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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dec 22, 2007 - Thailand needs stability

Dec 22, 2007
Thailand needs stability
THAILAND will hold its parliamentary election tomorrow, its first following last year's military coup against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. It is not likely to produce a conclusive result. As our Thailand correspondent Nirmal Ghosh quoted a Thai politician explaining: 'The election is just the qualifying round. The real battle will be in Parliament when MPs have to vote for a prime minister.' There are a number of reasons why this would be so.
To begin with, twice the number of candidates and parties are contesting this election compared with the last. Opinion polls indicate the People Power Party (PPP) - a reincarnation of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai party of Thaksin - is likely to gain the most number of seats but not an outright majority, though that possibility cannot be ruled out. Since the military would not want it to be part of any government, the PPP will probably not lead a coalition. The next government will probably be led by the likely runner-up in the election, the Democrat Party (DP), an outcome the military would favour. If the PPP wins an outright majority, it would set the stage for further confrontation between Thaksin and the Thai elite down the line. If a DP-led coalition excludes the PPP, that would leave the largest party in the country out of power, a constant threat to the elite. Either way, the election is likely to set the stage for more politicking - or business as usual.

That is something Thailand cannot afford. It needs stable government to deal both with security issues in its southern provinces, where a Muslim-led insurgency continues to simmer, as well as with economic issues. Once one of Asean's most promising economies, Thailand may soon be surpassed by Vietnam. It needs effective government to further develop its infrastructure, reform its education system, improve rural services and implement policies to attract investors. Thaksin, despite his faults, did address pressing social and economic problems. That is why he remains popular in large parts of the country, including Bangkok (if the opinion polls are to be believed). The military government that succeeded him has had a spotty record.

The best outcome would be an all-party coalition, including the PPP. In the interest of stability, Thaksin might continue to be excluded from power, but Thailand needs a rest from politics. Whatever result the election produces, Thai politicians need to come together to form an effective government. They will jeopardise their country's future if they treat the election as a mere prologue to post-election politicking.

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