What on earth is going on in Thailand?
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was criticized for retaining ownership of Shin Corp. So he sold it, but his opponents complained that he had sold it to a Singaporean company and not paid tax on the proceeds. They stepped up their campaign to make him resign, and Thaksin called their bluff by announcing an election. Now his opponents say they will boycott the election.
And so it goes on. Nothing Thaksin says or does (short of resigning) will satisfy his critics, and yet if he should resign there is (as far as I am aware) no obvious successor.
I find myself agreeing with The Economist (subscription required) - Thaksin may be a dodgy character, but he was democratically elected and it would not be a good thing for him to be forced out of office:
THIS newspaper has never been a great fan of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's embattled prime minister. His rise to power was fuelled by money, and his money obtained in part by patronage. When, in early 2001, he was on the point of winning his first election, we compared him to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. It was not intended as a compliment.
In office, Mr Thaksin has been a mixed blessing. He has handled the economy reasonably efficiently, and has therefore managed to afford the extravagant handouts with which he wooed the rural electorate in 2001, and again last year. In other spheres, though, his touch has been much less sure. Sheer governmental incompetence, for example, is the main reason why discontent in Thailand's Muslim south has bubbled over into insurrection and bloodshed.
The danger in Thailand is that Mr Thaksin's foes will try to achieve through “people power” what they do not have the numbers to achieve at the polls, or that the army will revert to its previous habit of interfering in politics. In either case, it would not be Mr Thaksin who is democracy's enemy, but those who refuse to accept that he has won an electoral mandate.
If Thailand was a more mature democracy all this would be about as relevant as the Republicans impeaching Bill Clinton, but it isn't, and so the stakes are a bit higher. Like The Economist, I don't feel entirely comfortable with supporting Thaksin against "the people", but really there is no alternative. I hope it all gets sorted out one way or another.