On 12 May, India concluded its marathon polling within the world’s largest elections. The elections, which lasted longer than a month, involved some 815 million voters. President Obama stated of the elections, “India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom,” The BBC reports “India’s Marathon Poll Concludes“:
The fifth and final stage of voting in India’s month-long marathon general elections has concluded.
Counting of votes is scheduled for 17 May and a new parliament has to be constituted by 2 June.
The main fight is between the ruling Congress party-led alliance and parties led by the BJP, which are pitted against a host of regional opposition.
An outright majority is unlikely for any of the parties and analysts say it will be a coalition with many players.
All 39 constituencies in the southern state of Tamil Nadu voted on the last day of voting.
Tamil Nadu – where voters tend to hand big victories to one or other of the state’s two main parties – is expected to play a crucial role in the formation of the government in the coalition talks that are almost certain to follow the election.
The last five governments have been formed with the winners in Tamil Nadu.
Former state chief minister, J Jayalalitha, head of the AIADMK party and one of India’s most colourful and controversial politicians, cast her vote in the state capital Chennai (Madras) and complained of election irregularities.
The first round of the general election on 16 April was marred by Maoist attacks in eastern and central India which killed at least 17 people. Later rounds were less violent.
About two million security personnel were deployed for the five-phase vote. (BBC)
The New York Times special blog India Ink offers a useful collection of events and news regarding the elections:
What you need to know about India’s elections on 12 May: In the last of the nine phases of voting, all eyes are on the ancient holy city of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, where Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party are vying for a spot in the lower house of Parliament. In the 12 May elections, 41 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, across three states.
Here’s an overview of the elections being held on 12 May. (Hindustan Times)
Development and religious polarization are the main themes among voters in the Hindi hinterland of eastern Uttar Pradesh. (Outlook)
An index of political instability is likely to hit a 16-year high if the voting results on 9 May show a fractured or weak mandate. (Mint)
A columnist argues that the current Congress-led administration has an economic record that is not just defensible, but admirable. (Business Standard)
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, voters welcome a “Modi wave” but also express loyalties to the local politicians. (Outlook)
Mr. Modi says in an interview that a new government’s priority should be to take charge. (Open)
An editorial argues that the Election Commission has failed to be fair even as it tries to be seen as even-handed. (Economic & Political Weekly)
B.J.P. insiders say the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group, has advised the party leaders to maintain contact with possible alliance partners. (The Times of India)
The relatives of Muslim men imprisoned on terrorism charges or killed by the police are asked what they would say to the top politicians. (The Indian Express)
Varanasi wonders whether a surprise result is in store. (The Indian Express)
(New York Times)
Society and Culture are as relevant to India’s governance and elections as politics. And the complex culture within the world’s largest democracy makes for a unique political situation. Often times socio-political issues will culminate in mass movements and strong activisim. In recent years, Anna Hazare, a charismatic political activist often compared to Mahatma Gandhi, and his anti-corruption efforts had swept over the country, garnering millions of followers. In late 2012 the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi sparked outrage over gender issues, which have since taken a more prominent role in Indian politics. The BBC provides an insightful look into the recent elections through a unique cultural lens, “India Elections: Taking the Voters’ Pulse at Tea Shops”:
India’s tea shops are places where people often gather to discuss local politics – not least with the country holding its general election. Sir Mark Tully, the former BBC India correspondent, goes on a tea shop tour in the central state of Uttar Pradesh, where campaigning is in full swing, to read the tea leaves.
Narendra Modi, the man the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes will be prime minister when the outcome of India’s five-week-long election is finally announced on 16 May, is very proud of the fact that he started life working in a tea shop and it’s possible that he first developed his understanding of politics there.
So I decided to stop at tea shops in four constituencies in the central area of Uttar Pradesh where polling is yet to take place.
The state is India’s most populous, with more than 200 million people, and the way it votes may well decide the result of this election.
The two constituencies of Mr Modi’s rivals – Sonia Gandhi, the president of her family’s Congress party, and her son Rahul, the leader of the Congress election campaign, are situated in the region I chose.
But I steered clear of these constituencies as the situation there is by no means typical. Instead, I drove out of the state capital, Lucknow, into the countryside where the majority of India’s population still lives.
