Will general election bring stability to Thailand?

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As the general election in Thailand starts on Sunday, the question of whether the election, the country's 26th one since 1933, will bring reconciliation and stability to the country remains an unknown question.

The poll started at 8:00 a.m. and will close at 3:00 p.m. local time on Sunday. Some 47.3 million eligible voters across the country will pick up 500 members of the House of Representatives, or the lower house -- 375 members from single-seat constituencies and another 125 from party-list category.


The poll is expected to be a race between the Ruling Democrat Party led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the opposition Pheu Thai Party led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of Thailand's ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

According to various pre-election polls, Pheu Thai Party is expected to win with landslide victory in the general election, and the Democrat Party is expected to secure the second place in the election. However, it might be unrealistic that both parties can win the 251 seats needed to form a single-party government.

It's widely believed that the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party will win altogether 380 seats, while the remaining 120 seats will be shared among the rest of parties.

The Democrat Party, the oldest party in Thailand, has been facing a challenge of rising domestic political tensions since Abhisit's coalition government came to office in December 2008 through a parliamentary agreement rather than a fresh election after the Constitutional Court dissolved the then ruling party.

During his term, Thailand has two major demonstrations by the pro-Thaksin group.

It also faced the problems posed by the slowing growth of economy due to the global financial crisis and rising unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, the border conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia over a disputed temple claimed by both sides have also had a profound impact on the foreign policy of Thailand.

For the Pheu Thai Party, which was founded in 2008, is a staunch supporter of the anti-government protests of the "Red Shirts."

Its campaign policies focused on enhancing the minimal wage, increasing investment in rural areas, reducing taxes and building more cheap public houses in order to win wide support.


As one of her campaign policies, Yingluck proposed the general amnesty which her party claimed would reach out to all political colors and disregarded everything that has taken place since the coup in 2006.

The proposal, however, has certainly attracted critics from the main opponent, the Democrats, which said this law was designed for whitewashing Thaksin. At its core, the amnesty law aims to clear Thaksin of any wrongdoing, overturn the prison sentence and pave the way for his return.

The Democrats strongly expressed its disagreement against its rival's proposal. Abhisit said many times that "the reconciliation is not about whitewashing people."

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup on Sept. 19, 2006 on charges of corruption and has lived in exile to avoid a two year sentence.

The reconciliation would be unforeseen no matter which party holds the rein of the government. While Pheu Thai cannot afford to fail in their attempt to set up a government as Thaksin's future is at stake, the Democrats must do everything to preserve power to avoid the opposition revenge.

Should Pheu Thai Party take power, the matter of Thakin's coming back will certainly become the main agenda and controversy between supporters and dissenters will overshadow other issues in Thai politics, an observer said.

In a recent interview with Al-Jazeera, fugitive Thaksin has vowed not to seek revenge over the coup if his party wins the upcoming elections.

"If reconciliation is to unite, we need to forget the past," he said. "If we can not forget the past, we are still talking about the past and there is no way we can move ahead."

According to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, to avoid a post-election dead- end, an agreement and understanding among the key protagonists is needed.

To navigate a way forward, both sides and all other political actors on stage and behind the curtains must agree first and foremost that election results must not be subverted, Thitinan said.

If the voice of the majority is dismissed and disenfranchised, as in the wake of the December 2007 polls, more turmoil and volatility can be expected, he added.

Last year, the confrontation between the anti-government "Red shirt" protesters and the military claimed the lives of 91 people.

Analysts fear the poll could reignite tensions in the already politically divided society -- between the rural poor and working class supporting Thaksin and the educated middle classes.

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