Thailand: Ex-Premier Yingluck Shinawatra follows her Brother into Self-Exile


Partyforumseasia: Yingluck Shinawatra, the 28th Prime Minister of Thailand since August 2011, was ousted in May 2014 by the Constitutional Court. She was accused of abuse of power for replacing the national security chief by a supporter of her Puea Thai party back in 2011. In the same month of May 2014, not exactly by coincidence, the Thai military intervened and replaced the democratically elected Puea Thai government by a junta under retired general and now Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Unlike her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was Thailand’s 23d prime minister from 2001, and ousted in 2006, Yingluck continued to stay in the country. The first female prime minister of the country and probably the most beautiful and photogenic one of our times, still commands a huge popularity and political support, especially among the main electoral target group of her party, the poor farming communities in the North and Northeast. The Puea Thai Party is a re-incarnation of her brother Thaksin’s creation, the Thai Rak Thai Party which was dissolved in 2007 after the 2006 military coup, and of the People’s Power Party, dissolved in 2008, which had replaced the Thai Rak Thai Party.
Accused of negligence in handling her government’s multi-billion dollar rice buying scheme, introduced already by her brother, Yingluck could have been jailed for up to 10 years. The program was extremely popular with poor rice farmers, but buying the paddy well above the market rates turned out to be very costly for the government.
In a separate but related case, the court sentenced the former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail for faking a government-to-government sale deal involving rice from the 18 million ton state stockpiles.

Though under close supervision by the security forces, Mrs. Yingluck managed to leave the country on Wednesday, 23d or Thursday, 24th of August. Her absence may be an advantage for the military government which does not have to deal with a martyr in prison. Yingluck is supposed to join her brother in his self-exile in Dubai. His and her assets in Thailand are frozen by the junta, but the family clan seems to have enough money abroad to fund and maintain their massive influence on Thailand’s politics.

In a regional perspective, getting rid or disposing of political rivals is often executed with the legendary iron fist but not with a velvet glove, even if the judiciary up to the constitutional court is involved. The most striking example may be the “disposal” of former finance and deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in neighbouring Malaysia. Anwar was convicted of sodomy already under prime minister Mahathir in 1998, and again with the same accusation under prime minister Najib Razak in 2008 when his political charisma as opposition leader threatened the ruling coalition. Both convictions left a number of doubts and open questions, but were highly effective in neutralizing the rival.

 

Thailand: Which Election System Under A New Constitution?


Partyforumseasia: Thailand is holding some dubious world records, namely the number of military coups and the number of constitutions. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the average life span of a constitution was about four years. The military government under general-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gave up on the Prayuthlast draft after nine months of gestation under rejection pressure from practically all political parties. The most controversial among the 285 articles was the creation of a so called National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee (NSRRC) with the commanders of all the military services and the police and sweeping powers to interfere even after successful elections and the establishment of civilian government. Abandoning the draft constitution extends the military rule through mid 2017.
Meanwhile, the discussions within the new drafting committee (CDC) may give some clues about what the generals want to avoid. Last week a panel of the CDC was discussing the future electoral system and the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system which was part of the rejected draft constitution. The proponents and supporters had studied the German system which works well for decades now. It gives two votes to the voters, one for a candidate and one for a party of his preference. One argument against its adoption  was that it would necessitate an electronic system not available so fast  in Thailand, which it does not have in Germany either, though. The system was seen as a safeguard against one-party rule and favoring coalition governments and smaller parties. For the generals, meanwhile, coalition governments with possibly a multitude of small parties may seem too weak to reconcile the country and push for consolidating necessary reforms.
A viable reform of Thailand’s democratic institutions hits the ceiling of decades of wrong developments. This was openly addressed by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, former chairman of the political reform committee under the now-defunct National Reform Council, by saying that the major challenge to the Thai system was that most of the MPs came to power through election fraud. Century-old patterns of leadership in the social structures have undermined the establishment of really free and fair elections and advanced the continuous proliferation of vote buying and violent intimidation of voters. THB donationsThe collusion between dubious local business elites („chao pho“) who enjoy profitable concessions and monopolies which often cover partially unlawful activities on one side and politicians, bureaucrats, police and military on the other side as well as more and more „chao pho“ in parliament themselves. The system has been “perfected” over the last few decades by a variety of vote canvassers („hua khanaen“) on local, provincial and regional level who sort of guarantee a mandate to the candidate who offers the best price. To be fair, it must be mentioned that Thailand is not the only country in the region with this problem, among others Indonesia can compete on that level.
The ongoing political uncertainty is aggravated by another major uncertainty, the pending royal succession. But it is not excluded that the military may have a better chance to control the transformation than any unstable coalition government.

For a detailed overview on Thailand’s party politics see: Dusadeeisariyakul, Pimrapaat, Stability and Performance of Political Parties in Thailand
in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014
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