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Asean Affairs   16 June  2011

Will Thailand have a leadership debate?

By  David Swartzemtruber

AseanAffairs     16 June 2011

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Tomorrow, June 17, is the deadline for Yingluck Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai party’s prime ministerial candidate , to respond to an invitation from the People's Network for Elections in Thailand (Pnet) to participate in election debates.

The first debate involves the leaders of six political parties on June 23 and a debate the next evening, June 24, would be with current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Ms. Yingluck’s main opponent.

Mr. Abhisit will participate in both debates while Ms. Yingluck remains noncommittal.

When queried by reporters about her participation in the debates, Ms. Yingluck, is not forthright. She mentions her schedule and alludes to her personal appearances having precedence over the nationally televised debates. However, all the Thai political candidates have schedules and personal appearances to make throughout Thailand during this six-week campaign period. Is it not both economic and democratic to appear before the whole country on television for one evening?

Three factors are in play here. First, she has had no political experience and many question her abilities to handle the role of being a prime minister. Her experience deficiencies in public matters could be exposed in a debate. Second, Mr. Abhisit is known to be a skilled debater and most Thai observers expect that he would easily show up any opponent in a debate.

Third, although Thai public opinion polls are not highly accurate, there is a general consensus emerging, even in some foreign media, that Ms. Yingluck and the Pheu Thai party have pulled ahead of her opposition. From her perspective, a debate appearance could only be a lose-lose situation.

A no-show on her part, could provide opponents substantial grist to substantiate the view that she is a mere puppet for her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail sentence in Thailand. He was convicted on corruption charges.

In all of the opinion polls that have been publicized, however, a substantial number of voters remain uncommitted. The most recent poll showed 44 percent undecided. Ms. Yingluck’s refusal to participate in the debate for the whole country to see, might weigh in favor of Mr. Abhisit.

For Mr. Abhisit, her non-appearance could be an opportunity for an empty-chair debate on June 24. This is a familiar tactic in debates when one of the two debaters bails out. What political impact this would have one can’t predict.

Thai politics is usually lively and spirited. The current election, whatever the result, could certainly rank as the most unusual.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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