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The military-sponsored General Election of Thailand

Source: We Watch

The​ imminent Thai​ general​ election which​ will​ be​ held​ on​ the​ March 24​ later this​ month is part of an integrated strategy designed​ by​ the establishment​ of the​ military, technocrat​, and​ monarchical circle to tighten their grip on power.

Aided by the conservative Democrat Party, the military generals took power through a coup d'état five years ago, expelling the democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, former Prime​ Minister​ Thaksin's younger sister, and putting some of her cabinet members in prison. The junta then drafted a constitution which contains a number of provisions aimed at controlling executive, legislative and judicial powers. Worse still, the election commission and constitutional court - the two most crucial players in determining the election result - are appointed by the junta.

After several postponements due primarily to the junta's rising political unpopularity, mainly as a result of corruption and poor economic performance, the election was finally announced with the junta still in full control. Pundits and observers alike have been warning that this election is going to be one of the dirtiest in Thai history.

The constitution was designed so that regardless of whoever wins the vote, the junta's man still wins the day - through 250 military-appointed senators who can vote together with the newly elected MPs to nominate the next Prime Minister. As Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta head and incumbent Prime Minister, picked himself as a candidate, he will almost surely be the next Prime Minister.

Frustrated with this unfair game, the misuse of power by the military to buttress Gen Prayut and his co-tyrant Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the de facto army leader and Defence Minister, Thai voters have no alternative but to turn to the ballot box in as large a number as possible in the hope that their votes can overwhelm Prayut's legitimacy.

This election, though expected to be conducted in such a way as to ensure the military’s hold on power, nevertheless marks the beginning of Thailand’s slow return to the rocky path of democracy. If Gen Prayut still holds power, it also means that there will be a very strong and active opposition in the Pheu Thai Party and the Future Forward Party of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, whose popularity has reached unprecedented levels, reminiscent of Thaksin before he became PM. This would bring back the checks and balance system of governance which has been almost absent in the last five years of military rule. Investors as well as other players in the economy would have confidence in the system, since the Thai economy has adapted quite well to the new normal world after the severe turmoil of 1997 financial crisis. Fundamental economic factors such as the value of the Thai baht, exports, and tourism are also still moving in the right direction, so the economy could experience a firm recovery after the election.

Southern conflict after the election

Since the separatists are demanding to hold talks with a democratically elected government, there will be some progress in the peace negotiation after the election. The military is still not be able to completely control the situation in southern Thailand  And recent bombings in several places outside the war-torn provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat attest to this fact. The separatists have time and again demonstrated their capability to carry out an attack far beyond their conventional area of operations. Peace negotiations, therefore, must go on. However, after the election, people in the deep South will have more channels to voice their grievances, namely through their constituency MPs. Wan Muhammad Noor's Prachachat party - the only political party that appears to be dominated by local people - will get around 4+ seats in Deep South constituencies, and around 8+ party-list seats, totalling around 12-15 seats. If Gen Prayut becomes PM, this party will be included in the opposition camp. All in all, the military will lose some of it power over the local population.