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  • Thailand in 2009:Unusual Politics Becomes Usual
  • Chairat Charoensin-o-larn (bio)

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[End Page 302]

On 17 December 2008, a young Democrat Party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was sworn in as Thailand's twenty-seventh Prime Minister and the third Prime Minister within the same year. He inherited a weak economy and a society divided for three years due to the country's unusual political situation.1 In his speech following the swearing-in ceremony, Abhisit pledged to be "Prime Minister for everybody" and to defend the monarchy as a revered institution.2 Abhisit won parliamentary support to become Prime Minister by persuading key factions of the now-defunct People's Power Party (PPP) and its minor former coalition parties to switch sides to vote for him. This is alleged to have been made possible through the lobbying of the head of the army, General Anupong Paochinda.3 Abhisit's swearing, in a way, signaled the end of the era of political domination in Thai politics by Thaksin Shinawatra that had lasted for almost eight years (2001-8).

However, the manner in which Prime Minister Abhisit assumed power also signaled a return to the old nam nao (polluted) type of dirty/money politics typical of Thai politics in general and of the Thaksin regime in particular. Did this mean that Thai politics would return to the same old-fashioned jockeying for position and self-interested bargaining? How could the costly, devastating protests and demonstrations of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) culminate in a return to exactly the same kind of politics against which they had fought with such determination? The rise to power of Abhisit has once again shattered the myth of political activists and moralist crusaders that Thai politics can be easily cleaned up by simply blaming and removing one controversial person from the political scene — the most notable recent example being, of course, the fugitive [End Page 303] former Prime Minister Thaksin. A new government was installed, yet the same old regime remained intact.

Prime Minister Abhisit came with an abundant supply of political goodwill, notably hope. Hope to return the country to normalcy, hope to restore the economy, hope to uphold the monarchy, and hope to reunite the nation — the same old hopes that the coup of 19 September 2006 had stirred with little fulfilment. A Bangkok Post columnist described the drama of Thai politics of the recent past with these words: "It is like burning the whole house down just to get rid of a few dirty rats."4 In any case, those who supported the idea of having a government led by the Democrat Party reasoned that it was necessary to have "a functioning government",5 which Thailand had not had for almost a year. However, this optimistic view must be put to the test because there is no guarantee that Thailand will have a functioning government in the midst of the existing deep divide. Besides, Newin Chidchob, the leading faction that made possible the formation of the Abhisit government, is notorious for its practice of vote buying, which was one of the main reasons used to discredit the previous Thaksin administration and his proxy governments. The hypocrisy of Thai politics is much evident here.

As a reward for those who helped make the new government possible, it gave the important portfolios of the Transport and Interior Ministries to the Newin faction of the Bhumjaithai Party while the Defence Ministry went to a retired general who has a close relationship with the army chief. In recognition of the support of the PAD, which had helped bring down the Thaksin regime, the post of Foreign Minister went to an active spokesperson of the PAD who had once called Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a "scoundrel" and who supported the closure of the two major airports.

Obviously, Thai politics has reached a point of no return. The past few years have seen the rise of both a political consciousness and high expectations among the Thai people, in particular the rural masses, due mainly to the politicization of the rural Thai voters through the enactment of the 1997 constitution and...


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