Thai voters go to the polls on Sunday in what will be the first election since the military coup in September, 2006.
Thailand enters its final day of election campaigning Friday, with rallies planned in the capital as the kingdom gears up to vote in a new leader and end more than a year of military rule.
People will head to polling booths on Sunday in the first vote since twice-elected premier Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a coup in September 2006 after months of political turmoil and street protests.
Many of Thailand’s 45.65 million voters are hoping the elections will bring stability back to a nation that has seen 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
But the country remains fiercely divided, with the poorer northeast still loyal to Thaksin, while people in more prosperous Bangkok and the central regions are vehemently opposed to the return of the millionaire politician.
“What emerges very clearly is this election is about whether or not you support Thaksin and (his party) Thai Rak Thai, or whether or not you support the junta and those who opposed him,” said Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a politics lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Two major parties have emerged as frontrunners, and both are hoping that rallies late Friday in Bangkok will give their campaigns a last-minute boost…
One leading candidate in Thailand’s election is nicknamed the “Walking ATM Machine” for allegedly doling out cash to buy votes. Another reportedly made millions from illegal gambling dens.
Thai voters elect a new government Sunday, 15 months after the military deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on grounds that he was too corrupt. It looks like they will get more of the same.
Local commentators have dubbed the election the return of Thailand’s political dinosaurs, many of whom were sidelined during Thaksin’s six-year grip on power.
“Unless the old guard has come up with new ideas, it is likely that Thai politics will return to the same vicious cycle of vote-buying, election, corruption, protests — and then, perhaps, another coup,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Thai voters go to the polls Sunday in the first elections to be held since a bloodless military takeover last year. But the final results may not be to the generals’ liking, dimming the prospect for a smooth hand over of power and an end to a protracted political crisis.
Election officials expect a large turnout after nearly 3 million out of 45 million eligible voters cast advance or absentee ballots last weekend. The elections are the first to be run under a new military-backed Constitution, Thailand’s 18th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Politicians have already vowed to amend the 2007 Constitution, which gives judges, bureaucrats, and generals immense powers to keep elected governments in check.
In recent weeks, tensions have risen over the strong showing of the People’s Power Party (PPP), which is openly loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Polling is illegal during the final week of campaigning, but previous polls indicated that the PPP may win as many as half of the 480 seats in parliament, well ahead of the second-place Democrat Party.
Time: “Thailand’s Proxy Candidate”:
If you’re a Thai voter who longs for the return of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, then Samak Sundaravej is your man. An acid-tongued, fire-breathing ultra-conservative who brands his opponents communists and “street gangsters,” the 72-year-old former Bangkok governor is running in the Dec. 23 national election on a platform the rural masses find irresistible: as he unabashedly declares, “I’m Thaksin’s nominee.” Samak, the nominal leader of the People Power Party (PPP), has promised that if elected he’ll bring back Thaksin and his populist policies, like cheap credit and debt moratoriums. Samak has vowed to grant amnesty to 111 politicians convicted last June by a Constitutional Tribunal of electoral fraud, including the former prime minister. The judges banned them from political activity for five years and dissolved their Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. Samak’s pledge has the PPP, essentially a reconstituted TRT, leading in every opinion poll.
Thailand’s soothsayers, like most of its political analysts, reckon Sunday’s general election will do little or nothing in the short term to resolve the country’s deep divisions.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Eton- and Oxford-educated chief of a Democrat Party expected to emerge second to the People Power Party backing ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, should become prime minister at the head of a coalition, they said.
But it was not expected to last or go unchallenged.
“The country will be in chaos as People Power fans don’t want to give up and the economy will escalate from bad to worse,” said Kitja Thaveekulkij, who predicted Thaksin’s ouster in 2006 five months beforehand.
“Abhisit will be prime minister for one-and-a-half years at most. After that the Democrats will have to shut their party for renovation awaiting a new leader to emerge,” Kitja told Reuters.
That prediction was much in line with the views of political analysts who believe the leaders of the September 2006 coup against Thaksin and the royalist establishment are determined not to let his followers back into power.