Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A big Thai mess to clean up

A big Thai mess to clean up
Anti-government protesters taking cover as anti-government and pro-election protesters clash with gunfire and homemade explosives in Bangkok. Thailand’s election will go down in history as the most violent, most messy and most opposed by the people. AFP pic

Election results and farmers' compensation threaten to trigger violence again, writes Veera Prateepchaikul
THE Thai government staged on schedule the election that it had wanted so badly with the dream that it will usher the Pheu Thai Party into office for another term.
But the election was one that this country has never seen the likes of before, and it will go down in history as the most violent, most messy and most opposed by the people.
The broad daylight shootings and explosions at Lak Si on Saturday between pro- and anti-government demonstrators, which left six people, including two journalists, injured, is yet more proof of the breakdown in law and order.
Or it could be proof of police apathy to stop the violence. Images of masked gunmen openly wielding guns in front of hundreds of frightened onlookers went viral in social media. The violence prompted the Election Commission (EC) to cancel the election planned for Sunday in Lak Si district for fear of more violence.
Despite all the violent incidents which have taken place in the capital in the lead-up to the election and the mass boycott of the polls called by the People's Democratic Reform Committee, the government has been unperturbed and unwavering in its resolve to proceed regardless of the foreseeable and unpredictable mess which lies ahead.
First of all is the question of the legality of the election itself. Petitions will be brought forward and lodged with the Constitution Court to rule on the legal validity or invalidity of the election even if the results are not announced until at the very soonest Feb 23 when a second round of advance voting is to take place. Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the ballots from Sunday's election and advance voting would be counted together and then the result would be announced.
So, the situation is that there is a window of three weeks before the election results are to be revealed, provided, of course, that the second round of advance voting can proceed without further disruptions.
During this period, anything can happen to the ballot papers, which are stored for safe-keeping somewhere by the EC. They can be stolen or destroyed by ill-intentioned elements. Or new "ghost" ballots can be stuffed in later on because there are millions of unused ballot papers printed by the EC. Then, there is the problem with holding elections in eight southern provinces, where not a single candidate registered his or her candidacy. Those provinces have been effectively cut off from the entire polls undertaking. The EC is likely to encounter resistance from protesters in its renewed attempt to stage elections there. The absence of any representatives from the 22 constituencies in the eight southern provinces because of election resistance will render the convening of Parliament impossible as it will lack a quorum.
But the immediate problem facing the lame duck government of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is not directly related to the election. It is rather about farmers who are demanding their overdue payments for the rice crops they have already sold to the government under the rice pledging scheme.
Farmers across the country have already staged roadblocks to demand the payments amounting in total to more than 100 billion baht (RM10 billion) Many of them, for instance in the lower northern provinces, dispersed after being assured they would get paid after the election. However, they have vowed to return to the streets with many threatening to descend on Bangkok if the promises are not met.
The government itself appears to be in a hopeless position to secure the much-needed money to thwart protests by the farmers.
Its latest attempt to secure about 20 billion baht a week through bridging loans last week was a flop. Most commercial banks shied away from the auction because of doubtful legal issues regarding the government's ability to secure a new loan. The banks just didn't want to take that kind of risk.
What it comes down to is that most banks do not trust the assurance from the secretary-general of the Council of State, who insisted that the government is authorised to secure the loans. The dissenting rice farmers are no fools. They cannot be easily duped by the government with the same old rhetoric that the protesters are to blame for its failure to secure the loans to pay the farmers.
The arrival of farmers will certainly add strength to the opposition force, which is seeing the steady participation of officials in open defiance of the government. The inclusion of such new actors to the opposition could see even more political turmoil in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, the government will remain as lame duck as ever after the election. The Bangkok Post

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor of 'Bangkok Post'

Read more:  New Straits Times 


Post a Comment