Modi versus Gandhis
Although there are regional parties in the field, the media pay little attention to them. The spotlight is on the fight between the Gandhis on one side and Mr Modi on the other and opinion polls say Modi is well ahead. Many commentators have already declared him the future prime minister and the media talk of a “Modi wave”.
Mr Modi is “the one” issue for the BJP. They call for a Modi government, claiming he will at last change India’s notoriously corrupt and unresponsive system of government and develop the country rapidly.
Mr Modi is the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat and Congress claims that he was complicit in vicious anti-Muslim riots which occurred when he was in power – charges he has always denied.
Mr Modi also has a lifelong connection with the Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The Gandhis maintain with this background he will “break” India by inciting hatred of its minorities, especially the Muslims.
From my very first tea shop in Barabanki constituency I became aware that it was not Mr Modi, or the Gandhis, who counted in the countryside. It was the traditional concerns of rural India. The three C’s – caste, candidate and creed.
Development was being discussed by the customers drinking hot sweet tea from small clay cups, but Mr Modi wasn’t mentioned. The developments under discussion had been achieved by the sitting Congress MP, in particular a bridge over a railway crossing and the electrification of villages. It was generally agreed this could well see him re-elected.
So in one constituency, a good candidate looked set to buck the trend and win for a party generally written off as an also-ran.
But in a tea shop in Mohanlalganj constituency, the Congress candidate’s position was so bad that there had to be some discussion before the tea-drinkers could agree on his name.
In the same tea shop I asked whether the Gandhis’ appeal for loyalty to their Nehru-Gandhi family was effective this time. A customer said gruffly: “They have driven down this road many times to get to their constituencies and they have never stopped to see us.”
When I asked about Mr Modi, a young man piped up: “What’s he got to do with us? He’s not standing here.”
That inspired another young man to say with pride that he had received a telephone call from Mr Modi – part of the highly sophisticated electronic campaign being run by the BJP. When asked whether that would make any difference to the way he voted, he replied no.
No Hindu-Muslims issues
In a tea shop in Faizabad constituency, I found a group of BJP workers celebrating a successful rally. They said they had instructions to propagate Mr Modi and the promise of development only. Religious issues were strictly forbidden.
Customers in other tea shops said no Hindu-Muslim issues were raised by BJP campaigners.
So nowhere did I find fear of the threat that the Gandhis maintain Mr Modi represents.
In all my conversations, it was expected that Hindu votes would divide on caste lines. That should strengthen the position of the two regional parties that depend on the support of particular castes. The Muslims were expected to vote for whichever candidate they thought most likely to defeat the BJP. (BBC)
At the time of writing it seems that “Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is set to become India’s next prime minister,” according to recent exit polls. Mr. Modi’s campaign is marred with accusations surrounding a series of grossly violent anti-Muslim protests in a western state of which he was chief minister. The incidents that amounted to more than 1,000 deaths, occurred throughout several months in 2002 and Mr. Modi is accused of doing little to stop the killings.
Regardless of who wins the seat of prime minister, two key issues loom over India’s future: the economy and corruption. Regarding the former, in early May it was reported that India surpassed Japan as the world’s third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). Ankit Panda writing for The Diplomat reports:
In a sliver of good economic news during an Indian election that is widely focused on economic growth, the World Bank announced in a report on 29 April that India overtook Japan as the world’s third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). According to the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP) data, India holds a 6.4 percent share of global GDP on a PPP basis. The United States remains in first place with a 17.1 percent share and China trails it at 14.9 percent. Japan, while still the world’s third largest economy in nominal terms, holds a 4.8 percent share of global wealth.
The ICP’s data is from 2011. Overall, India went from 10th place in 2005 to 3rd place in 2011. ”The United States remained the world’s largest economy, but it was closely followed by China when measured using PPPs. India was now the world’s third largest economy, moving ahead of Japan,” the report noted. “Because economies estimate their GDP at national price levels and in national currencies, those GDPs are not comparable. To be compared, they must be valued at a common price level and expressed in a common currency,” the report explains, outlining the justification for a PPP-based comparative look at world GDPs. In exchange rate terms– that is, when all the national currencies are converted into U.S. dollars at current exchange rates– the Indian economy remains about a third of Japan’s in size, comparable to the Russian or Canadian GDPs.
