News / Asia

Analysts: Thai Political Parties Competing With Very Different Visions

Opposition leader of Phue Thai party, Yingluck Shinawatra, center, flashes a number one sign as she arrives for the registration of constituency candidates competing in upcoming general election in Bangkok, May 24, 2011.
Opposition leader of Phue Thai party, Yingluck Shinawatra, center, flashes a number one sign as she arrives for the registration of constituency candidates competing in upcoming general election in Bangkok, May 24, 2011.
TEXT SIZE - +
Daniel Schearf

Thailand’s political parties are registering candidates this week for a July 3 nationwide election. The vote is expected to be tightly contested battle between the two leading parties: the Democrat Party and the opposition Pheu Thai Party. Political analysts say those parties are competing on two very different visions: continued rule by the country’s traditional elites or a return to the populist policies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

This time last year in Thailand, the country was gripped by violent clashes in central Bangkok between security forces and opposition protesters calling for the dissolution of parliament.

A year later, with a new election just weeks away, the leading candidates of the two main parties are staying away from divisive rhetoric as they rally their supporters in the race to fill 375 parliament seats.

The two main parties are the ruling Democrats of now caretaker Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the opposition Pheu Thai party led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke to reporters Tuesday after leading Democrat candidates to register for the election.

Abhisit said he chose qualified applicants to serve the people and not only in Bangkok. Abhisit added that party leaders travel to other provinces and give moral support to applicants there who vow to serve the country to move forward.

The opposition Pheu Thai party's number one candidate, Yingluck Shinawatra, is also striking an inclusive tone in her public appearances.

Yingluck said today the party sent applicants for all 33 constituencies and opinion polls show they are gaining more support. Yingluck noted the Pheu Thai Party and all of their applicants are ready to present policies to serve all the people.

Despite the inclusive rhetoric, Thai political analysts say both leaders are backed by powerful interests that have divided the country in recent years and appear no closer to reaching a compromise.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a Thai politics observer at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He says the vote is basically a contest between traditional elites in Bangkok and supporters of Thaksin in the rural north.

"We are looking at a head on collision between two power blocks," said Pavin.  "On one side led by the Democrat party, which represents the old interests, you know, of the palace, the military, the big businesses, and also, you know, the senior bureaucrats. Whereas Yingluck, she has emerged as a representative of the Thai poor, especially those in the north and the northeast region who have all these years been ignored by the traditional elite."

Critics say Yingluck, a wealthy business executive, will be used as merely a front for her brother to return to power.

Thaksin Shinawatra is a billionaire telecoms tycoon who won over the countryside through populist policies that brought money and development projects to the rural poor.

His detractors say he was corrupt, authoritarian, and undermined the revered monarchy, which he denies.

Although he was twice popularly elected, political analysts say Thaksin was seen as a threat to traditional powers in Bangkok.

He was ousted by the military in a 2006 coup and fled into exile to avoid jail time for corruption charges.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. He says there is no doubt Yingluck is a stand-in for Mr. Thaksin who has been actively leading Pheu Thai from exile.

"It's not camouflaged in any way," Thitinan noted.  "In 2007, 2008 we had a Thaksin proxy government. But, it was more indirect; Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister in early 2008, and then Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law. In this case, Thaksin wanted to be known that Pheu Thai is his party, Yingluck Shinawatra is his younger sister and his representative."

Those successive governments loyal to Thaksin were removed by controversial court orders. Their parties were dissolved and their politicians were banned from politics for five years.

Abhisit’s Democrats then rose to power, sparking demonstrations by Thaksin’s Red Shirt supporters who say their vote was stolen by Bangkok elites.

Tens of thousands of Red Shirts took over large parts of Bangkok last year demanding a new election and fair treatment for their leaders.

When negotiations broke down, Abhisit ordered the military to clear the protesters by force resulting in more than 90 deaths, most of them civilians.

Pavin says Yingluck is as much a proxy of her brother as the Oxford-educated Abhisit is a proxy of the establishment.

"Because the way he has come to power, because of the help of the military, and because of that I think he owes many people, especially his backers in the army and also in the elite circles - because of that, I think it has constrained him to become more independent or autonomous," Pavin noted.

Pavin says despite the turmoil Abhisit has managed to steer the country’s economy in the right direction.

As for his opponent, even though she comes from a politically savvy and business oriented family, it is less clear if Yingluck can do the same.

Chris Baker, an author on Thai politics, says it would be extremely historic if Yingluck is elected as Thailand’s first female prime minister. He says at any time in history a maximum of only about 15 percent of Thai lawmakers were female.

"And, you find the same kind of proportion running through all aspects of politics whether it's local councilors or even political journalists, you know, there's a very strong identification of politics with masculinity," Baker explained.  "And so, it's quite a barrier for anyone to get over."

Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party has pledged that if it wins the election, it will issue an amnesty for all charged in relation to the 2006 coup, which could pave the way for Thaksin to return to Thailand.

Many political analysts doubt Abhisit’s backers would allow a party aligned with Thaksin to take power, let alone engineer his return.

Provincial-level political violence has already been reported and many worry that, whichever side wins, post-election turmoil is likely.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid