Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Thailand’s political situation does. Over the past week, Thai opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva offered what he had, in advance, touted as a reconciliation and reform plan. He had come up with a plan, he promised, that would bridge Thailand’s political divide, bring the Democrat Party back to contesting elections, and possibly end the paralyzing street protests that now have gone on for seven months. His reform plan would, he said, stop any further loss of life in Bangkok, where demonstrators have frequently clashed with police and counter-demonstrators. Any hope is sorely needed: The body count is rising, Thailand is becoming more divided daily, and the Thai caretaker government has barely functioned since the winter. (Parliamentary elections held this past February were declared invalid and anti-government protestors obstructed many pooling booths and prevented people from voting; so, the caretaker government continues on.)
Not surprisingly, given his history of showy but meaningless politics, Abhisit’s promise proved empty. The “reform” plan was just another proposal designed to stall elections in Thailand, or maybe even put them on hold forever, belying the name of the so-called Democrat Party that Abhisit heads. If actually enacted, Abhisit’s nine-point reform plan likely would mean two years before another election was called, allowing Thailand to slip back into rule by unelected prime ministers and senior-level bureaucrats and the military and palace, the Democrats’ long-time allies. This neutralization of elected democracy is basically what Bangkok street demonstrators have been calling for since November.
As analysts like Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University have noted, if an election were called and the Democrat Party participated rather than boycotting and abetting the obstruction of polling, the Democrat Party actually would have a real opportunity to appeal to voters and pick up seats from Yingluck’s Puea Thai. Puea Thai has alienated many Thais with ineffective economic policies, alleged vast corruption, and its overemphasis on the Shinawatra family in leadership positions. Yet the Democrat Party refuses to engage in the normal business of fighting for elections. Unsurprisingly, Thai caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government just rejected Abhisit’s plan immediately.
Abhisit’s nine-part reform plan does contain some positive points. The plan includes vague proposals for making Thai elections more transparent on polling day, for instance. But Abhisit’s plan would allow the leaders of the street demonstrations and their allies, rather than the majority of Thais, to essentially decide on the interim government put into place while these reforms are being enacted. And the proposal’s plan to delay elections for so long outweigh any positive ideas contained in it, since the delay would allow democracy to flounder and re-strengthen Thailand’s deep state—the bureaucracy, the palace, the military. This reform would be a step back, not forward.