PPP is particularly important in the study of poverty levels and quality of life across countries as it adjusts for price changes across national economies. PPP, for example, is used by the World Bank in its poverty threshold of $1.25 per day per person. Given that a dollar can buy more in some countries and less in others, PPP-based comparative analyses allow for comparisons between economies. For India, the bad news is that its GDP per captia in PPP terms still ranks the country 127 out 199 — a reminder that the country has much to do in combating poverty. ”The largest economies were not the richest, as shown in the ranking of GDP per capita. The middle-in-come economies with large economies also had large populations, setting the stage for continued growth,” the report noted.
The World Bank’s report has been widely featured in the Indian media and is a morale-improving piece of news for a country that has been besieged by high inflation, stagnant growth, corruption, and other economic ills in the past year. Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister in the ongoing election and the front-runner, rose to popularity primarily because voters see him as a candidate capable of transforming India’s economy for the better. Modi has frequently held up his (debatable) economic achievements in his home state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister, and has claimed that he would transfer that model of governance to India as a whole. (The Diplomat)
Further, at least in the short term, the elections and a possible Modi win seem to have been beneficial to the economy as the stock market indicated an uptick in confidence and movement. Forbes reports that “Indian Stock Market Breaks Record as Massive Election Winds Down”:
Everyone with money in play loves Narendra Modi, the man likely to be the next Prime Minister of India. India’s Nifty and Sensex indices rose to their second consecutive record-breaking highs on 12 May as blue-chips jumped on rising hopes that exit polls are right. Investors and the Indian press have now official pre-ordained Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, with his political party and its allies in firm control of parliament. If such a case comes to fruition, that would give Modi a mandate for some pro-business policies in his first 100 days in office. (…)
“There’s been a deep bottle necking of infrastructure projects in India, but Modi has a great track record of de-bottle necking infrastructure projects in his state of Gujarat,” says Joel Wells, portfolio manager at Alpine Woods Capital Investors in New York. (…)
Some foreign money managers believe Modi can turn India into on big Gujarat, if not a little less efficient. Foreigners have helped push Indian equities higher because of Modi. “The percentage of infrastructure projects in Gujarat trends much more than India overall,” says Wells. “The country thinks he can reinvigorate the animal spirits in India to develop.” (Forbes)
As for corruption, though Anna Hazare reportedly retired from the “anti-corruption war,” co-founder of Transparency International and author of Global Corruption: Money, Power, and Ethics in the Modern World Laurence Cockcroft writes in Foreign Policy Magazine that “Despite the Election, India Still Isn’t Confronting Corruption”:
In the bear pit of India’s election, voters seem particularly focused on two issues: economic growth and corruption. But while growth manifests itself in many different ways, some of them hard for the average voter to comprehend, corruption is a tangible and daily reality. Corruption has played an important part in Indian electoral politics in the past. As early as 1977 and 1989, voters selected the winning parties in national elections in part because they pledged to fight corruption. But public concern about corruption in the run-up to this year’s election has reached a new high.
The current wave of concern found its first outlet in the 2012 campaign for an anti-corruption body with investigative powers (a Lokpal), which was led by Anna Hazare, a civil rights activist in the Gandhian tradition. His hunger strike in support of the Lokpal led to its adoption by parliament in December 2013, albeit in a diluted form. Meanwhile, over the past year, some key players in India’s political and business elite — the sort of people who normally benefit from a widespread culture of impunity — have been found guilty on corruption-related charges and imprisoned, including A. Raja (former minister of telecommunications), B.S. Yeddyurappa (former chief minister of Karnataka state), and Jaganmothan Reddy (Congress chairman in Andra Pradesh state).
Even the chairman of the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Narayanaswami Srinivasan, has been implicated in match-fixing scandals. Last month, the Supreme Court required Srinivasan to resign his position. At the same time, under the Right to Information Act of 2005, thousands of applicants have been requesting information on corruption-related issues and pointing fingers at many officials, especially on the state level. (In some cases, those information requests have led to the assassination of those making the applications). At the local level, very successful “right to know” and anti-corruption campaigns — such as the Public Affairs Center and Janaargha (sponsors of the website “I Paid a Bribe,” which has had 2 million hits since it was launched four years ago) in Bangalore — have raised awareness of citizens’ rights to a new level.
