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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs