Power vacuum looms after Thai election

Bangkok: Yingluck Shinawatra appears cornered, her fairytale as Thailand’s young, smiling first woman prime minister shattered despite certain victory at Sunday’s national elections.

The country’s political crisis is moving closer to a finale, but first there will be more chaos and probably bloodshed.

The election result will remain unconfirmed for months, creating a dangerous power vacuum in south-east Asia’s second largest economy.

Because protests blocked candidate registration in some districts, parliament will not be able to resume without the holding of byelections.

Ms Yingluck will not even have powers to pass a budget, leaving her already crippled government in political limbo.

This will give time for Bangkok’s powerful establishment, made up of elements of the bureaucracy, courts, military and royalists, to move against the Shinawatra family.

Ms Yingluck’s inner circle sees the events of the past three months in Thailand as an unannounced coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that after Sunday will have won six consecutive elections.

They see the establishment’s power centres coming at Ms Yingluck through multiple fronts.

Anti-government protest leaders have already announced legal challenges to nullify the election.

The anti-corruption commission has fast-tracked impeachment against Ms Yingluck for her alleged role in overseeing a widely criticised rice subsidy scheme for farmers.

The commission is pursing cases against 250 MPs in Ms Yingluck’s ruling party for trying to amend the constitution.

The Thai military, which has intervened often in politics in the past, insists it wants to remain neutral in the crisis, but its commanders have repeatedly told police not to use force against demonstrators, allowing them to storm and occupy key ministries and shut down parts of Bangkok.

The upside of this is that army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha is left in a position to act as a mediator, although his efforts to bring the protagonists together for meaningful talks so far have failed.

Some analysts see the establishment’s motive for wanting to purge the Shinawatra family as linked to deep concerns over the health of widely revered 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Influential people do not want Ms Yingluck’s exiled elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a position of power during the time of a highly sensitive royal succession, they say.

Mr Thaksin, a deeply polarising figure, is accused by critics of wielding enormous influence over his sister’s administration from Dubai, where he lives to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

The establishment also regards Mr Thaksin as a cocky, corrupt upstart who has challenged the traditional power structure with populist policies that have brought him strong support among rural masses.

Mr Thaksin has never folded without a fight and there are no signs he intends to now.

His supporters in northern Chiang Mai say they will mobilise 500,000 red shirts to fight if the government is toppled through what they see as a military or judicial coup in Bangkok.

Whether the threat is enough to stop relentless pursuit of Ms Yingluck remains to be seen.

The story Power vacuum looms after Thai election first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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