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Show must go on, for Thaksin and country

December 29, 2000

THAKSIN Shinawatra is facing a dilemma that perhaps only Al Gore could truly appreciate. He faces a tough situation, with the most powerful job in the nation at stake.

Should Thaksin end his bid for the premiership? Or should he pursue all legal options, including his defence in the Constitution Court, to stay in this costly race? The National Counter Corruption Commission dealt his political ambitions a severe blow, ruling that he deliberately concealed his assets and engaged in dubious financial transactions.

For now, Thaksin has made it clear that he would like the people to decide his political fate. "Let the people make their judgement in the general election," he declared. By resorting to the public-mandate card, Thaksin hopes that the popular votes will speak for themselves, if they go for the Thai Rak Thai.

Vice President Gore made an unfortunate political move when he called George W Bush, the Texas governor, in the early morning of November 8 to concede the election. He soon retracted his concession after the Florida result became too close to call. Then he pursued a series of court actions to force a manual recount in Florida.

Gore weighed public opinion carefully in his legal battle for the 25 electoral votes in Florida, which would determine the outcome of the presidential race. Many pundits pointed to Gore's overall lead in the national popular vote - by more than 300,000 votes - as a source of Gore's legitimacy in contesting the Florida result. Eventually, the US Supreme Court intervened at Bush's request, ordered a halt to the manual recount and effectively handed the presidency to Bush. With the Supreme Court's ruling, Gore was forced to face a harsh political reality. His second concession soon followed.

Thaksin risks breaking his two-year-old party apart if he makes his concession now, before the Constitution Court's final verdict. As in the US presidential election, the race for prime minister of Thailand could be determined by the highest court in the land.

So what is this general election all about? Instead of focusing on policies or issues affecting the country, the political landscape is dominated by the nitty-gritty screening process to determine the qualifications of the politicians.

While this screening process is necessary, it has unfortunately clouded the more relevant issues of jobs and opportunities for average citizens. Also absent is a debate on political leadership, an issue that has been buried by an indictment against Thaksin. Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and Interior Minister Banyat Bantadtan were subjected to similar investigations, but were spared the NCCC's sword.

Earlier Suchon Chartsuntarawuth and Pattravut Pukvibul, both of the Chat Pattana Party, and Boonmark Sirinawakul of the Democrat Party, had been disqualified from the election, having been found by the Election Commission to have broken electoral laws.

The public is left confused about the political process and undecided about how to cast their votes, whether in constituency races or the party-list ballot. The focus on personalities has hardly enlightened the voters about the ramifications of the potential political change.

But, as they say, the show must go on, and go on it must as Thailand struggles with its nascent democracy.




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