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What will the U.S. Reaction Be to Thailand’s Election?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
June 21, 2011

A supporter of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of toppled premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the prime ministerial candidate for the country's biggest opposition Pheu Thai Party, holds her poster in front of a building decorated with banners of the Democrat party in Bangkok's notorious Klong Toey slum June 21, 2011.

A supporter of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of toppled premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the prime ministerial candidate for the country's biggest opposition Pheu Thai Party, holds her poster in front of a building decorated with banners of the Democrat party in Bangkok's notorious Klong Toey slum June 21, 2011. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

In the run up to Thailand’s national elections on July 3, most U.S. officials have said very little about the country and its poll. At recent events, for example, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has tended to brush over discussions of Thailand before going on to emphasize the United States’ other treaty allies and close partners in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

That is probably a wise move – for now. As Bangkok Pundit notes, though polls suggest that the opposition Puea Thai party is likely to win, and possibly with a large majority. Thai polls are notoriously unreliable, so the Democrat Party and their smaller party partners could still pull off enough of a victory that would allow the Democrats to put together a ruling coalition in parliament.

Still, after the election, the U.S. is not going to be able to simply defer talking about Thailand any more. Washington will need to have a clear policy if the military steps in again, as army commander in chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha already has obliquely warned in public statements. Unlike in 2006, the U.S. cannot this time even tacitly tolerate a coup, since the Thai military already has shown, in 2006 and 2007, that a coup will only set back the country’s economy and democratic progress badly. A coup this time should result in suspension of future Cobra Gold U.S.-Thai joint military exercises, and should result in the kind of harsh condemnation of the military’s actions that the U.S. would deliver in the case of nearly any other country. Though some American analysts worry that such a condemnation would push Thailand closer to China, that’s a risk that – at this point – is probably worth taking, given that the Thai government still cannot rely upon Beijing for much of its military needs.

What’s more, the administration should be prepared to warn Puea Thai, as well, if it wins the election and immediately tries to use a mandate to launch its own cycle of recriminations against the judges, bureaucrats, and army officers it believes have made life tough for Thaksin supporters over the past five years. After the poll, no matter what the result, Thailand will need some kind of cooling down period, and a new cycle of recriminations would hardly help lower the temperature.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Norman

    With the present U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney at the helm in Thailand, a person who not only seems to know nothing whatsoever about the many layers of the Thailand political history and present situation but seems to also have an insatiable desire to ingratiate herself with the Thai Hi-So and Military class, U.S. policy in regard to the results of a 4th consecutive national election possibly being thrown out by yet another military or judicial coup seems to be lost in a fog.

  • Posted by Darren Nelson

    It depends on what is meant by “recriminations”.Are you expecting Puea Thai to ignore the coup arranged judiciary and those who were captured on film with Abhisit’s Democrat party members disscussing how to fix a judicial decision ?…or are you talking about the Queens 3 favorite generals Prayuth,Anupong,Prawit who removed a democratically elected goverment by force,then were in charge when the Bangkok massacre took place

  • Posted by H. L. Burton

    Right on, Darren. If PT wins, a clean-up of Thailand’s thoroughly corrupt judiciary, military and bureaucracy is in order. That clean-up will certainly be dubbed ‘recriminations’ by those on the receiving end of it. Such currently accepted activities as the selling of military commissions and civil service appointments by the elite…things which I have personal knowledge of…will have to end if Thailand is ever to be a truly modern society. As usual the US will continue to support the current rotten regime until it is in imminet danger of collapsing, then we will switch our allegiance to the ‘forces of democracy’.
    It will probably be another rather clumsy and incomplete transition as it has been in
    such places as Tunisia and Egypt.

