(Updated Monday am) Sunday afternoon, the polls closed in Thailand’s second general election since the 2006 coup that saw Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ousted by factions of the country’s military. The results, announced last night by the Election Commission, are that Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra will be the kingdom’s next Prime Minister, and also the first female PM in its history.
Tensions have been high because this election is seen, more than anything, as a litmus test on how the political situation will go forward. First, let me make clear that I have no particular interest in any of the parties involved in this election. Here’s the long and short of it:
- Thaksin was removed from office by a coup in September 2006 despite his party having won majority votes in two prior elections.
- After a new post-coup constitution was ratified, a subsequent election saw the reincarnation of Thaksin’s political party (dissolved because of charges of breaking election law) again winning a majority.
- The next two PMs, both from Thaksin’s party, were removed from office upon being found guilty of minor offenses and after a minority coalition party switched sides, the military-backed Democrats were able to form a government with Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister.
Now, it looks like we’ll be back where we started, pre-coup. Or, at least, something close to it since Yingluck and her Phuea Thai (“For Thais”) party have run on the slogan, “Thaksin thinks, Phuea Thai acts” and a proposed amnesty for Thaksin has been openly discussed as a leading policy position.
Election campaigns in Thailand are every bit as much of a circus as they are in the United States, although they take place in a much more compressed period of time – less than 60 days elapsed between the dissolution of the previous Parliament and these elections. Yesterday, while waiting on the Skytrain platform at the Asoke station, Prime Minister and Democratic Party candidate Abhisit and his supporters were waiting for a train on the opposite platform, shaking hands and taking pictures with people.
Here’s a closeup of the man, described in one US Embassy cable that was leaked during the Wikileaks scandal as handsome and ineffectual.
Something that I will be glad are gone now that the election is over, are the large campaign signs that are tied to trees and poles along the streets, blocking the sidewalks. In some areas they are so thick that the footpath is entirely hidden from the street, which I suppose is not necessarily a bad thing!
These posters by the Phumjaithai (“Proud Thailand”) party showed male and female athletes with the face cut out, encouraging you to see yourself as one of the winners. I couldn’t resist.
Driving around the city after the polls closed at 3pm, I noticed many people in small motorcycle driven push-carts, collecting these election posters. “So quick to clean up!” I thought, until Tawn explained that these people were collecting the posters to use as building material. The heavy corrugated plastic sheets can be used as roofs and ceilings in the slums. Sadly, this may be the most any of these candidates actual do to improve the lives of the kingdom’s poor.