News / Asia

    Thailand Braces for Elections

    Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks in the rain to supporters during final campaigning for Sunday's general election, Bangkok, July 1, 2011.
    Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks in the rain to supporters during final campaigning for Sunday's general election, Bangkok, July 1, 2011.

    Multimedia

    Thai authorities are deploying tens of thousands of police at voting booths across the country to prevent violence and intimidation during Sunday’s national election, the first since 2007.

    Tight race

    The race is expected to be tightly contested and comes at a time of intense polarization following last year’s deadly political clashes, and observers are expressing concern about Thailand’s stability following the vote.

    Video of election campaigns

    Security will be tight with over 100,000 police posted at polling booths to ensure smooth voting.

    Damaso Magbual is chairman of the Asia Network for Free Elections, a group monitoring the polling. He has observed the last few Thai elections and says this one is the most polarized he has ever seen.

    “The incidents of violence have exceeded the previous elections," says Magbual. "But, if it is any comfort to the Thai people, it’s not as bad as the Philippines or Sri Lanka, you might put it that way. But this can escalate as the election draws closer and sometimes even after the elections.”

    The main parties contesting the vote are the ruling Democrats of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and the opposition Pheu Thai party of Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


    Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, is surrounded by reporters as she takes a stage for the last big pre-election rally for her Puea Thai party at a stadium in Bangkok. (Reuters)

    Despite being twice popularly elected, Thaksin was ousted by the military in 2006 over concerns he was growing too powerful.

    Sporadic protests

    Since then, Thailand has struggled through sporadic protests and violence in a power struggle between his mainly working class supporters and a traditional elite backed by the military.

    Subsequent governments and parties loyal to Thaksin were dissolved by controversial court orders and their politicians banned from office for five years.

    Magbual says the dissolution of parties for the actions of their members is against the basic principles of free and fair elections.

    “The party has a distinct personality from the officers of the party. If the officers of the party commit wrong doing, by all means they have to answer for the law. But, the acts of the, for certain members of the party should not affect the entire party as a whole. Again, that is pretty quite unique to Thailand,” he says.

    Abhisit says Sunday’s vote could help restore stability to the country’s turbulent politics, but only if voters re-elect his ruling Democrat party. He says as prime minister he has represented all of Thailand and rejects critics who say he is supported by the army and privileged classes.

    “This is an attempt to try to discredit the party, discredit the political process," he says. "We’re now heading for free and fair elections. I was the one who decided to dissolve the house early so that the people can have their say and I’m sure everyone will respect the results.”

    Despite the prime minister's assurances, political analysts say if Pheu Thai wins, and forms the next government, forces supporting his Democrats would not accept the results so easily.

    Thaksin's legacy

    Thaksin, despite fleeing into exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for corruption, is de facto leader of Pheu Thai. And Pheu Thai is leading in opinion polls.

    Thaksin is fiercely opposed by Bangkok elites who say he was authoritarian, corrupt, and disloyal to the revered monarchy. He denies all the charges.

    Thailand's 26th Election

    • Main Candidates:

      - Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva

      The Oxford educated Abhisit enjoys strong backing from the Thai military and the country's royalist elite. He was appointed prime minister in 2008, following two years of political upheaval triggered by a 2006 military coup that toppled then- Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Controversial court rulings later disbanded two pro-Thaksin ruling parties accused of electoral fraud, clearing the way for the rise to power of Abhisit and his Democrat Party.

      - Yingluck Shinawatra

      Yingluck is the younger sister of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin, who faces a two-year prison term at home and currently lives in exile in Dubai. As head of the populist opposition Puea Thai party, the 44- year-old businesswoman -- like her exiled brother -- enjoys broad support by Thailand's rural and urban lower classes, as well as some "new money" business people.

      - Others

      A total of 29 parties are contesting the election.

    • The Parliament:

      Voters will fill 375 seats in the 500-seat parliament, with lawmakers serving four-year terms. The remaining 125 seats will be filled by the parties, based on the percentage of votes each party wins.

    • The Electorate

      There are about 47 million voters in the country of 67 million residents, and voter turnout in recent polls has been high. Nearly 75 percent of the electorate voted in 2007 polls.

    • The Military

      Thailand's military has a long history of interfering in politics, having mounted 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932, and its powerful army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, recently urged the Thai public to elect "good people."

    Yingluck’s critics say she is just a stand-in for her brother and a way for him to return to power.

    She acknowledges her party may seek an amnesty for Mr. Thaksin, along with other politicians, but says he would not play a decision-making role if she forms a government.

    “I think he has been very successful in terms of launching the campaigns and in terms of helping the country to bring the wealth," she says. "So, we can use his idea. But, finally, just the information of the idea. But, we have the ours, Pheu Thai strategy and management to talk about that and we make decision on our own which campaign that has good for Thai people,” Yingluck says.

    Thai soldiers last year fought street battles in Bangkok with armed elements among Thaksin’s red shirt supporters, leaving 90 people dead, most of them civilians.

    The Red Shirt protesters were demanding new elections, saying their vote had been stolen by the military in the 2006 coup and a politicized justice system.

    The government said it was an attempt by Thaksin to force his way back into power.

    High stakes election

    Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, says the stakes in this election cannot be understated.

    “The stakes in this election is the future of Thailand. The power structure, the superstructure, who will be calling the shots. The future of the voices that have been expressed in elections, the democratic process, the future of Thai democracy is at stake,” he says.

    Analysts say it is quite possible that neither Pheu Thai nor the Democrats win an outright majority. In that case, the party with the most votes would get the first chance to try to form a coalition government with smaller parties.

    That would allow for a period of deal-making and uncertainty that observers worry could give the Thai military an excuse to take power.

    Thailand has a history of military interference in politics with 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932.

    Nonetheless, the army chief on Thursday once again denied a coup was possible.

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora