Almost three weeks after the elections in Thailand, the country seems no closer to having a stable government of its own. The snap elections called by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, prompted by huge anti-Thaksin demonstrations in Bangkok and other major cities, led to the collapse of the Thaksin government. It also raised serious questions about the future economic development of Thailand that was seen as a model state in the post-1997 economic crisis era. But under the leadership of Thaksin the Thai economy was rapidly re-floated at a domestic political cost, thanks to the injection of large doses of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from other neighbouring countries like Singapore.
The straw that broke the camelâ€™s back was the reported plan to sell a large share of Shin Corporation, the Thai media and communications conglomerate, to Singaporeâ€™s Temasek Holdings. The deal was said to be worth several millions and would have added substantially to the wealth and power of the Thaksin family and its clique of compradores and clients, but was subsequently shot down by local Thai economists who claimed that it was tantamount to â€˜sellingâ€™ Thailand to foreigners.
But local economic nationalism was not the main or only factor that contributed to the fall of the Thaksin government: The political unrest in the four southern provinces of Patani, Jala, Satun and Narathiwat has led to the loss of hundreds of lives and a state of military emergency in the South and the disruption of local economic life there. Local Southern Thai leaders who come from the Malay-Muslim minority communities claim that the brutal methods used by the Thai army and police have made things worse, and the insurgency is set to grow more bloody in the weeks and months to come.
The fallout of the recent elections however means that nobody in Bangkok knows how the â€˜Muslim problemâ€™ in the South will resolve itself, or even if it is capable of being resolved at all. One of the tactics used by the opposition parties to bring down the Thaksin government was to boycott the elections in toto, on both a district and national level. The net result is that Thaksins Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party managed to win a substantial number of seats but were denied an effective majority. Worse still, there is now no effective opposition in Parliament either. The recent by-elections held on 23 April managed to fill an added 40 seats that were left vacant, but there are still many of the 500 Parliamentary seats to be filled.
Here then lies the first dilemma: Thailands constitution has no provision whatsoever for a situation where seats in the Parliament are left empty. The continued boycott by the opposition parties of all elections at local level means that many of these seats will remain vacant till the 30 day post-election grace period is over. When the day comes, Thailand will – for the first time – be without an effective government.
The second dilemma is faced by the Muslim minority and other disenfranchised communities in the country. The Muslims of Southern Thailand have been supporters of the Democratic opposition party and were disappointed with the election results that brought Thaksin to power in the first place in 2002.
The result of the first victory of Thaksin was both the marginalisation of the democratic party and the intensification of violence in Patani and the neighbouring Muslim provinces. Now that Thaksin has been forced out of his seat, the question remains as to who will run the country and which Thai leader and party will return to address the problem of violence in the Muslim provinces. Thus far no single party has even begun to address this issue, and while the stalemate continues in Bangkok the violence in the south also continues unabated.
Next month will therefore be a crucial date in Thai history as it grapples to put together a new government without a democratically chosen head of state. Thai analysts argue that there is little choice but to call for yet another election, this time with the opposition parties encouraged to take part. This still leaves the question of Thailands domectic politics to be addressed however, and it remains unclear whether many of the Thai Muslims of the south still believe in the democratic process and will remain to support the Thai Democratic party.