Published on December 20, 2007
It's because most people are getting increasingly nervous that the post-election scenario they prefer won't materialise. What's worse, they have somehow convinced themselves that the winners will refuse to be magnanimous in victory and the losers will go all out to take political revenge. Further turbulence can't be ruled out.
Whoever finally emerges victorious or defeated will depend on which of the following scenarios actually comes to pass or is made to come to pass:
Scenario 1: The People Power Party wins over 250 seats in the House. A single-party government is formed under the premiership of Samak Sundaravej, with Thaksin Shinawatra officially called the "chief adviser", while in fact holding the reins.
The return of a strong government may be welcomed by some segments of the business community, but those engaged in economic activities closely related to the political powers-that-be would feel threatened yet again. The spectre of a huge, powerful, super business-political complex being recreated will return with a vengeance.
The top political priority of such a government would be to initiate the process of bringing Thaksin back from London. But before that could take place, the new administration would be busy finding ways to either neutralise or dismantle the whole criminal investigation and judicial process - related to allegations of corruption, conflict of interest and abuse of power by Thaksin, his family members and his Cabinet - set up by the coup leaders and the Surayud government.
Doing that move would not be easy and would be highly controversial. It would seriously challenge the country's rule of law. The strength and sustainability of civil society would be put to a severe test. Political scores would be settled. A new round of wild-goose chases would follow.
The relationship between the new political leadership and certain segments of the military establishment would be strained.
A government overshadowed by Thaksin's resolve to make a big comeback to the political scene would see a renewed attempt to persuade, through all possible means, sections of the armed forces to cross to his side. That would further split the already divided military establishment.
This first scenario is, however, also fraught with threats and danger. It could only come to pass if the PPP can survive investigations into two major allegations, both of which could lead to the party's dissolution if the Election Commission finds the PPP guilty in either of the two cases. They are: the distribution of Thaksin's VCD that purported to canvass votes for the PPP despite the fact he was one of the 111 banned executives of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party, and the alleged falsifying of an application form for PPP membership for Sithichai Koasurat, deputy leader of the Puea Pandin Party.
Scenario 2: The Democrat Party, capturing 120-150 seats, forms a coalition government with at least two other parties (Chat Thai under Banharn Silpa-archa and Puea Pandin led by Suvit Khunkitti - possibly adding a fourth party, Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana under the nominal leadership of Gen Chetta Thanajaro) that manage to garner a total of about 80 to 100 seats, with Abhisit Vejjajiva being named prime minister.
That means PPP - whose main agenda will, again, be Thaksin's political status - being forced to play the role of a noisy and persistent opposition.
This coalition will inevitably be labelled a "weak government" if it has just half a mandate to rule. Haggling over Cabinet posts and other positions, as well as control over parts of the bureaucracy, could be frustrating and exhausting. But it would usher in the sense of a new beginning - a break from the tense confrontation in the "proxy war" between the coup leaders and Thaksin's populist juggernaut.
This new coalition would be expected to proceed with the series of anti-corruption probes but would carry less clout than the related post-coup agencies in living up to civil society's expectations of a genuine no-nonsense campaign to rid the political class and bureaucracy of deep-rooted graft and dirty manipulation.
An Abhisit-led government would immediately face the vexing question of its longevity. And a PPP-run opposition would make sure that it not only keeps the government under severe pressure but would also consider assuming power from its rivals the beginning of its campaign for the next election.
Scenario 3.1: PPP joins with Chat Thai and/or Puea Pandin to form the next coalition government with Samak as prime minister.
Scenario 3.2: Chat Thai agrees to form the next coalition government with PPP on the condition its leader, Banharn, gets the premiership despite it being a much smaller party.
This Sunday's election won't put an end to the country's divisiveness. None of these scenarios is foolproof. But it's probably the only legitimate route back to "normalcy." And nobody can guarantee a normal election this time; a reasonable degree of political turmoil could arguably be considered "normal".
By Suthichai Yoon