BANGKOK – Attempting to widen her incoming Government’s appeal, Thailand’s Prime Minister-elect Yingluck Shinawatra today announced a five-party coalition that will control 299 seats out of 500 in the next Thai parliament.
Her Peua Thai party won 265 seats in Sunday’s election, enough to govern alone with a narrow majority. However it appears that the party is seeking a broader mandate for Yingluck’s incoming administration, perhaps to diminish the perception that her Government will be overly-influenced by controversial former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s elder brother. “I call for unity and reconciliation”, she said at a Monday afternoon press conference, where the new coalition leaders sat side-by-side. The minority coalition partners are Chartthaipattana with 19 seats, Chart Thai Pattana/Puea Pandin and Palang Chon with seven each, and Mahachon, which won one seat.
The five party leaders pledged to work together, amid concerns about how factions in Thailand’s divided society will react to Peua Thai’s win in Sunday’s election, which sees the youngest sister of former PM Thaksin take office, less than two months after formally entering politics.
Speaking by telephone from Ubon Ratchathani, an area where Peua Thai won 7 out of the 11 available seats, Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University, said that “people here are very pleased but are still waiting to see what will happen. They do not trust, due to things that happened in the past.”
Thai Rak Thai (TRT), one of Peua Thai’s predecessors, won elections in 2001 and 2005, before being removed from office in a September 2006 coup, the 18th actual or attempted military takeover since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
Thaksin’s rule was anathema to the country’s ‘establishment’, an informal coalition of military, aristocracy and Bangkok elites, some of whom in turn saw an existential threat to the country’s monarchy, which is protected by the world’s strictest lèse-majesté laws. The country is regularly beset by coup rumours, and prior to Sunday’s election, army chief Gen. Chayuth Pran-ocha urged Thai voters to choose ‘good people’, which was taken to mean the incumbent Democrats and their allies. (Since this article was published, the Thai Army said it accepted the election result)
Whether or not there are protests or military intervention against Peua Thai could depend on decisions taken outside Thailand. Reacting to his sister’s win from Dubai, where he spends most of his self-imposed exile from graft charges relating to abuse of power while in Government, Thaksin ruled out any imminent return to his homeland, saying “it is not a major priority”. However he previously said that he would like to attend is daughter’s wedding in December, a potential medium-term flashpoint in Thailand’s political calendar.
Prior to the weekend’s election, Somsak Kosailuk, a trade unionist and head of the New Politics Party, a breakaway faction from the yellow shirt movement that helped oust Thaksin and his successors from office in 2006 and 2008, said that Thaksin’s return to Thailand would spark protests.
However, with the yellow shirt movement now splintered and lacking in public support, it remains to be seen whether Thaksin’s return would have a galvanising effect on his opponents. Speaking yesterday at the Sawatdee school polling centre where now-former PM Abhisit Vejajjiva voted, 34 year old businesswoman Analin Buranisira said “If Peau Thai wins, I will accept the result, but if they bring Thaksin back by illegal means, I might protest.”
In the near future, however, it seems unlikely that the country’s politically-assertive military will intervene. Andrew Walker, a Thailand specialist the Australian National University, said that “the army will find it very difficult to act openly against Yingluck’s government. She has a strong and unambiguous electoral mandate and her strong victory shows that the coup of 2006 has achieved nothing.”
For the sake of calm, some Peua Thai supporters prefer that Thaksin does not return, as it may bode ill for the country’s stability. Natthika Srisoottipong, 21, an accounting student at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said that she voted for Peua Thai but added that “Thaksin should not come back, it could cause war”.
However Thaksin retains strong backing in the Peua Thai heartland in the country’s north and northeast, which is the stronghold of the red shirt protest movement that camped-out in two separate landmark locations in central Bangkok last year. On-off street fighting, as well as unexplained bombings and shootings left over ninety people dead and almost 2000 injured.
Addressing the legacy of this violence will be another challenge for the Peua Thai-led administration. Today, announcing the new coalition line-up, PM-elect Yingluck pledged to allow the reconciliation bodies established by her predecessor Abhisit to complete their work.
Conceding defeat on Sunday evening, Mr Abhisit congratulated Peua Thai on its victory, before resigning as leader of the Democrat Party, which has pledged to be a “constructive opposition”.
“I’ve decided to resign because I could not lead my party to victory in the election,” Mr Abhisit said.
Abhisit came to power in late 2008 after yellow shirt protestors occupied Thailand’s Government House and Bangkok’s international airports. Peua Thai and redshirts alleged that the country’s military strong-armed erstwhile coalition partners of the People’s Power Party (PPP), the Thaksin-backed successor party to TRT and winner of Thailand’s 2007 election, into defecting to Democrat Party side and enabling Mr Abhisit to form a Government.
To some, the means by which Mr Abhisit came to power proved to be his ultimate undoing, when put to the Thai electorate. According to Andrew Walker, Sunday’s election demonstrated that “a great many people in Thailand simply did not accept the legitimacy of the way his government was formed with the help of the yellow shirts, the judiciary and the military.”Show