Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Yingluck runs out of luck

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been ordered out by the Constitutional Court on corruption charges. However fingers are being pointed at the judiciary for having acted with prejudice.

“[The decision] shows you how politicized and compromised the Thai judicial system has become over the last decade,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, tells TIME. “In most other countries the sitting government has authority to make transfers of officials.”

Thailand is a dream come true for people who prefer orderly (read non-democratic) rule thereby ensuring economic (but not political) freedom for all.Yet at the end, unless you are prepared to kill off millions like the Chicoms, political freedom is a must for ensuring the dignity of the people. The best illustration of the problem is in Kashmir- some polling booths today have not recorded a single vote, while others in the 10-20 range.

This titanic battle of the red shirts vs. yellow shirts will have no easy resolution as the (yellow) elites in the south want their less well off (but more numerous) red brothers to the north to remain power-less. There are no language/religion markers to be exploited as in South Asia. But if things continue to slide like this then it may not stop with military rule (as before)- people may call for partition. It is something to watch out for.
Thailand's prime minister was ordered to step down Wednesday along with part of her Cabinet after the Constitutional Court found her guilty in an abuse of power case, pushing the country deeper into political turmoil.  
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with abusing her authority by transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position. The court ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution — an accusation she has denied.

"The Constitutional Court has ruled unanimously that (Yingluck) has used her status as the prime minister to intervene for her own and others' benefits to (transfer) a government official," which violated Article 268 of the Constitution, and ended her rule as prime minister, the court said in its verdict.

It was not immediately clear who would become the new acting prime minister. The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet members who the court said were complicit in the transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri.

The judgment marks the latest dramatic twist in Thailand's long-running political crisis. It was a victory for Yingluck's opponents who for the past six months have been engaged in vociferous and sometimes violent street protests demanding she step down to make way for an interim unelected leader.

But it does little to resolve Thailand's political crisis as it leaves the country in limbo — and primed for more violence. Since November, more than 20 have been killed and hundreds injured.  

Thailand is no stranger to political tumult. Since the end of absolute monarchist control in 1932, the country has experienced 18 coups, 23 military governments and nine military-dominated governments, according to a Human Rights Watch count.

A clear pattern of protest and unrest has emerged since the ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra eight years ago.
An amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand sparked the current protests, and even though that bill has been shelved, protests against Yingluck's government have continued unabated.
Thaksin, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2006 when he was ousted by the military in a bloodless coup, remains the central divisive figure in Thai politics.

Elected in 2001, Thaksin, a telecom billionaire, instituted a range of policies popular in rural Thailand, including microfinance schemes and fuel subsidies. Thaksin quickly became venerated by much of Thailand’s rural poor, especially in the densely populated north and northeastern parts of the country.

As a result, Thailand's power center began to shift from the cities and the south to the country's north and northeast. Thaksin's supporters became known as red shirts.
Opponents of Thaksin, who wore yellow shirts, say Thaksin's five-year tenure was marked by nepotism, corruption and the creation of an unprecedented rift in the country.  

In 2006, following massive street protests from yellow shirts and an election win for Thaksin’s party, the military staged a coup, setting the stage for a nearly decade-long, sometimes bloody back-and-forth, power struggle.

The protest leaders are boycotting the upcoming elections and demanding nothing less than “wiping out the Thaksin regime.” They have called for an unelected “people’s council” to replace the current democratically elected government.
Protesters, experts say, want to create such disorder that either Thailand’s military or judiciary intervenes, and tensions have been rising.

So far, the military has been sitting on the sidelines, at least publicly. But pressure is mounting for them to end the political crisis, which threatens to keep foreigners away from the country's lucrative tourism industry. In 2013, Bangkok was the world's most visited city.

Thailand's army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, told reporters on Jan. 22: "If the situation escalates to a level where it cannot be resolved, the military will have no choice but to solve it."

With Thailand averaging a coup every four and half years, this should sound familiar. If this happens, supporters of the Shinawatras, a clear majority of the still largely rural country, would likely vent their anger — probably in the streets of Bangkok. And so the cycle of protest and unrest would continue.

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