Following massive protests during the month of November and increased pressure to step down, Yingluck Shinawatra, current Prime Minister of Thailand, has decided to dissolve all of Parliament and hold elections in which “The people will decide what the majority wants and who they want to govern the country.”
On Sunday, Yingluck had stated that she would resign if that is what the will of the people demanded. However, following a special cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Yingluck has decided to remain as interim prime minister, until the elections are held on February 2nd, in a move to remain consistent with and beholden to the Thai constitution.
The next round of general elections in Thailand were not scheduled to be held until 2015, but increased pressure from the protest movement for Yingluck to step down and calls for the disbanding of the Thai government led Yingluck to dissolve Parliament and hold an earlier referendum in order to satisfy the wants of some 150,000+ protesters.
This round of protests have been the largest in Thailand since the 2006 coup which overthrew the former Prime Minister and brother to Yingluck, Thaksin Shinawatra. However, the anti-government movement is simply the latest of a series of demonstrations since 2006 which have pitted the traditional Thai ruling classes from the civil service sector and military against the populist Thaksin regime that has been in power for nearly a decade.
November saw a surge in protesters as a result of an amnesty bill that Yingluck was attempting to pass through parliament. That bill would have allowed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand. Thaksin was ousted in 2006 due to charges of political corruption. Since that time, Thaksin has been living in exile in Dubai to avoid serving his prison sentence. Due to the fact that Thaksin is still at-large and not behind bars, many fear that Yingluck is simply serving as a body through which Thaksin truly rules. It is this fear, along with the fact that many believe the Thai government is still riddled with corruption and fraud, that has led to such vehement protests against the current prime minister.
Despite the fact that Yingluck has dissolved Parliament in order to bring about elections a year early, the unrest of the protesters has yet to be quelled – perhaps because the opposition Democrat party has not won an election in Thailand since the late 1990’s and show little signs of being able to win the next election.
Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the protest movement, would have the citizens of the country believe the reason behind the Democratic party’s lack of success is due to the corruption inherent within Thailand’s democracy itself. A more likely theory, however, is that the Democrats have not won a recent election because the Pheu Thai party has used populist policies to gain widespread support from rural farmers which comprise a majority of the population in Thailand, while the fascist-esque policies of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protest movement have only gained traction near the capital of Thailand.
Due to their ineptitude when it comes to democratic elections, Suthep has called not for elections, but instead for a an un-elected “people’s council,” which would then nominate the best possible candidate for prime minister. While many have questioned the actions of Suthep, he justifies the legitimacy of his proposed plan by citing the section of Thailand’s constitution which states, “`the highest power is the sovereign power of the people.”
From there, Suthep went on to explain the implications of his plan: “This means that from now on the people will appoint the prime minister of the people and appoint the government of the people. This means that from now on, we will have the people’s council doing the legislating instead of the parliament, which is now dismissed.”
While Thailand is no stranger to such protest movements and political unrest, the refusal to accept the referendum offered by Yingluck spells bad omens for Thailand and Southeast Asia in general. Thailand represents the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. This, along with the fact that Thailand had served as the most stable democratic government in a highly unstable and contested region, make Thailand “a country on a hill” to which others look to as an example and for leadership. Thailand also has strong ties and relations with the United States. If this unrest is not quelled through peaceful and legitimate means soon, it could lead to an economic downturn in Southeast Asia and worsen political ties with the United States, something neither Thailand nor Southeast Asia can risk due to international economic uncertainties and a potential looming conflict between China and Japan.[Image via Facebook]