Deadlock undermines Thailand's future


THAILAND is in an impossible situation.

Ought the Thai people be subjected every so often to the whims of a well-connected coterie who are not averse to upsetting established order when things are not going their way?

Thailand has long been celebrated as a land of the free. This could not possibly have extended to overturning popularly accepted democratic principles to confer on a "natural" ruling class the sole right to determine the future of the nation and its people. But this appears to be happening - yet again.

After having failed to reason with anarchists determined to remove an elected government by unconventional means, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has done the sensible thing by asking the people for a new mandate.

But her opponents are insisting that governance be decided not in a free ballot, but by an unelected council of wise people - wise, that is, in the estimation of an influential section of society that regards the Shinawatra name as synonymous with venality and abuse of power.

A new Constitution will be written and presumably, electoral rules changed. This has happened before, with unhappy results. Thailand could not possibly endure assaults on its democratic instincts and come out stronger each time.

Ms Yingluck has refrained from using her ultimate powers to defeat the subversives. She should be commended for showing restraint, although she is aware a crackdown could invite worse intervention.

It was quite a concession calling fresh elections, as her Puea Thai party had won a convincing verdict in 2011. The election call was admittedly a wily move, as her substantial support among the masses will put her opponents on the back foot.

Hence, the fury demonstrated by her Democrat Party opponents and the Bangkok elite at being out-manoeuvred.

Yet she must rue the day she permitted an amnesty Bill to go before Parliament that could have wiped the slate clean for her brother, former prime minister Thaksin, who faces a prison sentence for a corruption conviction. The amnesty bid has been withdrawn but it provided the opening for the opposition to lay siege to her government.

Thailand must contemplate its choices.

The acceptable way for the disenchanted elites - the monarchists, military grandees and moneyed old families of Bangkok - to drive the Shinawatra clan they so detest out of national life is to win an election.

If Ms Yingluck's party wins again, they must learn to reach an accommodation with her, for the sake of the nation.

Anything less, including a resort to civil disobedience and defiance of constitutional rule, could mean a return to a military dictatorship. Nobody would wish that on Thailand.

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