After the success achieved with the Lokpal Act, Hazare’s closest aid, Arvind Kejiwral, decided that it was essential to channel the energy raised in the Lokpal fight into formal politics. He founded the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won enough support in Delhi state’s December 2013 elections to be able to form a minority government. As a result of a constitutional clash with the central government, the AAP resigned from power in January. This year, nonetheless, it is fielding candidates in over 500 of India’s 543 lower parliament constituencies. Having eschewed big donors, however, it has experienced major fund raising problems.
In this context, both major parties, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have stated a new willingness to root out corruption. Rahul Gandhi, effectively the leader of the Congress campaign, spoke out last September against his party’s willingness to allow members of parliament with a criminal record to continue in office. But Gandhi has struggled to achieve credibility on this issue, since the coalition government that his party has led since 2004 is saddled with a reputation for corrupt deal-making in real estate, mining, and telecommunications. Even the reputation of upright Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a hit. Narenda Modi, the BJP’s candidate, does not have that particular kind of baggage, though he is thought to be far too close to corporate leaders like the Ambani Brothers (chief shareholders in Reliance Industries, an important player in the energy sector). They have been his key backers during his 12-year tenure as chief minister in Gujurat state, and have allegedly reaped unjustifiable benefits from industrial concessions.
These issues are deeply entrenched in the Indian political system but are being debated in the election campaign as never before. The BJP is currently the front-runner, but may well be dependent on four or five smaller, state-based parties support in parliament. The corporate nature of its funding base and ambiguities on the corruption issue both inside the party and within any coalition it forms make it an unlikely champion of real reform. The AAP, with handful of seats at best, will remain the principal of watchdog of India’s fight against corruption. (Foreign Policy)
Just in March, our Indo-Asia Pacific News Update focused on the tenuous political situation Thailand. Since then things have taken a volatile turn with the Prime Minister’s removal from office. The following is a collection of some articles and commentary on the recent developments within the Southeast Asian country.
Thai Prime Minister Ordered Removed from Office
A Thai court on 7 May ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra removed from office, a highly divisive move and a victory for a powerful opposition movement that for six months has sought to overthrow the government. The Constitutional Court ruled that Ms. Yingluck abused her power when she transferred a civil servant to another post more than three years ago. The court ordered her to step down immediately along with all members of her cabinet who were in office at the time of the transfer. Ms. Yingluck’s party called the decision a “new form of coup d’état.” Leaders of Ms. Yingluck’s party quickly announced that a deputy prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, would become acting prime minister. It was the third time since 2006 that a prime minister representing the political movement founded by Ms. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra has been removed by court order. The movement, which has its power base in the provinces, has won every election since 2001 but has antagonized the Bangkok establishment, a struggle that is at the heart of Thailand’s eight years of political crisis. Thailand for decades was considered an island of pluralism, freedom and strong economic growth — especially in contrast with its neighbors — but its economy has suffered during the recent turmoil, and leaders have warned of civil war.
The court’s decision, which highlights its overtly political role, throws into question elections announced for July 20, which the governing party was expected to win because of its strong support in the northern provinces. Bhokin Bhalakula, a member of the governing party, Pheu Thai, told reporters at the party’s headquarters that the court decision was part of a “new form of coup d’état in order to establish a new regime and destroy the hope of the people who want to see the country progress democratically and with rule of law.” Mr. Niwattumrong, the commerce minister who was named acting prime minister, is a former executive in Mr. Thaksin’s corporate empire. His appointment is likely to exacerbate tensions with the antigovernment movement, which wants to eradicate Mr. Thaksin’s influence from the country. Verapat Pariyawong, a lawyer and prominent commentator, said the court’s removal of Ms. Yingluck raised the prospect of more violence. At least 20 people have been killed in political violence since the governing party set off protests in November by trying to ram through a bill giving political amnesty to Mr. Thaksin that would erase corruption cases against him and allow him to return from self-imposed exile.
