott the polls. The party had demanded that the PM resign ahead of the elections and that an interim government be installed to effect reforms. The same position is being noisily advocated by protesters, which had been massing in crowds of as large as 150,000 warm bodies in the almost-weekly rallies since October. 

Opponents of the Shinawatras, which mostly come from the educated middle and upper class as well as the business sector, are calling to reboot Thai society to stamp out the culture of corruption that they believe is driving away business and hampering the development of the country

Yet the appeal has fallen on deaf ears as Yingluck has already declared that the polls will proceed despite the planned boycott. Instead, she unveiled her own plan to ensure reforms which involves candidates taking an oath to call for the creation of a reform council right after being sworn into office. Her suggestion also specifies that the reform council be made up of members representing a broad spectrum of sectors at local and national levels.