Exiled ex-PM haunts Thai politics

Thaksin may be gone but his disbanded party remains popular as election approaches.

    Thaksin's support remains strong in rural
    areas despite his unpopularity in cities [EPA]
    The registration of political parties in the run-up to Thailand's elections, planned for December, has been a cause for celebration in the country after more than 12 months of military rule.

    Thai television broadcast the event with its dancers and drummers live, spotlighting the 18 political parties which will contest the election.

    After military leaders took power in the September 2006 coup, a court ruling disbanded the Thai Rak Thai Party of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister, and barred more than 100 of its most senior politicians from running for office.

    But a recent poll showed that the People's Power Party (PPP), which comprises the major remnants of Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party, is the most popular among would-be voters.

    A survey of 4,410 people conducted between November 1-10 by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University showed the PPP had a 38.6 per cent popularity rating, while its main rival, the Democrat Party, had 32.3 per cent.

    Commanding figure

    Thaksin himself, currently living in England, has also been barred from political office after his party was found guilty of electoral fraud.

    But while he may be facing corruption trials in his own country, he is still a commanding figure in Thai politics.

    In video

    Watch Al Jazeera's report on the Thaksin poll factor 

    His popularity is something Chinnicha Wongsawat, the PPP candidate contesting the seat of Chiang Mai in the north where Thaksin's popularity is strongest, is hoping to use to her advantage. She is Thaksin's niece.

    Wongsawat told Al Jazeera her campaign would not be affected by the claims of corruption levelled at her uncle.

    "People can think of me negatively, or they can think of me positively, I am only trying to do good for the people of this country," she said.

    Parents' shoes

    In fact, many children of those banned under the court ruling are stepping into their parents' shoes ahead of the election.

    Wisaradee Techatheerawat, another PPP candidate, denies that she is the stooge of former MP Wisarn Techatheerawat, her father.

    "It seems like I am his nominee, because I am his daughter," she said, as her father looked on.

    "But I am also in it for me. I m hoping that as I am the new generation."

    Wisaradee said she was confident of being elected because many people in her province still support Thaksin.

    If the PPP is elected, its members could choose to lift the ban on their colleagues, including their parents and the former prime minister, something that concerns the men who toppled Thaksin.

    Thailand's military rulers, among them Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former head of the national security council that ruled Thailand after the coup, are keen to curb Thaksin's popularity.

    Impossible task

    But Chris Baker, a political analyst, thinks that would be an impossible task.

    "They will never get rid of Thaksin's populist policies. Try as they might," he told Al Jazeera.

    "He has been almost martyred by the events of the past 12 months. They need to move on and waste less time fighting him and more time getting the country back on its feet."

    While the military government has promised the election will bring a full return to democracy in Thailand, the generals who who ousted Thaksin say their could be another coup if the PPP wins a majority.

    Which leaves many Thais questioning how free and fair the elections will actually be.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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