Published on December 25, 2007
Thailand has just completed its first step towards full restoration of democracy by holding the general election. But any hope the nationwide poll will bring an immediate resolution to the prevailing political uncertainty, typified by the stand-off between the urban middleclass and the rural masses, is premature. The political situation will remain in flux at least until the end of next week when the Election Commission decides which of the ballot winners will be validated - or disqualified for electoral violations. The outcome of the EC validation process could have an important bearing on the eventual number of House seats each political party ends up controlling.
The failure by the People Power Party (PPP) to clinch a simple majority in the 480-member House of Representatives is likely to further complicate what are the usually difficult negotiations among political parties on the formation of a coalition government. The PPP, which has won 232 House seats, is going to need the support of medium-sized parties like Chart Thai and Puea Pandin to form a stable coalition government.
The PPP, as the biggest winner in the election, will be given the first opportunity to form a coalition government. However, the Democrat Party, the first runner-up with 166 House seats, is expected to enter the race to lead an alternative coalition government if the PPP is unable to do so.
All of a sudden, these medium-sized parties and, to a lesser extent, smaller parties like the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Matchima Thipataya, and Pracharaj parties - which together captured some 100 House seats - are now being actively pursued by both the PPP and the Democrat Party as prospective partners in their respective camps.
Political parties are already conducting secret negotiations among themselves, driving tough bargains over key Cabinet portfolios as well as over how to harmonise their policies in the event they end up being able to successfully form a ruling coalition government.
After all, jockeying for power is part of the job description of politicians everywhere. And we can count on the likes of Samak Sundaravej, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Banharn Silapa-archa, as well as anyone significant in Thai politics, to make the best use of their political capital and cunning to take advantage of the circumstances they find themselves in and get themselves the best possible deal.
Too many political observers in this country have become disillusioned too easily by political shenanigans. Some of these observers even claim to have been driven to despair by what they describe as the dishonesty, trickery, deception and the general lack of principles of political parties.
But can anyone anywhere in the world realistically expect politicians to be saints who take uncompromising stances, and have immovable convictions and inflexible attitudes? Politicians are only supposed to be doing what they are doing. As a profession, politicians should be allowed greater latitude in the way they do their wheeling and dealing - within the bounds of decency and the law.
It is no accident that politics is often referred to as the art of possibilities or the art of compromise.
The diverse interests of people in this society will be best served by politicians vigorously competing against one another to seek public approval through persuasion rather than confrontation or, worst of all, through the use of brute force, which was what happened on September 19, 2006.
As a fledgling democracy trying to find its way back, Thailand is going to need to learn to make a distinction between a healthy political system that is flexible and open to negotiation - and unhealthy, confrontational politics based on rigid moralistic hypocrisy.
Good and healthy politics in a democracy depend on give-and-take relationships, about accommodating the needs of oneself with those of others, about reconciling conflicting interests - all based on the supremacy of the rule of law. Regardless of which party leads the future coalition government to emerge in the days and weeks ahead, the core party must strive to be responsive to the widest possible range of interest groups. It does not matter what ideological hue and stripe the new government takes, so long as it serves the greatest good for the greatest number.