Thai political parties bankrolled by the wealthy Shinawatra clan staged major rallies this weekend ahead of a court ruling on Thursday that could exclude at least one of them from this month’s general election.
Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-exile to avoid imprisonments in Thailand, remains popular with farmers and the urban working classes for his populist policies, ensuring victory for his parties in every election since 2001. The metropolitan and royalist elites have instead relied on coups and court rulings to unseat his governments.
Thousands gathered in Bangkok on Friday night for the Thai Raksa Chart, one of several parties linked to Thaksin.
The party could be dissolved by the Constitutional Court on Thursday after its bid to run the king’s elder sister as a candidate for prime minister was blocked.
The party’s supporters say the military junta is determined to return as a civilian government.
“If it is dissolved it will damage our hopes for democracy badly,” said supporter Chailerm Phothijad, 55, in Bangkok.
Thai Raksa Chart “will continue to campaign as we have been… and leave the issue of the judiciary to the court”, said Umesh Pandey, a party list candidate.
Taking on the generals
Future Forward Party, or Anakhot Mai, leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said he wanted to end military hegemony, economic corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Thanathorn said he would cut the military budget and reduce the number of generals, scrap conscription, extend the welfare system and attempt to extradite Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to face trial.
He said the party’s first priority was to take on the armed forces, which have staged 19 coups, including 12 successfully, since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
The former executive vice president of the auto parts giant Thai Summit Group told the Bangkok Post: “We have about 1,400 generals, more than almost every other country in the world…we want to reduce the size of the army. We’re talking about almost 400,000 officers…we want to cut that by half. We want to make military spending transparent and under the control of the civilian government. Also, we want to end compulsory conscription.”
Thailand’s new, military-drafted constitution allows the generals to appoint the 250-member senate, whose votes will count towards choosing the next premier.
There are 500 lower house seats facing election, 350 through constituencies and the remainder through the party lists, which is a system of proportional representation meant to give smaller parties a chance of representation.
Thai voters face numerous choices later this month. Picture credit: Asean Economist