The antigovernment movement, which is armed, continues to block access to the prime minister’s office and a number of other government facilities in Bangkok. Pro-government “red shirts,” who in the past have also been allied with shadowy armed groups, are planning a show of force on the outskirts of Bangkok on 3 May. Highlighting concerns about violence, the Thai news media reported on 7 May that for security reasons, the judges and staff members of the Constitutional Court would not return to work until mid-May. Ms. Yingluck, 46, was the country’s first female prime minister but was loathed by the opposition and called a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who has lived abroad since a 2006 military coup and a subsequent conviction for abuse of power in a highly politicized trial.
The antigovernment movement, which is supported by some of Thailand’s wealthiest families, has called for an appointed prime minister and described the 7 May court verdict as a partial victory. It turned to the courts after unsuccessfully trying to force Ms. Yingluck out. The Constitutional Court has backed the protest movement, saying in previous rulings that protesters, who also led a campaign to block elections, had the “right to exercise their rights and liberty.” A lower court barred the government from dispersing protesters. As the antigovernment movement cheered the decision to remove Ms. Yingluck, independent legal experts despaired over what they described as the crusading role of the courts and the damage to the prestige of the judiciary. The decision to remove Ms. Yingluck is “total nonsense in a democratic society,” said Ekachai Chainuvati, the deputy dean of the law faculty at Siam University in Bangkok. “This is what I would call a juristocracy — a system of government governed by judges,” Mr. Ekachai said. In one of its most notable decisions, the Constitutional Court in 2008 removed another prime minister, also from Mr. Thaksin’s political movement, because he had appeared on a televised cooking show. On 7 May the court cited the cooking show case as precedent in its decision. (New York Times)
New Twist in Thailand’s Battle for Seat of Power
The battle for who holds Thailand’s seat of power took on a new twist on 12 May as the leader of anti-government protests planned to set up his office at the vacated Government House while the country’s new caretaker leader worked from a makeshift, suburban outpost. The development was the latest to highlight the government’s lack of power as Thailand’s political crisis grinds into its seventh month. One newspaper compared the political situation to a sinking ship that it called the “Thaitanic.” Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who has led the movement for six months, has called for a “final push” to install an unelected new prime minister — a goal that critics call undemocratic but supporters say is a necessary step for implementing anti-corruption reforms before a new election can take place. Suthep planned to end a months-long occupation of the city’s main park 12 May and march his followers across Bangkok to the prime minister’s office compound, called Government House, which has been vacant for months due to violent clashes between protesters and police nearby. Suthep says he will not occupy the actual prime minister’s office inside the compound’s stately Gothic-style main building but will base himself in the adjacent Santi Maitree Building traditionally used for state visits. In more stable times, the building was used for meetings with dignitaries such as President Barack Obama and Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. There was no apparent resistance to Suthep’s plan. The military that provides security at Government House said in mid-May he would be allowed in to avoid further clashes in a crisis that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured since November.
