Politics of change

Beijing Reviews | 作者: Tang Qifang | 时间: 2013-12-27 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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by Tang Qifang

 

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision to push for the passage of an amnesty bill by the House of Representatives on November 1 triggered waves of mass protest in the nation. For more than one month, demonstrators opposed to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin staged both street protests and parliamentary struggles, including the occupation of government buildings, to demand the repeal of the controversial Amnesty Bill as well as Yingluck's resignation. The continually escalating chaos in the nation had thus far resulted in five deaths and more than 200 injuries, as of December 12.

 

The disorder in Thailand caused fear and concern both within the nation and abroad. Many worried that the bloody tragedy of three years ago could repeat once again. However, to predict and understand the trends behind the Thai political situation, one must hold a comprehensive view and consider various factors in seeking out the long-term stable "constant" as well as the hidden "variables."

 

Persistent contradictions

 

The Amnesty Bill is the spark that ignited the new wave of turbulence in Thailand. The bill is designed to grant a blank pardon to those involved in political unrest and bloodshed since the 2006 military coup until August 8 this year, including Thaksin. Yingluck tried hard to push bill through the congress despite heavy pressure from the Democratic Party and other opposition groups. Thus, the current political turbulence in Thailand has not changed, and still centers on Thaksin.

 

Since anti-Thaksin protesters took to the streets in protest of Thaksin's family selling shares in Shin Corp to Temasekin in February 2006, the confrontation of the two camps has evolved from parliamentary struggle to street politics and ultimately supreme authority. If general elections were held, the pro-Thaksin camp would likely win since they have the majority of voters, which would then draw resistance from the anti-Thaksin camp. If anti-Thaksin forces hold power without being elected or even by restoring military rule, it will likewise create resistance from the pro-Thaksin camp. No matter which camp takes power, then, it will likely arouse protests from the other camp in the form of street politics. Though the ultimate authority of the Thai monarch would bring temporary peace for the country, the two camps would eventually break out into conflict.

 

After Yingluck won the 2011 general election with an overwhelming advantage, the political situation in Thailand was relatively stable. However, Yingluck's attempt to further consolidate her power by taking advantage of the parliamentary majority of her party once again disturbed the previous calm. Yingluck took three steps: First, using the Amnesty Bill to pave the way for the return of Thaksin; second, pushing a revision of the Thai constitution to amend the election approach of the Thai upper house; and last, asking Thailand's Special Investigation Department to accuse former Prime Minister Abhisit of murder and charge former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep with attempted murder, saying both of them should take responsibility for the 2010 military crackdown against Red Shirt protesters that left two civilians killed and one injured.

 

This aroused strong reaction from Democratic Party and other opposition groups, which employed all approaches including judiciary, parliament and street politics to riposte. The oppositions first submitted to constitutional court arbitration that the ruling coalition's draft proposition violated the constitution. They also promoted a no-confidence motion against the Yingluck administration in the lower house of parliament. And then, they once again launched a new mass campaign asking Yingluck to step down and calling for the establishment of a people's council.

 

Yingluck took counter measures to fight back, such as repealing the Amnesty Bill to reduce the opposition. In addition, she refused to accept the judgment of the constitutional court, saying that draft proposition has violated the constitution, and firmly rejected the proposal of the people's council by the oppositions, declaring it to be unconstitutional.

 

Oppositions denounced the Yingluck administration's moves as "illegal." On December 8, 153 parliament members from the oppositions resigned en masse, and joined the street politics. Suthep even set December 9 as D-day against Thaksin and led protesters on a march to the Government House. To defuse the crisis, Yingluck announced the dissolution of parliament and promised to hold elections as soon as possible.

 

Need for political change

 

The only way to end the cycle of political strife is to fundamentally change the nature of Thai politics.

 

The conflict between anti-Thaksin and pro-Thaksin forces is merely superficial. The fundamental root of the Thai political deadlock lies in the conflict of interests between social classes and the unbalanced political structure. The anti-Thaksin camp is composed by the elite class including the army, bureaucratic and urban middle class; the grassroots class, especially farmers from northeast Thailand, forms the pro-Thaksin forces. The former are the beneficiaries of the Thai traditional elite political system while the latter regards the Thaksin policies as representing their interests. Drawing support from farmers, which account for 70 percent of the population, Thaksin won two Thai general elections respectively in 2001 and 2005 and his Thai Rak Thai Party became the largest party in the history of Thailand with 75.4 percent of parliamentary seats, breaking the balance of the country's traditional multi-party elite politics.

 

Thaksin took the first step to fixing the traditional political system of Thailand, but in doing so he opened the Pandora's Box of periodic confrontations of Thailand's two political camps. Thai politics has not become more functionally democratic with the extensive participation of the public— to the contrary, it has led to more populist street politics. Despite the Thai people's great enthusiasm for political participation, the country is mired in the internal friction of mass campaigns. The vicious circle of resorting to street politics instead of resolving problems within the parliament has finally made Thai democracy the victim of "democratic movements."

 

True political changes should be based on social and economic transformation. However, in Thai society, public political participation falls short of meeting the country's needs. The common Thai people do not have their own explicit political claims or political programs. They can only continue to serve the elite political class, becoming potential tools of politicians who abuse their power.

 

Therefore, to unlock the political impasse of Thailand, fundamental changes should take place at the social, economic and cultural level. What Thailand needs to pursue is a more equal modern society, a more fair modern economy and a more inclusive modern culture. These elements constitute the necessary foundation of democratic politics. Otherwise, voting and elections would remain a kind of transitional ceremony while the real venue of political forces unfolds in the street. The ensuing violence could only be ended by the ultimate intervention by the military or the last word of the Thai monarchy, leaving democracy in shambles.

 

Sino-Thai relations

 

Although the country's periodic political turmoil has led to grave consequences, it is fortunate that the violence was limited to Bangkok and its surrounding areas and that the foreign policies of the country were not greatly affected. Hence, no matter what changes occur in Thailand in the short term, Sino-Thai relationship will remain constant. The stable bilateral relationship has been highlighted by the staging of joint anti-terror training exercises code-named Strike-2013 by Sino-Thailand Special Forces on December 9.

 

Thailand has always pursued a friendly policy toward China. The Sino-Thailand relationship is among the best between China and the 10 ASEAN countries. Jeen Thai Phee Nong Gan (China and Thailand are brothers) is the general sentiments shared between Chinese and Thai peoples. And in the meantime, Thailand is one of the most important neighboring countries of China. With its strategic location, convenient transportation and abundant natural and human resources, Thailand is an indispensable strategic and development partner. In the future, China could conduct more in-depth cooperation in various fields with Thailand, especially in the economic field, and take the lead in the construction of a China-ASEAN "destiny community" to create a better external environment for the stability and prosperity of both China and Thailand.

 

Source: Beijing Review issued on Dec. 17, 2013

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