Thaksin's strategy facing parliamentary hurdles
Speculation is intensifying over whether Dr Somkid Jatusripitak or Dr Bhokin Bhalakula will serve as the next prime minister. This is based on the assumption that Parliament can convene its first session within 30 days of the April 2 election, with all 500 MPs present, so that it can vote on a new prime minister. But this scenario is not likely, given all the abnormal outcomes produced by the April Fool Election.
Had caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra decided on Tuesday to really step down to pave the way for a royally appointed government, the deadlock in the current political crisis would have been resolved. After an audience with His Majesty the King in Hua Hin on Tuesday, Thaksin abruptly changed his mind about his political future. He announced that he would not take over as prime minister again in the next government, even though his Thai Rak Thai Party won 16 million votes. He said the move was his personal sacrifice in order to restore unity to the Kingdom, which was looking forward to celebrating the King's 60th anniversary on the throne.
Thaksin fought back tears but could not control them. He hugged his family in sorrow.
The scene was completely different from Thaksin's appearance only a day earlier on the "Krong Sathanakarn" television talk show. He was very at ease with himself then, telling the whole nation that he could not stop himself from becoming prime minister again because he had to answer to the call of the 16 million voters who supported him. He was, once again, beating around the bush over the question of his resignation.
Since January 23, after his family's tax-free sale of its stake in Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings of Singapore for Bt73.3 billion, Thaksin completely lost the confidence of the Thai elite, academics, students and the middle class. Pressure has built up for him to leave politics outright because he has lost his legitimacy. His leadership is deemed unethical. Several hundred thousand people have been rallying for his removal from office.
But Thaksin hung on grimly. He still had control over a significant section of the military, the police, the bureaucracy, the independent institutions, the MPs and, most importantly, people at the grassroots.
On the TV show on Monday, Thaksin hinted that he would only resign if it were part of a grand design to restore unity to the country, whatever that meant. There was anxiety in the whole nation, which was equally and bitterly divided over his leadership. The trauma was running deep. The anti-Thaksin movement would not stop, but threatened to deteriorate after the election.
In any event, there were expectations in some quarters of the Thai elite that Thaksin would announce his resignation on Monday after claiming victory at Sunday's polls. Thaksin wanted the April 2 election to clear his name so that he could make a graceful exit. Most political pundits discounted the election all along because it would not produce a workable Parliament due to a boycott by the opposition parties.
Thaksin had promised (but then, how many promises had he already made?) to step aside after the election. And since he wanted the election badly, which conveniently suited his definition of democracy, he was allowed to have it. But he would not be allowed to savour the victory.
On March 25, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda went to cast his ballot in advance voting held by the Election Commission. It became clear then that the election would be held, even though the People's Alliance for Democracy had been saying that the election was not legitimate in the first place and must be boycotted.
Thaksin sailed through rough seas to the April 2 election. But the outcome of the election was anything but normal. He planned to declare victory that evening, but early polls showed that the Thai Rak Thai Party might win less than 15 million votes, leading him to cancel the press conference. The next day he proudly proclaimed that he had got 16.2 million of the 29 million votes cast. His political comeback looked certain again.
But there were 9.10 million "no votes" or abstention votes and an unusually high number of 1.7 million spoiled votes. Since the election was being seen as a referendum on Thaksin, the abstentions and spoiled ballots represent the protest vote against his leadership. They came largely from urban voters, not only in Bangkok and the South but also from urban areas in the North and the Northeast. Thaksin's support came mostly from grassroots voters.
To regain control, his supporters were relying on the mob-against-mob strategy to mow down political opponents, particularly the People's Alliance for Democracy.
Earlier the Nation Multimedia Group's headquarters was surrounded by a mob from the Caravan of the Poor. The Thaksin camp was also tempted to use emergency laws to quell opponents. The turmoil looked like it was getting worse.
Somehow, a miracle happened. After Thaksin's visit to Hua Hin, he announced his decision not to assume the premiership after Parliament convened. He did not resign outright to make way for a new caretaker PM, which would have resolved the crisis. But Thaksin complicated matters by saying that he would continue to serve as caretaker prime minister until a new prime minister was picked. Then he would remain in politics by serving as an MP and head of the Thai Rak Thai Party to oversee its key policies.
Thaksin assumed then that Parliament would be able to convene as his constitutional and legal scholars were working full-time to ensure this. Then he could be a puppet master, working behind the back of a nominee prime minister.
But Thaksin's strategy will have to pass several land mines. First, Parliament won't have all 500 MPs since one party-list candidate of the Thai Rak Thai resigned to enter monkhood. Second, there are 39 constituencies that will have to have another round of voting because the candidates failed to get at least 20 per cent of eligible votes. The Election Commission is trying to get candidates from other parties to run in these constituencies, but the Democrats have vowed to block this, deeming it illegal. Third, Parliament must be convened within 30 days of the election. Fourth, a large number of MPs are not truly representative of their constituencies because voters gave them more "no" votes than votes of support.
Given this ugly parliamentary outcome, chances are high that the April 2 election might be nullified.