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 last 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. The 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
Available at Amazon, at Barnes & Noble also as e-book
Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s dilemma is certainly caused by severe elite failure. But it is difficult to decide whether Thaksin and his allies or the Bangkok elite and the Democrat Party are more to blame for the frightening cleavage dividing north and south and the society at large. Under the headline The Story of Thaksin Shinawatra British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry draws the longer lines of the political impasse which help to understand the developments during the last months.
See his conclusion here:
“Many people bear responsibility for Thailand‘s divisions, prominent among them Thaksin, who must dearly wish that he had rubbed his enemies‘ noses in it a bit less gleefully during his years in office. But the suave villainy of the Democrat Party, and of men like Abhisit and Korn, is insufficiently recognised. They understand how democratic opposition works, and how defeat, over time, strengthens losing parties, by purging them of what is unrealistic and superfluous, and forcing them into congruence with the aspirations of voters. Twice they have had the opportunity to reject military force and to insist on the primacy of elections; twice they have held the generals‘ coats for them, and watched civil rights being trampled on, in the hope of gaining some respite from their own chronic unelectability. The Democrat Party‘s leaders – young, attractive and cosmopolitan could have positioned themselves as mediators between a corrupt, complacent old elite and a corrupt, arrogant new power. Instead, they chose their natural side in the class war, and achieved the feat of losing the moral high ground to a man such as Thaksin. Their responsibility, and their disgrace, are very great.” London Review of Books, 6 June 2014 Link here:
Partyforumseasia is notoriously optimistic about regional politics, but Lloyd Parry’s comment on the possibility of a North-South civil war reminds us of an earlier post on this blog which tried to wrap a warning into (hopefully!!) gross exaggeration.
15 February 2064:
The Southeast Asian Miracle: Thailand’s Re-Unification sealed!!
After the recent breakthrough in prolonged negotiations between the two sides and efficient diplomatic support from ASEAN, the heads of state of the Kingdom of Tightland (formerly known as South Thailand) and the Kingdom of Thaksimania (formerly known as North Thailand) have signed a comprehensive re-unification treaty. The signing ceremony took place in the UN Headquarters in Beijing in the presence of unification advisers from Germany and Korea.
After the former Thailand split in 2015, the founding father of Thaksimania, business-politician Thaksim Shinawatra was soon elected King of Thaksimania. The people loved him because he could fund the government out of his own pocket and reduce the tax burden to a symbolic 5%. This led to a massive migration of the business community from Bangkok and the South to Thaksimania, where they were warmly welcomed by his Majesty on the condition of participating in the funding of his government.
The impact on former South Thailand was more than difficult. The Royal Finance Ministry witnessed a rapidly dwindling inflow of taxes which could not be balanced by the most investment friendly policies worldwide. So the impoverished country succumbed to pressure from Thaksimania to drop the aggressive use of the outdated name of Thailand. To secure a sufficient flow of development aid from the rival in the North, the King agreed to change the official name of the state into Tightland. Starting around 2035 already, many countries in Asia were able to reduce or abolish taxes and military spending because the regional security was no longer threatened by the US but guaranteed by China. This ended the decades of saber rattling and aggressive symbolic politics between Tightland and Thaksimania which made the re-unification possible at the end. It remains to be seen how the population of the two nations will adapt to the changes and the big difference in affluence. 😉
Partyforumseasia: In the case of Thaksin Shinawatra there has been little doubt that he made his billions with the help of political connections. And comparative research on party financing in Southeast Asia has shown that political entrepreneurship is one of the most lucrative business lines.1) The region, more or less independent of the political system, is full of “unusually rich” politicians. The Thai situation is being discussed in an article by Tan Hui Yee, Thailand correspondent of Singapore’s Straits Times (25.2.2014, p. A22). With a Gini coefficient of .484, higher than that of the US, Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in Asia. The regional imbalance has opened the flood gates for populist policies and the landslide victories of Thaksin’s political parties. According to Chulalongkorn University’s economy professor Pasuk Phongpaichit the minimal taxes on land are not being adjusted because most politicians are big land owners. As protest leader Suthep Thaungsuban, himself confronted by graft allegations, tries to hurt the business empire of the Shinawatra clan, it is evident for the Thai citizens that too many politicians are millionaires in a too conspicuous way, and there seems to be no difference between the competing parties. Frustration and cynicism are growing with the number of scandals, the duration of the stand-off and the negative impact on the economy.
Money politics is all too entrenched in Thailand and Southeast Asia to be eradicated by well-intentioned reforms. Only rich enough candidates can win an election, and few will sacrifice part of their assets to get elected. That simply means that millions invested into an election campaign have to be recouped one way or the other.
1) See: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang, Party Finances and Money Politics in Southeast Asia in the reference archive.
Partyforumseasia observes with sadness the ongoing political drama in Thailand. Obviously former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban from the Democrat Party tries to topple the Yingluck government at any cost for the country. By increasing the regional division between the predominantly Democrat controlled South and the overwhelmingly Puea Thai leaning North as well as between Bangkok and the rural majority he plays with fire. And by whipping up political passions hitherto unknown in the country, the future governability of a nation of 70 million people will be at risk. Many internal analysts speak already of the threat of a civil war, the spreading violence between the groups already being frightening enough.
PM Yingluck Shinawatra and Puea Thai, according to all polls, will win the February 2 election, if it materializes. This dominance over the ballot boxes can be seen as engineered by risky populist policies like cheap (30 THB) health care for the poor and rice subsidies for farmers which cost hundreds of billions and are not sustainable even medium term.
But Suthep and his supporters in the Democrat Party will be held responsible for the damage they risk to do to Thailand’s democratic and economic development and the country’s future governability.
Link: Nelson, Thailand’s election system Partyforumseasia: Recommended reading:
The Attempt to Adopt a Mixed-Member Proportional Election System in Thailand: The Near Miss of the Constitution Drafting Committee and Constitution Drafting Assembly in 2007, by
Available at: Academia.edu
and Contemporary Southeast Asian Dynamics, Working Paper Series No. 11, ISSN 2191-169X, Lehrstuhl für Südostasienkunde, University of Passau, Germany
Partyforumseasia: Is Thaksin Shinawatra indirectly back in the driver’s seat, just using his sister Yingluck as facade? An in-depth study by Michael H.Nelson from Walailak University.