Protesters achieved one of their goals in early May when the Constitutional Court dismissed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for nepotism in a case that many viewed as politically motivated. Analysts, protesters and Thai media agree that the ruling did little to resolve the country’s political turmoil. “Every so often, the stewards of the nation rearrange the deck chairs, as ‘Thaitanic’ continues to plough relentlessly further into uncharted territory, without a captain,” The Bangkok Post newspaper said in a 11 May editorial. “The ship is still heading right for that iceberg.” Yingluck’s supporters have warned that any attempt to install an unelected prime minister would be a disaster for the nation that could spark “civil war.” (Time, Associated Press)
ASEAN Urges Dialogue to End Thailand Crisis
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on 11 May urge Thailand to respect democratic principles and rule of law and enter into talks to end the political crisis. Foreign ministers attending an Asean summit in Myanmar made the call for “dialogue and in full respect of democratic principles and rule of law” in a statement proposed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. ”Asean member states continue to follow closely the recent developments in the Kingdom of Thailand and emphasise their full support for a peaceful solution to the ongoing challenge in the country through dialogue and in full respect of democratic principles and rule of law,” the statement said. ”Asean member states expressed confidence in the resilience of the Thai nation to overcome the present difficulties and stand ready to extend all appropriate support based on the principles provided in its Charter,” it added. Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana attended the summit in the Myanmar capital in place of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was sacked by the Constitutional Court for abuse of power. “We have expressed our appreciation to the Asean leaders for their concerns about the Thai situation, especially to Prime Minister Hun Sen for his suggestion to issue a statement about the democratic process in Thailand,” he said. Hun Sen is a close political ally of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose sister was ousted as premier by the Constitutional Court on 7 May. Southeast Asian leaders also on 11 May called for “self-restraint and non-use of force” in the South China Sea, where member states and China have sparred over disputed territorial claims. A joint declaration issued at the summit hosted for the first time by Myanmar, called on all sides to “refrain from taking actions that would further escalate tension and to work towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.” The statement followed Vietnamese charges that Chinese boats had rammed Vietnamese vessels and used water cannon against them in early May in the South China Sea, and more recently erected an oil rig in disputed territorial waters. (Bangkok Post)
The Leaderboard: Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan
Who is he? Niwatthamrong Boonsonpaisan was until today, 7 May deputy prime minister and commerce minister in the government of Thailand’s caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. He is known for having close ties with Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. His affiliation with Thaksin began in 1990 when he became manager at a computer firm owned by Thaksin. He subsequently rose to become a director at Shin Corp – the conglomerate owned by the Shinawatra family – and chief executive officer of the now defunct iTV news station, which Thaksin bought following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Niwatthamrong entered politics in 2011 as a Pheu Thai candidate and in 2012 was appointed minister in the prime minister’s office overseeing public relations and media affairs. In June 2013, Niwatthamrong was appointed commerce minister. He was known as a key player in the rice subsidy scheme championed by Yingluck, which cost the government billions of dollars.
Why is he in the news? Niwatthamrong was appointed acting caretaker prime minister on May 7, shortly after the Constitutional Court ordered the removal of Yingluck from office for the unlawful transfer of former National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Nine other ministers were removed along with Yingluck, but Niwatthamrong survived because he was reportedly not involved in the transfer of Thawil. In his new capacity, Niwatthamrong will continue to hold the portfolio of commerce minister.
What can we expect? Niwatthamrong will play a central role in the new caretaker government’s efforts to see through the Election Commission’s declaration that a new round of elections will take place on July 20. As one of the architects of the government’s disastrous rice subsidy scheme, Niwatthamrong will also play a central role in trying to clean up the mess it has left behind. (Center for Strategic International Studies, CogitAsia Blog)
Thailand Heads for Chaos
Thousands of pro-government “Red Shirts” massed in Thailand’s capital in mid-May to challenge attempts by opposition protesters to hand power to an unelected regime, warning that the kingdom was lurching towards “civil war”. The dismissal of prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers by the Constitutional Court on 7 May for the improper transfer of a top security official has plunged the restive kingdom deeper into crisis. Holding aloft portraits of Yingluck, the red-clad movement said it would keep up the protest for as long as it deemed necessary to defend the wounded administration. “The Red Shirts cannot accept the undemocratic and unconstitutional appointment of a prime minister,” said chairman Jatuporn Prompan, denouncing a call by the opposition for judges, the Senate president and other prominent figures to choose a new premier. “It would be the beginning of a disaster for the country that will lead to civil war,” he said. Opposition demonstrators are gearing up to try to deliver a knock-out blow to the remnants of the government, to enable an unelected leadership to take the reins of the Southeast Asian nation and oversee vague reforms they say would tackle corruption. Such a move would infuriate supporters of Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier who was deposed by army generals in a coup in 2006, an event that ushered in years of political turmoil. A military crackdown on Red Shirt protests against the previous government left 90 dead in central Bangkok in 2010. The spectre of the military seizing power also looms constantly over Thailand, which has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932. “The government is spending its energies hoping to keep military action at bay,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. “I am afraid an army coup could be approaching,” he added. Political violence has left at least 25 people dead and hundreds wounded in gun and grenade attacks by shadowy assailants in recent months, mostly targeting opposition demonstrators. The fear is that armed elements on both sides of the political divide could seek to incite further unrest. (TTR Weekly, AFP)
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