Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Thailand’s election commission is sitting on its hands and refusing to organise a democratic election for early February. Its actions are tantamount to support for Sutep’s anti-democratic movement.
In 28 constituencies, located in some of the southern provinces control by the Democrat Party’s patron-client machine, candidates wishing to register for the election have been blocked by violent mobs. Yet the election commission is refusing to organise registrations in police or military barracks or to extend the time for registration and make alternative arrangements.
Pua Thai is preparing to take the election commission to court, but this is unlikely to solve the crisis.
The actions of the election commission mirror those of other institutions where the conservative elite have influence. The courts have blocked the right of an elected parliament to amend the military constitution and they are refusing to issue sanctions against Sutep and his gang for using violence to frustrate the democratic process. One policeman was shot dead in Bangkok while this mob tried unsuccessfully to prevent candidate registrations.
The military are also refusing to guarantee a smooth election. But it would be wrong to believe that they are secretly backing Sutep. Unlike politicians like Sutep, the military do not depend on elections for their power and influence. What they want is for the government to give them a huge budget, let them off scot-free when they killed demonstrators or staged coups in the past, allow the military to control their own appointments, let them carry on making huge profits from the military controlled media and allow them to rake in huge salaries from the state enterprises. Yingluk’s government gave them all this and more. When there is talk of political reform, they want to be in the centre of the process in order to protect their interests. So the military don’t need to back Sutep’s mob. That doesn’t mean however, that they will lift a finger to defend Pua Thai or the election process. They can just sit back with a smug smile on their faces and see what happens, ready at any time to defend their golden goose or to defend “state stability” and act like “heroes”.
For an authoritarian regime to be installed in Thailand for any length of time, it would require severe repression and a police state. Democrat Party leaders Sutep and Abhisit may not care about the long-term consequences of restricting democracy in order that they have more immediate political influence, but the military top brass and the intelligent sections of the conservative elite know that they cannot just ride rough-shod over the wishes of the majority of the electorate by abolishing democracy. That is the logic of the situation. But in politics we must always allow for accidents and illogical decisions by any number of actors.
It will take the mobilisation of a mass pro-democracy movement to make it less likely that Sutep will be successful in his quest. The Red Shirts can perform this function, but there are many who are not prepared to just be pawns in Pua Thai’s political strategy. There are others who wish to close their eyes and mistakenly hope that the bad dream will just go away. They argue that a Red Shirt mobilisation would just lead to a military coup. But without such a mobilisation, the elites cannot be reminded that the majority will not tolerate a dictatorship. Without such a mobilisation a military coup would be more likely.