Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thailand: Update--Thais Vote for 50% of Senate That Will Test PM's Endurance, Future

According to Reuters, Thais voted on Sunday (March 31) for roughly 50% of the country's 150-seat Senate in a key test for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's troubled government, a day before the prime minister is scheduled to defend herself against negligence charges over a disastrous rice subsidy scheme, that is gaining political steam.

Anti-government protesters are in their fifth month of a campaign to force Yingluck out and set in motion political and electoral reforms before a new general election takes place.

Yingluck's opponents want impeachment charges brought against Yingluck, 46, over the government's financially ruinous rice scheme. A Senate dominated by anti-government politicians could hasten her exit.

Thailand's 150-seat Senate is made up of 77 elected senators. The other 73 seats are appointed and are seen as allied to the anti-Thaksin establishment.

Anti-government forces want to ensure a conservative, pro-establishment, majority to influence any decision to remove Yingluck which would require the votes of three-fifths of the senators.

Yingluck is due to appear before the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Monday (March 31) to defend herself against charges of dereliction of duty for her role in overseeing the botched rice scheme.

COMMENT: Having lived in Bangkok for a number of years and followed politics in the country to the very present, it is very unlikely that the PM will actually appear at the proceedings and defend herself against the disasterous rice subsidy scheme which was actually Thaksin's idea.

Largely because Yingluck has served as PM in name only, it is predictable that Yingluck does not have the details to defend the rice subsidy successfully.

While party affiliation is prohibited in the non-partisan Senate, the majority of the 77 elected seats will be decided on the basis of endorsements from powerful, party-affiliated, local institutions, particularly in rural areas, meaning that the result could potentially deliver a pro-Yingluck majority, which is likely to catapult the country into further turmoil.

Appointed senators are chosen by a committee that includes the heads of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Constitutional Court, Election Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

Thailand has been locked in a seemingly intractable political stalemate since Thaksin, 64, was ousted in a 2006 coup. The conflict broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.

Protesters disrupted a February 2 general election which was nullified by a court on March 21, leaving Thailand in political limbo and Yingluck at the head of a caretaker government with limited powers.

Election officials have said it will take at least three months to organize a new vote but that election going smoothly looks unlikely. Protesters have vowed to disrupt any general election held before their political changes are enacted.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the streets of Bangkok on Saturday (March 29) to drum up support to oust Yingluck and rid the country of the influence of her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the meantime, the massive street protests, uncertainty and unpredictable future for the country is adversely impacting on tourism, productivity, the declining stock market and the country's increasing reputation as being unstable.

Considering that chaos in the capital is approaching its fifth month, the prognosis is not positive.

The results of the PM's response to the National Anti-Corruption Commission will reported on tomorrow (March 31).