Political reform poses crucial test
Despite its dismal record, TRT has been entrusted to spearhead constitutional amendments
A great sense of relief has descended on the Thai political landscape after caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he would not lead the new government, which will emerge from the Thai Rak Thai-controlled House of Representatives. The Election Commission is organising a new round of elections in constituencies where House seats remain unfilled, so that a full 500-member assembly, or something like it, will be in place by early May to elect a new prime minister, which in all likelihood will be one of Thaksin's most trusted proteges.
The new prime minister can then be expected to form a Thai Rak Thai-led provisional government that, together with the House of Representatives, will coordinate with an independent committee to implement comprehensive constitutional reforms. After the amendment and promulgation of the revised Constitution, which will likely take a year to complete, the prime minister is expected to again dissolve the House to pave the way for a free and fair general election.
By the time the next general election is held, political parties are supposed to be able to compete on a more level playing field under a new legal and institutional framework prescribed by the improved Constitution. The primary purpose of this new framework will be to close the loopholes that have been so cynically manipulated and abused by Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party to their advantage over the past five years.
While Thaksin will serve as caretaker leader until the new prime minister is elected, he has offered a peaceful solution to the stand-off. His temporary "suspension" of his political career, or what is left of it, is widely seen as Thailand's best chance to avert a potentially violent confrontation between the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the beleaguered Thaksin regime.
Thaksin's offer has been taken up by the PAD and the key opposition parties that boycotted the election last Sunday, which between them count more than 10 million supporters or sympathisers, including members of the politically powerful middle class as well as citizens from a wide cross-section of society. The anti-Thaksin PAD has agreed to suspend its massive street protests while it waits to see if Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party will keep their promise to implement constitutional reforms that will clean up Thai politics.
The opposition Democrat, Chat Thai and Mahachon parties have said they will wait in the wings as disinterested observers to enable the Thai Rak Thai-led government, House of Representatives and an impartial panel tasked with revising the Constitution to work together to carry out comprehensive political reform.
The assumption is that Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party will be compelled to do the right thing and honour their promises under intense pressure from the public, which is clamouring for a change for the better. In other words, Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party are expected to play a key role in revising the Constitution to deter, prevent and punish the very kind of underhanded strategies and tactics, fraudulent actions, abuses of power and corrupt practices, if not outright illegal deeds, that they have allegedly perfected over the past five years in their stranglehold on power.
To expect the new Thai Rak Thai-led government and new prime minister, who will be handpicked by Thaksin, to do all this requires a suspension of disbelief. But it looks like Thai society, fraught with unprecedented divisiveness over the past few months, is prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But let's not forget that Thai Rak Thai has proven itself to be devoid of a culture that respects democracy or tolerates dissent. Under Thaksin's autocratic rule, Thailand's democracy was undermined, corruption was widespread, checks and balances mechanisms compromised, the previously vibrant media gagged, citizens' human rights trampled upon and civil society intimidated.
In the spirit of national reconciliation, Thai society is prepared to give Thaksin - as Thai Rak Thai leader or shadow prime minister - and his party one last chance to reform themselves and earn a place in Thailand's democratic future or be swept aside to the scrap heap of history.