Crucial test for Thais as unrest continues

Thailand's political contortions are into the sixth month, with no clarity yet about whether the rule of law, representative democracy or open subversion will triumph. While the elected Puea Thai government and the anti-Shinawatra establishment forces slug it out, do they know the country is sliding? They are alienating ordinary Thais who fear the country will not come out of this unscathed. Projected growth has been halved, from about 5 per cent. Industrial output is down and rice exports have stalled, a point seized upon by agitators as proof of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's shortcomings.

The weakened baht could face renewed attack as tourists and investors revise an initial view that this was going to be a short-lived commotion. The struggle has so divided the nation that partition is being talked about, with action having been taken against one group advocating a split. There is a growing sense of foreboding that the involvement of state institutions, in a series of controversial acts and decisions, is going to be decisive.

A fateful step was the Constitutional Court voiding the February parliamentary election because 28 of the 375 wards did not hold a ballot. That this was due mainly to anti-government protesters preventing candidate registration did not seem a material fact. A message imparted was that sabotage was permissible in a power struggle but voters' right to choose their representatives was qualified. It may come back to haunt any establishment-backed party that subsequently forms the government.

What was bizarre, from the standpoint of statutory applications, was a court order that no force could be used against protesters barracking the government, even if they obstructed the business of state. With such leeway, it is a surprise Suthep Thaugsuban, Ms Yingluck's chief tormentor, has not yet carried out a preposterous threat to have her physically removed if she did not resign.

Ms Yingluck has surprised her detractors by hanging tough. Her determination to preserve the principle of elective accountability, to not be ground down by people defying lawful authority, has been the only sane aspect of a sorry saga. Her opponents among the palace courtiers, the uniformed services and Bangkok's moneyed old families probably see an endgame coming if the Upper House votes on impeachment upon her possible indictment by the National AntiCorruption Commission for breaches linked to rice subsidies. If it came to that, all Thailand will be on trial, in the view of harsher critics. Thais must prove them wrong by pulling together in the larger interest. Corruption must be addressed but endless national self-flagellation is self-destructive.

This article was published on April 1.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.