By Thomas Clouse
The people of Thailand will soon go to the polls following a royal decree last month dissolving the lower house of parliament and calling for elections on July 3.
Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Election should focus on economic success
The people of Thailand will soon go to the polls following a royal decree last month dissolving the lower house of parliament and calling for elections on July 3. The decree has opened a new chapter in the long-running political battle between the country’s two primary political groups, known informally as the red shirts and yellow shirts.
The red shirts, largely comprising rural poor from Northern Thailand, are supporters of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. As prime minister, Thaksin introduced many programs to benefit the poor but also enlarged the fortunes of his family and friends. While traveling overseas in 2006, Thaksin was removed from office by a military coup and later convicted in absentia of corruption. He lives abroad but continues to be active in Thai politics.
Since Thaksin’s fall from grace, both the red shirts and the yellow shirts have staged numerous protests and occupied government, financial and transportation centers. The turmoil culminated in a red shirt protest and subsequent military crackdown last year that took the lives of some 90 people. The past year has seen less violence, but shortly after the royal decree, a pro-Thaksin lawmaker was shot and wounded near Bangkok.
The upcoming election will again pit the red shirts, represented by the Puea Thai Party, against the yellow shirts, represented by current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democratic Party. Abhisit’s Democratic Party hopes to shift the focus of the election from Thaksin and the political conflict of recent years to its own successful economic policies and newly introduced social spending programs.
Initial polls indicate that neither party is likely to win a majority, which means that both the Democrats and the Puea Thai will be courting smaller parties for support. In recent elections, the red shirts have won more votes, but the yellow shirts have been better at building coalitions. In whatever scenario emerges, Thaksin’s opponents are unlikely to let him return to Thailand, and the heated political rivalry is unlikely to end on election day.