What happens after next Sunday will challenge the future of Thailand. The forthcoming election is one of the most interesting political situations in the kingdom because it moves beyond red or yellow, or Thaksin or No-Thaksin.
The key debate on who should become the next leader has been one of the critical issues in the local and international media. Again, this is not a mere debate on male-female leadership. This coming election perhaps symbolizes the fight between traditional and non-traditional political ideologies in Thailand.
Yingluck Shinawatra – the female leader of Pheu Thai Party and sister of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – is on her way to bringing back power to the Shinawatra family and their supporters. But the road to the parliament is not an easy one for the sister of the ousted Prime Minister.
Yingluck and her party are currently facing a major dilemma on bringing her brother back to the Thai political arena. Although she keeps this issue unclear, Pheu Thai's party-list candidate, Chalerm Yubamrung, is openly heading up a legal team drafting legislation that the party calls the 'reconcilliation' law, which is in fact an amnesty for the ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra. In the eyes of most Thais, Yingluck is playing the female leader card by being strong but flexible, smart but not too outspoken.
Due to global and national economy decline and on-going political unrest in Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the current Prime Minister and leader of the Democrat party, understands his party has lost its popularity, credibility and political 'charms' in the eyes of many Thai voters. The party has failed to resolve issues on social justice. For instance, the Democrats were attacked on cronyism by giving land deeds to the rich and influential who had close bonds with the party, rather than the landless poor. In fact, the Democrat party has long been perceived as the party for the rich and the influential (Amartya).
The Democrats will undoubtedly fail to compete against the Shinawatra and Pheu Thai party when it comes to the contest outside Bangkok , the southern region and many provinces in the central and lower northern regions. Last week, the Democrats created an interesting political discourse "to remove Thaksin's venom from society". But this political discourse may have been more meaningful last year when the tension between red-Shirt (pro-Thaksin) and yellow-shirt people (Thaksin's opponent) was high.
We learn from Thai political history that Yingluck Shinawatra and Pheu Thai party will probably win this Saturday but Abhisit Vejajeva and the Democrat party will form a coalition with Newin Chidchop and his Bhumjaithai Party (the leading party in the north-east of Thailand).
The bond between the Democrats and Bhumjaithai will keep Abhisit and Newin united to take the lead in forming a government, if Pheu Thai cannot win enough seats to govern in its own right.
Whoever wins this election must understand that political stability and the ability to set and execute both short and long-term strategies are the key traits most desired by Thais. The issues that the new government (and PM) must work on quickly include income gap, improvement of education and key sectors such as health, agriculture and tourism.
Thailand has been blessed with strengths in agriculture, tourism and hospitality. But it is weak in critical areas such as energy, technology, IT and logistics. The new leader needs to understand these issues are fundamental to the country's sustainable economic development. Interestingly, neither Abhisit nor Yingluck raised issues about Thailand's competitive advantages.
The new leader needs a long-term plan to reconcile the segregation among Thais and needs to promise to support people from all walks of life. When the election dust settles, long-term strategy will be the priority.
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