Thai politics is eerily quiet

Thai politics is eerily quiet

Just over six months after Thailand's latest military coup, the country's politics appears calm and puzzling at the same time.

Events that should be taking place on the ground are not, and those that have transpired have been unanticipated and counter-intuitive.

Thailand's political environment has been surreal. Those who wish for Thailand to move beyond its protracted crisis and polarisation would like to see a good ending to the coup period, but the odds are otherwise. It is likely that Thailand is going through calm before storm clouds gather from early next year.

We can first look at the losing side of the military coup, namely, the political forces under the influence and control of self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

These include the deposed Puea Thai party and its erstwhile leader Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin and also a former prime minister, who was disqualified on a malfeasance charge shortly before the putsch.

Despite being elected to power by an overall parliamentary majority and garnering 265 of 500 MP seats in the July 2011 election, the Yingluck-led Puea Thai party - under Thaksin's control - ended up squandering its huge mandate.

Its policy platform, particularly the rice price manipulation scheme, boomeranged. This meant that its other policy programmes that showed promise, including the massive rail development for improved logistics and productivity and wage increases to promote consumption-driven growth, also lost traction.

The bigger puzzle, just as the Yingluck government had overcome the flood crisis and sporadic street protests into the second half of its four-year term, was the infamous amnesty gambit. Thaksin's underestimation of the wrath and fury his amnesty ambition would stir up among his opponents will go down as one of Thailand's most mystifying political outcomes.

It ended his sister's tenure and undermined the solidarity of the different forces under Puea Thai and the "red shirt" United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). The UDD rank and file was against exonerating some of Thaksin's adversaries, even when that meant keeping Thaksin under prosecution.

The red shirts also have been counter-intuitive. Given their fiery rhetoric and establishment of red-shirt villages, and even hints of secession and armed insurrection in some rural provinces, Thailand might well be in the midst of a civil war now.

The coup on May 22 effectively disenfranchised pro-Thaksin voters for the third time, following a putsch in September 2006 and a judicial dissolution of Thaksin's ruling party in December 2008. But it has been surprisingly quiet on the red-shirt front.

True, martial law is still in place to suppress open dissent and red-shirt mobilisation. And some of the red-shirt leaders have been detained and released on pledges to stay on the sidelines.

Yet, if such repeated disenfranchisements through military coups were to happen elsewhere, such as in Latin America and Africa, those whose political and fundamental rights and freedoms are stripped away so blatantly would probably not take it so tamely as people have in Thailand.

No broad-based uprising is evident on the Thai scene, at least during the post-coup six months.

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