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Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed



Suthep Thaugsuban, protest leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, acknowledges the crowd at the Democracy Monument in central Bangkok


BANGKOK – When it comes to Thai democracy, the ironically named Democrat Party is among the worst practitioners. Tens of thousands of Yellow Shirts are marching across the country, but demanding the establishment of royalist councils is hardly a people’s revolution.

If anyone has been exercising people power, it’s the 15 million voters who elected Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party in July 2011. Thaksin-backed political parties have won the previous five elections with significant majorities, and Thaksin’s own populist policies helped bring millions of rural poor out of poverty. He remains the kingdom’s most popular Prime Minister since the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932.

If anyone has been exercising people power, it’s the 15 million voters who elected Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party in July 2011

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to oppose the billionaire telecom mogul: the catalog of nest-feathering business deals from his time in office left few in any doubt of his lack of scruples, while his 2003 “war on drugs” involved some 2,800 extrajudicial killings. The image of him directing demonstrations from his lavish Dubai haven, while his Red Shirt supporters risk arrest, violence and occasionally their lives, is hardly a heroic one. But the opposition’s failure to exploit these weaknesses is astonishing.

“We always talk about Thaksin because he’s corrupt, he’s abusive, but he keeps wining the election,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “We have to start asking about his opponents.”

(MORE: Thailand’s Amnesty Bill Unites Political Foes Against Government)

The Democrat Party last won a majority in 1992. Its power base is the Bangkok bourgeoisie, described as “timid, selfish, uncultured, consumerist and without any decent vision of the future of the country” by Cornell University Professor Benedict Anderson. As such, the party finds no support among the rural poor of the nation’s northeast — which is Red Shirt territory — and flounders at the ballot box. But instead of developing manifestos and platforms that could compete for rural votes, the party alienates the heartland electorate further by petulantly calling upon powerful allies — such as the military or judiciary — to undermine its rival.

The pattern is now established. A Thaksin-backed administration is voted in, then it is discreditably ousted by some elite machination (the 2006 coup d’état, the 2008 dissolving of the Thaksin-backed People Power Party by the Constitutional Court). Protesters take to the streets, bloodshed is inevitable, and then a Thaksin-backed party wins at the polls again.

A series of deeply unpopular domestic-policy decisions has been eating away at the Yingluck administration. But Democrat leader and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who along with Suthep has been charged with murder for ordering the 2010 crackdown while in office, failed in a no-confidence motion against Yingluck in Parliament on Thursday. The Yellow Shirts’ seizure of government buildings has also backfired. “Yingluck has snatched something resembling victory from the jaws of defeat,” says Benjamin Zawacki, senior legal adviser for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists, adding that Suthep “has likely overplayed his hand.”

(MORE: Thai Protest Leader Calls for a ‘People’s Revolution’ as Demonstrations Enter Third Day)

Divisions within Pheu Thai have been put to one side in the face of the current tumult, and hordes of Thaksin loyalists are rallying inside Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium, festooned with crimson bunting and images of their hero. Another Red Shirt rally in the capital has been announced for Saturday.

Many hoped Thailand’s color-coded conflict would end after the terrible low point of April and May 2010, when almost 100 people died and 2,000 were injured during a government crackdown on a Red Shirt demonstration in central Bangkok. (The Red Shirts were protesting the removal of a democratically elected government, just as Suthep is now demanding.)

Regrettably, all signs now point toward an escalation instead — and soon. Dec. 5 is the 86th birthday of  King Bhumibol Adulyadej and an important holiday in Thailand. Some believe Suthep will not want to mar this occasion and so will, in Zawacki’s words, “seek escalation now in the hopes of a coup or at least a temporary declaration of martial law” before the holiday. These are thuggish politics. The Democrat Party might cling onto its name, but seeing many of its supporters swap yellow for black shirts seems strangely apt.-  Read Full Story Click Here

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