BACK ON THE BRINK
Thaksin's 'victory' declaration
Belligerent PM proposes a reconciliatory panel to end impasse, but downplays significance of 'No votes'
and loss in Bangkok; insists 16 million party list votes justify his possible and immediate return to power
A defiant Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday claimed victory in Sunday's snap election but, despite proposing a "reconciliatory" panel to solve the current political impasse, risked polarising the country further by dismissing the significance of the huge number of abstention votes cast and his party's loss in the capital.
Speaking to the public for the first time since the election, Thaksin repeatedly called for "unity", respect for the rules of the game and cited the Bush-Gore dead heat in the 2000 US presidential race to back his argument that a nation deeply divided politically could still function.
Citing the 16 million party-list votes in Thai Rak Thai's favour compared to approximately 10 million abstention votes, he challenged his opponents to offer the electorate a satisfactory reason for him to step aside.
"Tell me how the country would be better off without me [as prime minister]," Thaksin said in an interview on Channel 11 last night. "There must be good reasons for me to stay or quit. The 16 million [who voted for Thai Rak Thai] should be told how the country will be reconciled if I step down."
Thaksin, who vowed before the polls not to take the premiership again if his party received less than 50 per cent of the votes cast, last night insisted that he had won well above that mark.
Looking tired with bloodshot eyes and sometimes distracted, Thaksin strongly suggested his party would go ahead and serve as the core of the new government, possibly with him still at the helm. But he did not rule out a temporary "exile" from politics if the "reconciliatory" panel he is proposing agrees that he should step aside.
The Thai Rak Thai leader downplayed the three-million-vote drop from the party's tally of 19 millions votes in last year's election, a number he has often cited to legitimise his rule.
"It's like getting a B [grade] instead of an A," he said. "Last year the turnout was 32 million but this year only 28 million cast their ballots. We only lost 2.8 million votes. It's definitely not a failure."
Thaksin claimed that his party had won 349 parliamentary seats, a decline from 377 seats last year.
But while he highlighted his party's "victory" in party-list votes, Thaksin barely discussed the fact that, in the constituency contests nationwide, many TRT candidates received fewer votes than the abstention votes. In Bangkok, Thai Rak Thai candidates received more votes than the abstention votes in only nine of constituencies. About 51 per cent of Bangkok voters ticked the "no vote" box, deemed a protest vote against Thaksin.
The Thai Rak Thai leader defended rural masses who voted for his party, saying that the urban middle class, media and academics liked to unfairly brand rural people as uneducated.
Thaksin's post-election belligerence is likely to further galvanise the People's Alliance for Democracy, whose massive street protests in the capital were suspended for the election and will be resumed this weekend. But he appeared unfazed by the possibility of renewed confrontation. He cited the 2000 US election when Democrat candidate Al Gore lost narrowly to Republican George W Bush by about 2,000 votes in Florida, saying the country did not tear apart because everybody respected the rules.
Although observers say the strong abstention vote in the capital and many other parts of the country is a slap in the face for the ruling party, Thaksin said the phenomenon was somewhat expected as his party has conducted opinion polls regularly since the House dissolution in February.
"In fact, I was the one creating the atmosphere for competition because the opposition parties boycotted the election. I declared on March 3 that fans of the three opposition parties do have a choice. So the 'no votes' must have come from these fans while the rest were from people who believe Sondhi [Limthongkul] and those who no longer like me."
Apparently desperate trying bring about reconciliation, Thaksin proposed the creation of an independent commission to end the political stalemate and offered to resign if the new panel recommended it. The commission could consist of three former parliament presidents, three Supreme Court presidents, three former prime ministers and rectors of state universities.
He said there were four potential candidates from the party to replace him if he stepped down. He named former House Speaker Bhokin Bhalakula and Somkid Jatusripitak, but refused to identify the other two.
A party source said the other two could be caretaker agriculture minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, and caretaker deputy premier Surakiart Sathirathai.
Asked at yesterday's party meeting to take a break from politics following the voting against the Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin defiantly asked who had made such suggestion.
"You tell me what good it would do if I skip the politics. Anyone?" a TRT source quoted him as saying.
Thaksin then told the meeting he would make a speech to announce his stance on the "Krong Sathanakarn" television programme on Channel 11. He assigned Bhokin Bhalakula to prepare the speech and all explanations to be made on the programme.