Reforms needed to beat political deadlock in Thailand

Reforms needed to beat political deadlock in Thailand

THAILAND - Thailand's political brinkmanship knows no bounds. What began two months ago as a street protest in Bangkok against a blanket amnesty that would have absolved former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has snowballed into a national crisis which may dominate the local scene for much of 2014.

As the government of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, stands its ground and refuses to resign to make way for an interim governing arrangement as demanded by the protesters, the ongoing political deadlock will generate more tension ahead of the promulgated election next month.

The election itself has become a time bomb. More turmoil can be expected, whether the polls take place as scheduled or not. The protesters insist on immediate political reforms and a poll postponement, and the opposition Democrat Party's boycott will deprive the winners of post-election legitimacy.

On the other hand, the governing coalition parties are geared up for election victory and a return to power. Ms Yingluck has promised a year-long reform process before another election is held next year. This murky environment is likely to get worse before it improves.

Thailand clearly needs to find a new balance between competing sources of political legitimacy in its electoral democracy.

The crisis is reminiscent of the situation five years ago when anti- Thaksin demonstrators protested against a different proxy government of Thaksin.

It was capped by the occupation of Bangkok's main international airport and the Constitutional Court's dissolution of the ruling party. Back then, the brinkmanship succeeded in enabling the opposing Democrat Party to take power for the next 21/2 years until Thaksin's Puea Thai party, under Ms Yingluck, reclaimed the electoral mandate in the July 2011 polls.

Echoing their demands five years ago, the anti-government protesters this time want to root out "the Thaksin regime" once and for all by pledging to practically shut down the capital from Jan 13. They want to see the back of Ms Yingluck or force her government to respond and perhaps overreact to the street demonstrations.

 
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