Yingluck gone but crisis resolution nowhere in sight

opinion May 09, 2014 00:00

By Tan Hui Yee
The Straits Times

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Wednesday's much feared "knockout" punch for Thailand's Pheu Thai party-run caretaker government did not arrive.

While caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, and several Cabinet members were ordered by the Constitutional Court to leave office for abuse of power, the remaining team members regrouped and appointed her replacement.
The man Pheu Thai put in charge was caretaker commerce minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, 66, and his team has already started pushing the election commission to speed up preparations for the planned July 20 general election.
On Tuesday, the commission appeared to hesitate as it awaited the court decision on Yingluck, delaying the submission of a draft decree on the polls and asking to meet the caretaker government again.
But supporters of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which has been occupying sections of Bangkok and sabotaged the now-annulled February 2 polls, are unlikely to let the polls take place peacefully if it appears that Pheu Thai will be put in power again.
Asean’s second-largest economy may have been battered by six months of political unrest but the court verdict has not brought a resolution any nearer. At the heart of the conflict is self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s brother – who is reviled by the Bangkok-based establishment that has been trying to loosen his electoral grip on power for the past eight years.
While Wednesday’s charter court verdict removed Thaksin loyalists like foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and labour minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, it spared Niwatthamrong – a former top executive in Thaksin-linked businesses.
Some observers think that Yingluck’s removal may appease anti-government groups wanting to rid Thaksin’s clan from politics, but Professor Gothom Arya, a peace studies expert in Mahidol University, told the Straits Times it could have the opposite effect.
“It will make the demonstrators more determined,” he said. “They will be more adamant than ever to wipe out the Thaksin camp.”
The PDRC quickly began preparations for its  “ultimate uprising” against the “Thaksin regime”, moving forward its mass rally plans to this week.
The pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) has readied its red-shirt provincial supporters to descend on Bangkok for its own rally tomorrow, and they are prepared to stay.
The Anti-Corruption Commission is scheduled to make a decision on whether to indict Yingluck over the controversial rice-price-pledging policy this week – a case that may have wider ramifications for the caretaker government.
Former UDD chairman Thida Thavornseth said: “We are going to be fighting for a long time. This is not the end. Even if they dissolve the Pheu Thai party, they cannot dissolve the red shirts.”
Thida said that the red-shirt demonstration would be peaceful, and chances of clashes with the PDRC are low because the red shirts’ rally would be on the outskirts of the city.
But some analysts are more concerned, given the rising sense of frustration felt by supporters of a government that has been steadily hemmed in by emboldened protesters, an aloof military and controversial court cases. Distrust of the justice system runs high.
Lawyer and social commentator Verapat Pariyawong said: “To be realistic, once the rule of law in the chamber is gone, all that is left is probably violence on the street.”
Yingluck, he said, had probably been a calming influence on hot-headed elements of her team and also red-shirt supporters. The question is, who will play that role now that she is out of the picture.