05/10/2011, 00.00
THAILAND

Divided, Thais to vote on 3 July

For outgoing PM Abhisit, the poll represents a “new beginning”. For his pro-Thaksin opponents, it will be a chance to win back power after their judicial exclusion in 2008. Analysts stress that the country is still hampered by “deep cleavages”. Doubts remain over the role of the military, whose leaders are concerned about any ‘Jasmine Revolution’ effect.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the country is on the cusp of a “new beginning”. For his opponents, who are close to exiled former prime minister and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, it will be a chance to win back power lost in 2008, following a court decision. Thais will in fact go to the polls in a general election on 3 July to renew their parliament, and hopefully put behind five years of political crises and social divisions. King Bhumibol Adulyadej accepted a bill to dissolve parliament six months before its natural end.

The election will be a test for the current prime minister. The coalition he leads came to power because of a December 2008court ruling, which removed from office the government then in power. The decision came after weeks of protests by ‘yellow shirts’ blocking the capital’s main airports.

Abhisit and his Democrat Party, which are close to the capital’s social and economic elites, now want a popular mandate to legitimise their hold on power.

Against them are supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges. He had won the previous elections but had been deposed by the military in a bloodless coup in 2006. The following year, his supporters won the election thanks to his great popularity in the countryside and among the poor, especially in the North. However, yellow shirt protests in the fall of 2008 led the judges to annul the 2007 elections once again.

Abhisit’s rise to power did not bring peace to the nation. In the last two years, the authorities have shed the blood of protesters. The apex came in the spring of 2010 when pro-Thaksin ‘red shirts’ brought the capital to a standstill for ten weeks. It took the army and at least 90 dead (and hundreds of injured and wounded) for the unrest to stop.

This year, the outgoing government was able to amend the constitution, increasing the number of parliamentarians running on party lists, whilst reducing the weight of electoral colleges where Thaksin’s support is strong.

Local political analysts and experts agree that the nation is still split in two, and that unrest remains a distinct possibility, independent of the election outcome.

Finally, the military remains a factor to take into consideration. Its leaders are in fact concerned that Thailand, like the Arab world, might feel the winds of its own ‘Jasmine Revolution’.

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