Thailand’s Bleak Future

With the annulment of last month's election, Thailand can look forward to more street battles and violence, says Aim Sinpeng.
By: /
March 25, 2014
SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, McGill University

What is the purpose of an election? In Thailand these days, the answer depends upon who you ask. Some would say an election decides who will represent the will of the majority; others would argue that it should protect the will of “the minority.” Following the recently annulled election in Thailand, two things are clear. One, Thailand is officially at its most politically volatile due to the recent political limbo. Two, major clashes between the pro- and anti-government supporters are likely to continue.

The highly anticipated, but unsurprising, announcement of the Constitutional Court to annul the February 2 election came six weeks after the vote. The Court argued that according to the constitution, voting had to be done on the same day nationwide for the vote to be considered lawful.

Given the boycott of the second largest party, the Democrats who formed the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protest movement (PDRC) to sabotage the election through its No Vote Campaign, this could not occur. As I noted in my earlier post, the PDRC’s electoral obstruction tactics went beyond passive election boycott to include barricades outside polling stations, threats and intimidation against potential voters, and locking out election-related materials so that others could not vote in a country that has “mandatory voting.” All in all, an estimated 2 million voters were unable to cast their ballots on the advanced voting day due to obstruction while 28 electoral districts had no candidates and thus no election.  

Even the most optimistic observers of Thai politics are not shocked by this news, including the ruling Pheu Thai party. The Court’s decision confirmed what many Thais had feared: a prolonged political crisis. The election annulment has heightened the stakes between the interim government of Yingluck Shinawatra and her protagonists, the Democrat-led PDRC movement. Yingluck had hoped the election would return her government the electoral victory and legitimacy required to bring Thailand out of conflict after weeks of mass protests. Her gamble did not pay off and the government, which has not been functioning for months now, is now at its most precarious. There is only one thing left for her to do: mobilize the grassroots arm of the party – the Red Shirt movement – to oppose PDRC street protests.

Meanwhile, PDRC supporters hailed the Court’s verdict as a victory for their protest movement and “for the people.” Their determination to oppose what they believe as a highly corrupt, manipulative, populist crony of the Shinawatra family has hurt their adversary at the most important venue: the ballot box. And while the PDRC’s strategy did not cause Pheu Thai to lose the election – that was unattainable – they effectively made the election illegitimate. Indeed, the Democrats appear to have finally found a recipe for success in their quest for disrupting the status quo: boycotting the election to annulment. This “success” for the PDRC and the Democrat Party sets a dangerous precedence for more street protests as a viable strategy to prolonging the power-struggle in Bangkok and delegitimizing the government.

More violence and street battles loom on the horizon for Thailand. Already, the pro-government Red Shirts are gearing up for what is to be their biggest rallies since 2010, when hundreds of thousands of their supporters occupied Bangkok, leading to more than 100 deaths and thousands injured. The PDRC, revitalized by its recent success, will mobilize its supporters onto the streets to continue opposing efforts to hold a new election. The government, enfeebled by the latest misfortune, will also be increasingly inclined to use force. “Random” violence, such as bombing and arsons, by the mysterious “men in black,” are also a danger. Meanwhile, the future of political stability in Thailand is looking as bleaker than ever.