A few executive notes for understanding the context of the ruling on Yingluck’s impeachment today:
1. The context of what is going on in Thailand is not about the junta creating reconciliation. Instead, it is the junta continually showing resolve to the Thai political world. This is the resolve that says Thaksin is finished and we have the will to resist him for the foreseeable future. This message is being sent with every one of their actions and their “reforms” of the Thai system.
2. The statements from Red Shirt leaders warning of riots and bloodshed are typical empty threats. The Red Shirt movement has never acted on impulse, but always as a political lever at key moments to support Thaksin aspirations. Any Red Shirt unrest would indicate a change from Thaksin’s long-standing strategy to do nothing to hinder the junta and thus delay a return to elections.
3. Yingluck, despite being a political unknown before the 2011 elections, turned out to be widely popular as a presidential and non-partisan (for the most part) prime minister. Kept away from cabinet meetings and unable to participate in controversial debates, her constant trips to the provinces as contentious decisions were being made in Bangkok both isolated her from political scuffles and endeared her to the people. She became a potent party figurehead who would be a strong draw in future elections.
4. Removing Yingluck from the next elections creates a quandary for Thaksin as he must find another figurehead to lead the Pheu Thai Party who will not be able to deviate from his control. Choosing anyone with their own political faction risks a drift from his agenda.
5. As much as today’s announcement is a test for anyone, it is a test for Thaksin. It indicates his ability to control his Red Shirt supporters. His strategy since the coup has been to do nothing that would give the junta a pretext to further delay elections. Protesting Yingluck’s impeachment or any other type of protest or violence in the interim contains no useful end game for Thaksin and the Pheu Thai. (We would expect some symbolic pro-Red, anti-junta protest symbol to emerge at some point to give the world something to focus on–perhaps the mass wearing of Khmer-style scarves or white handkerchiefs in a front shirt pocket.) The simple end-game for the Pheu Thai Party now is to to deliver a massive electoral majority at the next election and then use that reality to trump any of the junta’s constitutional and legal strictures on elected party rule.
After all these years, we are still in middle of the struggle for the future of Thailand. The present strengths of each side have yet to be fully tested and there are still many battles to be waged.
2Bangkok.com Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.