  • Posted by Job2Do

    Western world is in a state of collapse, & will take all it can with this crash. Tides of change are upon us, it is not time that will tell, but certain that we are on the wrong spiral. My children have no future with these practices. It is a shame that Thailand has been sucked into this global tornado of dismay. China laughing to the banks on our ignorance…

  • Posted by Bruce Breslau

    Perhaps Mr’s Nelson and Burton are unfarmiliar with Thaksin Shinawatra’s bloody and corrupt history as Thailand’s PM. Over 2000 extra-judicial executions, changing laws and hiding assets so he could sell his Shin Corp for billions of dollars tax free. Or perhaps they conveniently missed the massacre of hundreds of Muslims who were stacked like lumber into a closed container and trucked to their death in what was the singular act that has led to a Muslim insurgency in Southern Thailand. Said insurgency has been ongoing since Thaksin took office, and later fled Thailand on corruption charges. PT is certainly in no position to clean up any corruption, in fact, some of their leaders called for the burning of Bangkok prior to it’s actual occurance. PT has “men in black” in their midst who have been documented firing grenades at police, military and unarmed civilian protesters. No sirs, PT cannot bring democracy to Thailand. Having no political experience whatsoever, the fugitive Thaksin’s sister has been handed the reigns to PT. Yingluck Shinawatra has refused to debate current PM Ahbisit and was implicated in the corrupt business dealings of her convicted brother. Can you imagine such a candidate in the US? Yingluck does not have to demonstrate any ability or vision. As sister to Thaksin, it is widely known that she is his puppet, although she prefers to be known as his clone. Thaksin bought his way into the Prime Minister’s office and used his position to enrich himself in one of the most corrupt charades ever performed in any country. Rampant vote buying, unsustainable handouts to the poor majority, extreme cronyism and nepotism best characterize Thaksin’s rise to power. PT is the reincarnation of Thaksin’s banned Thai Rak Thai party (TRT). TRT was disbanded and all of it’s ministers banned from politics for 5 years after being found guilty of widespread electoral fraud.

    Military coup’s cannot bring about democracy, but in this case it ended a dictatorship. Thailand must cross many bridges before it can head down the road to democracy. Strengthening anti-corruption laws and bringing criminals like the Shinawatra’s to justice are necessary before any democratization process can start.

  • Posted by Smilesguy

    Did you now that yingluck’s government loaned 2 trillion baht (which is about 65 billion dollars) to build trains??

  • Posted by Darren Nelson

    Actually,Bruce Breslau, I am not unfamiliar with Thaksin’s record as PM,and remember quite vividly his TRT party offering Isaan and other voters cash,that matched, or on occasions even surpassed, the Democrat Party bribes.I remember well Thaksin defending the elites “war on drugs” on TV,when he was still allowed to be PM ,and his flipant defence of the “out of control” Royal Thai Military, who were headed on the Tak Bai operation by Manus Kongpan,who later became the prime mover involved in mistreatment and deaths of the Rohingy’s..But those reading this page who are unfamiliar with Thai history, won’t know that,and won’t know that it was in fact the King’s principal Private Secretary (Arsa Sarasin) who helped Thaksin push this “corrupt shin corp deal” through,and might also need to read a couple of items, before coming to any concrete conclusions: (1) “The war on drugs itself,perhaps the most shameful chapter in Thaksin’s tenure as Prime Minister, was inspired by none other than King Bhumibol,who spoke of such a “war” in his 2002 birthday speech.Shortly thereafter, Privy Councillor Phichit Kunlawant waxed genocidal about the need to execute as many as sixty thousand drug dealers and drug fiends to deliver the nation of any residual “bad karma”.And once Thaksin had declared victory, in time for his Majesty’s birthday.King Bhumibol publically endorsed the campaign, noting that “victory in the war on drugs is good”.He went on to say “They may blame the crackdown for more than 2,500 deaths, but this is a small price to pay.If the Prime minister had failed to curb [the drugs trade], over the years the number of deaths would easily surpass this toll.” You can find that @ – Federico Ferrara – Thailand Unhinged: The Death of Thai Style Democracy – Page 70….and (2) “Identify Drug Foes says Prem” 28 December 2002 Bangkok Post.

  • Posted by Darren Nelson

    Correction above: Pong Sarasin,brother of King Bhumibol’s PPS.(Arsa) helped Thaksin in his “corrupt deals” ..and finally a “must read” is “Prem and the War on Drugs” by Thaipoliticalprisoners.

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