ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thai general election nears (probably)
By David Swartzemtruber
The final session of the House and the Senate was held on Tuesday along with the final cabinet meeting. At the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which lasted from 8am until 2am Wednesday, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration pushed through 102 proposals on the regular agenda, 96 off-agenda proposals and 56 reports. The cabinet approved 13.745 billion ($US457.2 million) baht from the central budget for priority projects including the funding of the general election.
Local media ran headlines about “Vote buying.” Some of the projects approved by the cabinet are populist in nature. These include the 25-billion-baht housing loan scheme for first-time home-buyers, to be implemented by the Government Housing Bank; and the 20 percent pay rise for officials of tambon (village) and provincial administration organisations, provincial councillors and Bangkok councilors.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban refuted the charge by saying it was necessary for the government to approve budgets for projects due to be implemented since the constitution and election law state that after a House dissolution the caretaker cabinet and individual ministers are not allowed to make such approvals.
The reason for the last-minute budgets may lie in the hearsay floating around Bangkok’s canals that the ruling Democrats are headed for defeat in the coming elections at the hands of the main opposition party, the opposition Pheu Thai Party of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The word is the “upcountry people are pretty upset.”
Mr. Thaksin is now a citizen of Montenegro, and a fugitive from a two-year sentence for corruption. He does frequent audio-visual call-ins to Thailand, the most recent to the Chinese –Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Thaksin’s hope is that if Pheu Thai wins he will be absolved of the charges and conviction against him. The Pheu Thai party has not named a prime minister candidate but it is thought that Thaksin’s daughter, Yingluck, will be named.
The Pheu Thai party is in disarray. Its chairman, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, recently quit as “lese majeste” charges against red shirt leaders are being investigated by the Thai army following a recent rally. Observers say that the Chavalit was concerned that Pheu Thai was too close to the red shirts.
There are 500 MP seats at stake. The winning party must take at least 250.
Local bettors and columnists are projecting that neither of the two top parties (Democrats, Pheu Thai) will carry a majority, leaving the balance of the power with medium-sized parties such as Bhumjaithai and Chart Thai Pattana. Bhumjaithai is currently a coalition party with the Democrats.
If that scenario occurs, it may signal the start of street protests. Last year a 3-month street protest in Bangkok’s main upscale shopping district ended with army intervention as the red shirts refused to budge. More than 90 deaths were recorded as not only was the army armed but also the red shirts. The red shirts then staged an arson attack on major private and government buildings, causing extensive damage. Efforts at subsequent reconciliation seem to have fallen short.
The election could be as early as June 26.
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