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Thailand

War without limits among the privileged

An unending political crisis

Sunday 21 September 2008, by Danielle Sabai and Jean Sanuk

Since the beginning of 2006, a major crisis has opened up between various factions of the Thai army, monarchy and the bourgeoisie for control of state power and the key to control of public contracts and mega-investment projects.

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Thaksin Shinawatra (right) meets with Donald Rumsfeld (foreground left) in the Pentagon.

The first phase of the struggle started in September 2005 and culminated in the coup d’etat of September 19, 2006[1].. It was organized and carried out by a heterogeneous alliance: the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). This grouping is composed of businessmen, monarchists, factions of the army and members of the Democratic Party, traditionally allied to the military and the monarchy.

In a country where there is a total confusion between politics and business, this coalition, led by a press baron Sondhi Limtongkul and grouping together the old Establishment, did not like having been evicted from power by Thaksin Shinawatra, who had come to power through democratic elections in 2001 and was triumphantly re-elected in 2005. Under the guidance of Thaksin and his party the Thai Rak Thai, large “friendly” contractors had succeeded in dominating the political and economic life of the country, managing the latter to further their interests[2].

Financial interests and the power of the royal family, but also of the army and certain “great financial families” unrelated to the Thaksin clan were very seriously threatened.

Using nationalist themes and a legitimate frustration with corruption, the PAD had succeeded in broadly mobilizing the middle class of Bangkok against the Thaksin government in 2006. In spite of mass and continuous demonstrations for nearly one year, Thaksin’s popularity among the masses remained unshaken and his opponents found an alternative route to power only through the coup d’etat of September 19, 2006.

Business as usual

There followed a 15 month period of an inept government appointed by the military who highlighted the fact that, if there had been a change of scenery and actors, it was business as usual, whereas the situation of the most deprived worsened because of a rapid rise in the cost of living.

The junta made use of these fifteen months to write a new constitution whose objective was to reduce the power of the Prime Minister and the executive, to reinforce the leading role of the army and to limit considerably the power of elected politicians. All this was done to reduce the influence of Thaksin: the dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT), prohibition of political activity of 111 of its top cadres, a ban on campaigning for a “no” vote at the time of the referendum on the approval of the new constitution, obstacles to the candidacy of ex-members of the TRT at the time of the legislative elections of December 23, 2007. Despite all the junta’s attempts, the elections returned to power those who had been driven out of it. The People’s Power Party (PPP), formed to replace the Thai Rak Thai, was elected with a large majority whereas the Democratic Party, supported by the ruling junta, was far behind. The military, reeling from their defeat initially sought to slacken their relationship to the PPP, which resulted in particular in the return from exile of Pojaman Shinawatra, soon followed by Thaksin, her husband.

The crisis resurfaced when the opponents of Thaksin sought to transform the result of the elections to their advantage by invalidating some of the PPP candidates thanks to the kindness of judges of the constitutional cou