Updated: Elections, observers and boycotts

25 03 2011

In MCOT News, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is mentioned twice on rejecting foreign scrutiny.

First, reflecting the fact the the military already presented the government with a fait accompli, Suthep has been forced to agree that “said Indonesia, in its capacity as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or any other country, should not meddle in the border committee meeting.” The military had refused to accept this, so the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is unable to move on any resolution to the disputes on the Cambodian border.

Second, Suthep has also disagreed with the idea that Thailand “seek international observers to monitor the upcoming general election…”. That was his response to a report that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), “planned to invite election observers from international organisations” to observe the elections.

Suthep made this a nationalist issue, wondering “why the UDD does not respect Thailand’s national sovereignty but respects foreigners by inviting them to be involved in the country’s internal affairs.” Suthep apparently wants nothing to do with foreigners, saying the whole idea was “inappropriate.”

It is curious that the current government and its backers are so spooked by suggestions of international observation.

The yellow shirts are also opposed to any third party involvement with the border dispute with Cambodia. As for international observers for the elections, if Sondhi Limthongkul has his way, the idea would be redundant. Sondhi has called on the PAD-born New Politics Party to boycott any elections and to campaign for a no vote when people cast their ballots. Readers will recall that PAD successfully called on opposition parties to boycott the April 2006 elections and for voters to cast a no vote (effectively a vote against the Thai Rak Thai Party). This was a crucial element moving the country towards the 2006 coup and beginning a a process of judicialization that began with the king’s call for the judiciary to sort out the disputes that followed the boycotted elections.

While the Wikipedia article just noted refers to this political intervention by the king as “an unusual but socially unifying step in declaring the landslide elections undemocratic, the election was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court…”, this is anything but true. The action set in train a series of events and decisions that have seen Thailand embroiled in 7 years of political disputation and crisis. Sondhi’s call for a boycott by the NPP is already causing dispute, but this time within the yellow shirts.

The Nation refers to a “split within the leadership yellow shirts’ leadership.” The NPP’s leader Somsak Kosaisuk said “the party’s executives and branch heads had resolved at their meeting on Tuesday to field candidates in the election.”

Somsak said NPP “is required to abide by the Political Party Act and the party’s own regulations.” Now PPT is not sure why Somsak and his yellow shirts have suddenly become believers in election laws, although Somsak appeared willing to consider Sondhi’s call, presumably if it gains any political traction.

Somsak does, however, make a point that sits oddly with the opposition to “foreign interference” when he notes that the “New Politics Party was set up in accordance with a resolution by PAD members from all over the country, as well as some 6,000 PAD members in the United States – not just from the five PAD leaders…”. Like the current government, it seems there are “tame” foreigners (we assume some of these PAD members are holding the documents of foreign countries) who are politically useful.

More significantly, Somsak seems to view the NPP as part of a grassroots movement while Sondhi sees it as a tool for himself and Chamlong Srimuang and the murky backers of the PAD. These latter leaders are also busily denigrating the very idea of elections and elected politicians. Sondhi said: “If the election is allowed to go ahead, we will see a return of beasts from hell…”.

It seems to PPT that Sondhi is worried that pro-Thaksin parties will do better than the current regime thinks they will. That said, Sondhi and others have also been attacking Abhisit also.

Sondhi claims that “the PAD leaders have resolved that we will campaign for people all over the country to not vote…”. Sondhi has never really been committed to NPP; that’s why it is led by Somsak, who was one of the early leaders of PAD, but never a major public figure. PPT expects taht Sondhi and his cronies will get their way. Questions remain: will a rightist boycott have any public support, and are there are darker forces behind this move.

Update: The Jakarta Globe has an interesting take on the border observers issue.


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