Danish's View on Thai Politics
( Last edit 2009-04-19 )
Political Climate by Business Anti-corruption Portal (Some minor modifications of the article)
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and has been headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej since 1946. Following the December 2007 national election, Thailand resumed its democratic tradition that had been interrupted by the bloodless military coup d'état in September 2006. The military overthrew the Thai government led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunication billionaire, on the grounds of alleged abuse of power and corruption. Thaksin's political party, the Thai Rak Thai (TRT), was subsequently dissolved and all leading party members were barred from political office for five years by Constitutional Judges.
Although the 2006 guardian coup allegedly took place to eradicate widespread corruption, the military-backed government by Surayud Julanon itself suffered from corruption scandals and ignorance to clean up the country. The 2007 election resulted in victory for the People Power Party (PPP the regroup of TRT politicians or their relatives) led by Samak Sundaravej who was assigned by Thaksin. The PPP gained popular support mostly from low socio-economic people in the north and northeast of Thailand by campaigning as a proxy to Thaksin and by promising to clear his name. In September 2008, popular anti-government demonstrations organised by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had taken on such a scale that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej publically announced dispersal with force. Later, Samak declared a probably conspired state of emergency to crack down PAD after Thaksin's supporters in red-shirt violently attacked PAD at night.
The PAD demanded the resignation of the government because it was perceived to be the puppet of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, who is living in the United Kingdom in order to avoid being put on trial for corruption charges in Thailand. At the same time, the military-backed election commission found the PPP guilty of vote fraud during the December 2007 election, and therefore recommended that the Supreme Court dissolve the PPP. Despite these circumstances, Prime Minister Samak refused to resign as Prime Minister. However, he was forced to do so when the Constitutional Court ordered him to step down after convicting him of violating the constitution for hosting a cooking show on television which was a conflict of interest employment during the PM post.
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who incidentally is the brother-in-law of Thaksin, then entered office and lifted the state of emergency, but protests continued. On October 7, 2 members of PAD were killed by police's teargas firing during a mass rally around the House of Parliament. In November demonstrators blockaded Bangkok's airports after alternate night explosive bombardments of the rally site at the Government House had killed and severely injured several of members of PAD. The protests did not end until the day after the Constitutional Court declared in December 2008 that the PPP and other coalition parties were found guilty of electoral fraud and the parties had to be dissolved. Furthermore, Prime Minister Somchai along with other political leaders were banned from politics for five years.
Thailand’s political crisis resulted in a new fragile coalition government headed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party. Prime Minister Abhisit, so far untainted by corruption and conflict of interests, faces a very difficult job trying to bridge the differences of opinion between the Thaksin supporters and opponents. In his political career, he has consistently give priority to anti-corruption policies and clean government, but heading a potentially unstable coalition will require political skills and ability to compromise, thus restricting his possibilities to run through his own policies.
According to a survey conducted by Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) in 2008, expatriates perceive the level of corruption in Thailand to be among the highest in Asia. The main source of corruption in Thailand is known as 'money politics', a term that refers to the flow of money within the political scene. This is confirmed by the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2007, where the political parties are named by Thais as the most corrupt sector in Thailand. Party leaders use money to attract suitable electoral candidates. Parliamentary candidates spend large sums to get elected, including outright vote-buying. Party leaders must pay retainers to keep their parties together and sometimes also to buy votes for parliamentary motions. The purchasing of a post within the bureaucracy is also common practice.
According to the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2007, the general view by the public on the government's anti-corruption measures is somewhat pessimistic: 66% believed that the level of corruption will increase within the next three years, whereas only 25% thought that it will fall. However, it remains to be seen how Prime Minister Abhisit and the new government can reconcile the country's deep political cleavages, effectively combat corruption and restore the public's confidence in government.