Ouster of Yingluck does nothing to open path out of Thailand’s chaos
Thailand’s prime minister has been driven from her post. And no hint of a path out of the chaos of Thailand’s drawn-out political turmoil has yet emerged.
The Southeast Asian country’s Constitutional Court handed down a verdict Wednesday finding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had intervened illegally in personnel affairs involving the head of the secretariat of the National Security Council in 2011, in order to promote a relative to the position of chief of the Royal Thai Police, and that her behavior was unconstitutional.
Because of the highest court’s ruling, Yingluck has been stripped of her office. Nine members of her Cabinet who were in office at the time of the personnel affairs issue were ordered by the court to step down. Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, one of the remaining 24 ministers, has been appointed acting prime minister.
The House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Thai National Assembly, has remained dissolved after the results of a February general election were pronounced null and void by the Constitutional Court. In the absence of both a prime minister and a functioning lower house, Thailand as a state is in a critical situation.
In Thailand, forces supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s elder brother, have been locked in fierce rivalry with those who oppose him.
The pro-Thaksin camp, which draws its support mainly from the poor and from farmers in populous rural areas, has won every general election in recent years. The anti-Thaksin bloc has a larger share of bureaucrats and other empowered elites, as well as support from the urban middle class.
Groups opposing Thaksin have staged repeated and vehement anti-government demonstrations since last year, with the aim of toppling the Yingluck administration.
Economy badly damaged
This most recent case was brought before the Constitutional Court by a group including members of the upper house of the Thai parliament, where the anti-Thaksin bloc holds great sway. There can be no doubt that the anti-Thaksin forces, facing no chance of winning an electoral victory, have resorted to judicial tactics to force the prime minister from office.
The Constitutional Court has issued harsh decisions against successive pro-Thaksin administrations. And this latest ruling is clearly in line with the will of anti-Thaksin groups, but it can also be said that this outcome has served only to plunge Thailand deeper into political chaos.
The crux of the problem is that nothing has appeared that might help lead the country toward a resolution of its ongoing imbroglios and impasses.
Under the leadership of the acting prime minister, the Cabinet is set to hold a fresh general election, currently scheduled for July 20.
Anti-Thaksin forces are demanding that an interim government be established without an election, and stand poised to continue with anti-government demonstrations, indicating as well that they are likely to repeat in July their boycott of the previous election. There also are fears of violent clashes with the pro-Thaksin forces. Each camp is strongly urged to restrain itself and to avoid becoming mired in violence.
The prolonged political turmoil has exerted further strain on the Thai economy. The country’s tourism industry is suffering an ongoing slump, and a chill hangs over domestic consumption. One estimate warns that the Thai economy for this year may see negative growth for the first time since 2009. Japanese capital investment, which has helped boost Thailand’s economy, is also under threat.
Under the circumstances, the political heft of Thailand, a nation that has played a leading role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is bound to shrink further. It is imperative for Thailand to escape this crisis in its political system and return to normality as soon as possible.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2014)