Political conflict continuing

14 01 2011

Xinhua has a useful report on political conflict and the prospects for 2011. It begins with the claim that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said “that he is likely to dissolve the parliament in April although his term will finish in December and will call for a fresh election. While analysts forecast that the general election may be held not earlier than April after the charter amendment receives the parliamentary endorsement or at the latest by October after the parliament approves annual budget for fiscal year 2012.”

Recall that this is trumpeted by Abhisit an “early” election…. PPT has long believed that this government would hold off on an election for as long as possible – perhaps even testing the constitutional requirements – or would go to the electorate when it thought it had done enough “fixing” to ensure it would win. In fact, October would just about be the end of the current term, so not really “early.”

Even so, Xinhua says analysts think the decision by the government to “arrange earlier election” – note our skepticism above on the use of the word “early” -  is “a way-out to avoid possible confrontation with the anti-government ‘red-shirt’ movement. The expected election will eradicate, to some extent, the conditions which once led to violence in Thai politics last year.”

We doubt that an election won by Abhisit and his coalition on the basis of repression, jailing, censorship, killing and fixing is going to do that.  But, as Parinya Thewanarumitkul, a law lecturer at the Thammasat University, states: “If the government continues to stay in the office, the pressure outside the parliament will increasingly grow and eventually lead to confrontation again. The declaration of the premier to dissolve the house in April will lessen the external tension at a certain extent.” Prajak Kongkiarti, a lecturer at the Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, is cited as more or less agreeing with this sentiment.

Well, perhaps, but if Abhisit was interested in releasing tension, he could have gone to an election in 2009 or 2010. We think he’s been keen to do the fixing first. Then, assuming a victory, the establishment could make all kinds of claims about legitimacy and use this to further repress political and regime opposition.

Xinhua makes this comment: “Legitimacy of the Abhisit government has been questioned since the first day that the Democrat party took the office in 2008 as it was allegedly formed by the military in a military camp.” And, that alliance has been greatly strengthened since then. The Democrat Party is now the military’s preferred option for maintaining the military’s hold on politics.

Prajak goes on to explain that an election would not solve the political crisis, and mentions “several remaining obstacles [that] include the case of 91 deaths. The new government is duty-bound to answer questions regarding facts and justice as well as recently occurring violence.” He also notes that political disputation is “acceptable in democratic society, so [a] polarized civil society in Thailand is not uncommon phenomenon as it is witnessed in every corner of the world.”

He sees conflict continuing and evokes a kind of clash of elites theory, pointing to an ongoing struggle between to competing ruling classes or elites. He adds: “So long as the two groups keep wrestling for power and the trouble of bipolar state has not really been addressed, it is difficult to alleviate conflicts in civil society. The chance that the violence will resurge remains highly possible if this controversial political structure exists in Thailand.”

There’s a lot of political theory going begging in this view, not least on the relationship between civil society and state. That said, PPT tends to agree that conflict will continue. But rather than a bipolar clash of competing elites, we’d tend to see the conflict between elites as having deeper structural roots in the Thai political economy.

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