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GLOOMY SCENE

In spite of the odds, Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government in Thailand has managed to hold the parliamentary elections according to schedule. Although not entirely peaceful, the elections witnessed far less bloodletting than was perhaps anticipated. The emergency measures clamped down on Bangkok and select areas may have helped, as also the fatigue of months-long protests. But another and more alarming factor could be behind the tame exercise — people’s rejection of the electoral process as a determinant of the country’s political future. In several constituencies in southern Thailand, the stronghold of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movement, polling was abandoned because of protests or was cancelled owing to the lack of adequate supervision. This part of Thailand thinks, as do royalists and powerful businessmen backing the Opposition elsewhere, that democracy has deepened the influence of the Shinawatras in the country. The only way to get rid of the Shinawatras is the rejection of the democracy that has ensured the family’s return to power through every election held since 2001. The victory of the Pheu Thai party in this election, which is likely — given the boycott of the polls by the Opposition and the overwhelming support the party has received in the north, is likely to further convince dissenters of this truth. The poll win, in fact, may even help the movement on the streets that seems to have been waning and garner the Opposition more support for its demand of a non-elected people’s council.

In other words, victory will be far more complicated for the Pheu Thai party than it had expected. For one, re-polling in 18 per cent of the constituencies where voting was disrupted will delay the announcement of a win and keep matters in limbo. Even if a victory is conclusively achieved, the fact that the Opposition has managed to prevent candidates from contesting in 28 seats is bound to render the parliament non-functional since a quorum of 475 out of 500 seats is needed for the parliament to function. There is also the threat of a judicial quagmire that may follow if the courts or the country’s independent oversight agencies decide to allow inquiries into allegations of voting irregularities. In other words, the election does not end Thailand’s political uncertainty, it adds to it. The more this uncertainty stretches, the more ominous grows the threat of violence and that of a military coup.