Thailand’s current crisis will not lead into a civil war: But instead of fighting each other, monarchists and populists should call an election and form a Grand coalition to give the country the stability it needs.
Dressed in the king’s colours: PAD supporters gather in Bangkok this summer (via adaptorplug, Flickr)
After days of being besieged by opposition protesters and a night of violent street clashes, Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej finally declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Tuesday. Just hours later, Thailand’s Election Commission recommended the Supreme Court disband the Mr. Samak’s People Power Party (PPP) for election fraud.
The fight for power in Thailand is a proxy war: Mr. Samak is mostly seen as a puppet, as his party is a follow-up to former Prime Minister and telecom-mogul Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai. Mr. Thaksin lives in exile now and has been charged with corruption (a suspicicion that had been around for years), he is hated in Bangkok and other cities, but loved by the rural inhabitants of Thailand for his financial and social welfare-programs.
Mr. Samak’s opponent are oppostion-leader Sondhi Limthongkul and his People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) followers, who happens to own some of the most influencial media in the country. Mr. Sondhi has tried to discredit Mr. Thaksin for a long time (he was prosecuted when Mr. Thaksin was still in office) and is seen as a royalist: His vision includes a parliament where only 30 percent of all members are elected.
Mr. Samak’s attempt to push the government out can be seen as an attempt to become the political leader who slowly but steadily undermines democracy to strenghten the monarchy: King Bhumibol
enjoys high popularity, but he is 80 years old. As the desire for a real democracy grows in young Thais, he may have to take measures to leave his son a secure position. This would, logically, include a de-facto-monarchy with a puppet-government that can combine business and politics and is backed by the army.
As the army has always been a key player, and to stay in office, Mr. Samak has courted its members over the last couple of months: Right now, General seems to stay away from staging another coup, but he also (luckily for protesters, but probably much to the grudge of Mr. Samak) assured the public the army will not use violence against the protesters.
This could lead to a scenario where a general strike increases pressure on Mr. Samak, leaving King Bhumibol to signal him to go and re-instating a military government, once again. Thailand was in a similar situation two years ago, but as the army left office, the people voted Mr. Thaksin’s camp into power again. Much to the monarchists‘ disillusionment, it is more than uncertain it would be different next time.
A wiser option than a soft coup would be letting Mr. Samak stay and broker a deal for new election early next year. This could lead to the old-style of “buffet cabinet” politics, with a Grand Coalitions of different parties and interest groups. As the economy continues to stumble and the crisis damages its international reputation as a smiling country, Thailand needs stability more than anything – even if there are too many people around who can be expected fill their pocket while sitting at the buffet table.