TOPICS : Thaksin’s second term sweep-in

Sonny Inbaraj:

There was no doubt in the minds of many that went to vote in Thailand’s election on Sunday that Thaskin Shinawatra and his party, Thai Rak Thai (TRT), would emerge the winners. What was unexpected, however, was TRT’s sweep of two-thirds of the 500 seats in Parliament.

In terms of Thai politics, this is a record on two fronts. This is the first time a prime minister completed his four-year term and received a second mandate to carry on in office. Secondly, never in Thai history has a political party been able to govern the country on a one-party basis. TRT’s resounding mandate from a nationwide turnout as high as 80 per cent will be officially announced next week. With more than half the votes counted, the Election Commission projected TRT had captured 374 seats, while the rival Democrat party managed 91. One early exit poll showed TRT or Thai Love Thai party may have garnered as many as 399 seats. In its election debut in 2001, TRT won 248 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

A minimum number of 325 is needed to block opponents from censuring the Thaksin 2 government and his policies in parliament, while 350 is needed to amend the Constitution. “It took three uprisings in 1973, 1976 and 1992 to get a full-fledged democracy, and with the support of more than 350 votes, Thaksin can undo every constitutional provision,” Anek Laothamatas, leader of the opposition Mahachon party told reporters.

It is very evident that Thaksin’s strong showing at Sunday’s national elections was due to the green seal of approval given to him by Thais who were willing to overlook his authoritarian ways in exchange for greater stability and economic growth. “Thailand has gone from being a beacon of freedom and respect for human rights in the region to being a country of high concern,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for the New York- based Human Rights Watch. Also, the rights group said the high human toll of the Thaksin government’s “war on drugs” resulted in some 2,500 extra-judicial killings.

One of Thailand’s richest men, Thaksin was first elected in 2001 when the country was still in the throes of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He stimulated the lacklustre economy with huge cash payouts to villagers to initiate grassroots projects, initiated relaxed lending schemes for consumers, debt relief for farmers, low-cost health care for the poor, and increased lending by state-controlled banks.

Buoyed by a global economic recovery, Thailand’s growth rate in 2004 was six per cent. Thaksin’s popularity soared. The engine of Thailand’s economic growth over the next four years will be the Thaksin 2 government’s intended post-re-election investment of over one trillion baht in upgrading the country’s infrastructure, including mass-transit systems and railway lines. Thaksin has also pledged to underwrite new power plants and improve logistics to reduce transport costs.

“Stock market investors wanted to avoid any of the uncertainty that could cause havoc in the markets. Any government other than Thaksin 2, it was widely felt, would be bad for the market,” said ‘The Nation’s’ business editor Thanong Khanthong.— IPS