BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – Almost 70 percent of eligible voters turned out to exercise their rights in the country’s first general election following the September 19, 2006 military coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The People’s Power Party (PPP), which emerged from Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party, were the winners with 48 percent of the vote; the Democratic Party in second place with 34 percent. Five other parties made up the remaining 18 percent.
The challenge now is to form a coalition government under PPP’s leadership, which is headed by former Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej. Many recognize this as a daunting task. Firstly, there is the hurdle of the Election Commission, which may suspend or ban MPs accused of cheating in the run up to the election. Their findings will not be made known for two weeks. Secondly, as the horse trading starts, and the smaller political parties jockey to form a coalition with a working majority, it is still unclear which PPP will favor.
The outcome of the election did not, as constitutional planners had hoped, enable the smaller political parties to gain a foothold. The re-written constitution allowed for a greater number of smaller constituencies in the hope that smaller parties may have a greater influence. However, the truth is that we still endure a polarized two-party system, and the outcome is a pointer to the rivalry between the two major parties. The PPP sweeping the board in the North and Northeast, while the Democratic Party dominated densely populated Bangkok and the whole of the South.
Coup leaders, the Council for National Security (CNS), backed by the army, are not happy with the outcome. Many of the richer educated masses in Bangkok that initiated the demonstrations against Thaksin ultimately leading to his demise are also not happy. The voters in the poorer North are pleased, as they are hoping that Thaksin will return to power, as he handed them food to eat and money in their pocket and initiated populist policies such as Baht 30 ($1.00) health care scheme.
Sundaravej, who many thought was not a particularly successful Bangkok governor, makes no secret of the fact that he is a supporter (some say mouthpiece) of the former premier. Mr. Samak has even gone so far as suggesting an amnesty for the politicians of the former TRT party.
The election’s impacts on Thai travel and tourism
Few argue that a military junta has been bad news for Thailand. Losses to private industries of Baht 500 billion (US$14.7 billion) have been circulating for some time. The corporate and MICE markets have been badly affected by companies unwilling to conduct their business in a country ruled by an un-elected military dictatorship. Following the December 23 election, this is now a thing of the past and the industry has reacted cautiously over the result. The local stock market, however, surged 29 points (3.7 percent) following the election.
Tourism in 2008 is expected to generate an additional one million visitors, up from 2007’s estimate of 14.8 million. With a new government in place it is hoped that commerce and industry will be a top priority for the new government. Investor confidence was blunted under the old regime, and many believe there is a brighter future. The new government will be under considerable pressure to perform and with an electorate worried how the new government will deal with Mr. Thaksin’s expected return to Thailand, from his self -imposed exile.
Thailand’s tourism is forecast to fare better in 2008, however, countries like Vietnam and China flourished following the coup now becomes a competitor for Thailand.
[A longtime Thailand resident, Andrew J Wood is General Manager of the Chaophya Park Hotel Bangkok and Skal International councilor for Thailand.]