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In Thailand: Is an End to the Political Paralysis in Sight?

September 10, 2008

On September 8th, Thailand’s constitutional court rendered the decision that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign after being found guilty of violating a ban on ministers for taking money from a private company.  Article 267 of the constitution prohibits ministers from taking money from outside interests.  In this case it was for accepting money from a TV station to appear on his popular cooking show, “Tasting and Grumbling.”   Some may argue that rule of law has won the day as Samak has become the first Prime Minister to ever have to resign by court order.  Most former Thai prime ministers have fallen from power by military coup.  To Samak’s credit, which he has earned little as of late, he has agreed to accept and abide by the court’s verdict.

But does the constitutional court’s decision end the political paralysis Thailand is facing?  The country will be ruled by the same cabinet for the next 30 days until Parliament elects a new prime minister.  Although the ruling calls for Samak to step down as prime minister, it does not prohibit him from standing as prime minister again.  It is possible that the People’s Power Party (PPP) will vote for Samak to be named Prime Minister again.  Samak’s possible reelection will not be accepted by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the group of anti-government protestors who took over Government House two weeks ago.  Even if Samak is not re-elected by the PPP, other party members insist that the next prime minister must come from their own party.  Such a scenario will not be accepted by the PAD as well.  The Democrat Party, the main opposition, is proposing a government of national unity — with the idea that their party leader should get the job.  If this were to happen, the Democrat Party would likely be able to cobble together a coalition government; one that may be even weaker than the current one.

Will Thailand find itself at the same impasse with both sides not willing to compromise?

The political atmosphere in Thailand has been poisonous.  All sides in Thailand’s political equation must abandon their hard line approach and make a genuine effort to sort out their political differences peacefully.  This will be easier said then done.  It remains unclear if such compromise is possible, as Thailand’s political fissure runs deep.  Thais can hope that all sides will compromise for the sake of the nation.  But at the moment, their ability to sort out the political mess that is plaguing Bangkok remains both troubled and murky.

John Brandon is The Asia Foundation’s Director for International Relations programs. He can be reached at jbrandon@asiafound-dc.org. For on-the-ground analysis of the situation in Thailand, click here for The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Thailand, James Klein‘s, comments to the Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at jklein@asiafound.org.

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