Outcome remains unclear a month after Thailand’s elections – RTÉ World Report


https://www.rte.ie/news/player/world-report/2019/0428/ – radio report here, 23 minutes in

Thais cheer as King Bhumibol Adulyadej appears at Bangkok Royal Plaza on Wednesday Dec. 5 2012 (Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK — More than a month after parliamentary elections, the 38 million Thais who voted still waiting for results, with the prospect of a handover to a civilian government diminishing by the day in a country ruled by the army since a 2014 coup.
The complicated vote was based on mix of 350 constituency seats to be decided on simple first-past-the-post
contest, with 150 more seats won in a party-list system.
The latter seats are to be allocated using a complicated formula that even the election commission is, it seems, struggling to get to grips with.
The commission said on Thursday that it would announce the party list seat winners after the constituency seats, but then backtracked and said all the results would be ready on time.
The original final deadline for the results to be announced was May 9 – but given that the election was postponed several times since the army seized power five years ago, before finally taking place on March 24th, it will be no surprise if results are not announced as scheduled either.
Despite the need to sort out who won what, the election commission has busied itself with other matters. Earlier this week it accused 40 year old billionaire businessman Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit of breaking election laws, prompting one of the commissioners, Yutthana Thaipakdee, to resign in protest at the apparent attempt to dissolve Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party.
Future Forward made its electoral debut in this year, winning 18% of the popular vote on the back of support from younger urban voters, giving it what should be the third biggest seat share in the next parliament, where it has pledged to end military rule.
“The people are not here to protect me, but to protect democracy,” Thanathorn said, when greeted by supporters at Bangkok’s international airport on Thursday, arriving home from a trip to Europe to defend himself against a variety of charges. He has also been accused of sedition and of spreading false information online.
If Future Forward is banned, as seems likely, it will not be the first party to be struck off during this election season. On February 8th, another opposition party, Thai Raksa Chart, made the stunning announcement that Princess Ubolratana would be its prime ministerial nominee after the March 24 elections.
That unprecedented move prompted a furious reaction from the princess’s younger brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who dismissed the nomination as “highly inappropriate,” forcing the princess to forego her new-found political ambitions.
The election commission followed up by banning the party, a fate that could await Future Forward ahead of the election results being formally announced.
But whenever that is, May 9th or later, it will be after Vajiralongkorn’s long-awaited coronation on May 4th. He succeeded his father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died aged 88 in late 2016 after seven decades as king.
And though Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with royalty supposedly above politics, the reality is that royal opinion is highly-influential and much of Thailand’s recent political turmoil revolved around concerns about who would wield power once Bhumibol died – which seemed like it could be any day when the army launched its 2014 coup.
The reputation of the king is protected by lèse-majesté laws, with any perceived slight punishable by up to 15 years in jail. it is therefore difficult to get a clear picture of how popular the monarchy is in Thailand, given that the law leads to self-censorship.
Bhumibol was respected by most and revered by some, successor Vaijiralongkorn does not, it seems, command the same esteem.
Despite his coronation being only days away, 66 year old Vajiralongkorn was appeared in a photograph in the German newspaper Bild on April 22, wearing a crop top as he waited with an unknown female companion to take a cable car up Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, where the the king spends much of his time.
And while those photos were not published in any Thai media and the king’s German frolicking is not reported on, the public is aware what is going on via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Rehearsals for the May 4 coronation prompted the closure of some usually busy Bangkok streets in April, causing traffic jams elsewhere. On April 16, during the Buddhist New Year festival of Songkran, a concert was stopped, temporarily, as a royal convoy drove past.
Social media was peppered with critical comments — most of them cryptic, to sidestep the lèse-majesté laws — but nonetheless giving the impression that the current king is not as highly-respected as his predecessor.
The organizers posted on Facebook that “we sincerely apologize for the pause of the show today. It is beyond our control and we can’t really say much about the cause. We are deeply sorry we could not change the situation.”
Among the hundreds of replies, one said, “It was a bit disappointed last night but .. when I know the exactly caused.”
Despite the image of a royalty that transcends party politics, Vajiralongkorn followed up barring his sister from running for office with a pre-election exhortation to voters to opt for “good people” -– code for any party or candidate not aligned with another wealthy businessman who turned to politics, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was likely behind the nomination of the princess.
The king’s campaign message came on March 23, the day before the vote and a day after the princess attended Thaksin’s daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong.
Thaksin has not set foot in Thailand for over a decade, after fleeing corruption charges. On the back of increased social spending in the poorer but populous rural north and north-east, his parties have dominated Thai party politics for nearly two decades — at least until Thaksin became seen as a threat to the popularity of the royal family.
Although Thaksin and allies kept winning elections, they were repeatedly driven from office by a mix of the army, the courts, and street protests by royalists enraged at the prospect of an amnesty for Thaksin, who fled abroad in 2008 after being charged with corruption.
After this year’s election, Thanathorn and Future Forward lined up with the rest of the opposition, including Pheu Thai, the main party backed from abroad by Thaksin, claiming they would have enough seats form a government. However the various charges against Thanathorn suggest that a return to fully democratic or civilian rule will not be permitted.
Moreover, the complicated electoral system means that even with enough seats, the opposition still cannot nominate a prime minister without the backing of the senate, whose members were nominated by the military.
In the end, it all points to the leader of the 2014 coup, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, staying on as prime minister, backed by the Palang Pracharat party set up by the army to contest the elections, which won the second highest number of seats after Pheu Thai.
For World Report, this is Simon Roughneen in Bangkok.
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