February 10, 2005
THAILAND ELECTION: AN 'AWESOME NEW MANDATE' FOR PM THAKSIN
** PM Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai win was "most impressive and without precedent."
** Critics fret that a victorious Thaksin may move Thailand back to "authoritarian rule."
** Muslim observers say solving the ethnic conflict in the south is Thaksin's "main task."
** Thais must "preserve the right to dissent."
The 'Thai people love Thaksin'-- Global media labeled Thaksin's win in Sunday's election a "dramatic triumph." Thailand's business-oriented Post Today said his Thai Rak Thai party's "overwhelming parliamentary majority" reflected support for Thaksin's "outstanding achievements." The conservative Australian ascribed Thaksin's victory to his "personal charisma, hands-on populism and canny economic management," while other dailies also mentioned his "decisive leadership style." Germany's right-of-center Die Welt singled out his "courageous crisis management following the tsunami."
A 'dangerous concentration of political and economic power'-- Several outlets cautioned that Thaksin's massive victory could "lead to increased authoritarianism," "crony capitalism" and a "one-party political system without any checks and balances." Britain's left-of-center Guardian noted "fears of an erosion of democracy"; one writer went so far as to compare Thaksin's ascendancy to a "power-mad demagogue's rise to power." Thailand's elite Krungthep Turakij warned that Thai Rak Thai received so many votes that it can now "avoid scrutiny and muzzle the people's voice" because the opposition has been "reduced to no more than a paper tiger."
Seeking a 'new deal from Bangkok'-- Regional dailies agreed Thaksin must take a "new approach" to "expunge the sense of anger and alienation" among southern Thailand's Muslim minority. Malaysia's government-influenced Star assailed Bangkok's "seriously flawed" policies towards the South, while Singapore's pro-government Straits Times urged Thaksin to "take a softer line...to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims." Thai analysts noted a "conspicuous absence of southern support" for Thaksin, reflecting his "persistent failure...to properly address" grievances. The independent Nation added that using "brute military force to quell unrest" only boosts support for the "global jihad phenomenon."
'Show respect for the rule of law'-- Independent Thai media emphasized Thaksin must "listen to those outside of his sphere of influence" so that his second term can achieve "good governance, an area where Thaksin's first term was...noticeably deficient." Given Thaksin's "commanding victory," the moderately-conservative Bangkok Post called on him to "provide more political space to his critics." Another writer wrote that "ordinary citizens and civic groups" must "fill the void left by the crippled opposition" to "keep Thaksin accountable" and maintain fair democratic treatment.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprites foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 32 reports from 11 countries over 6 - 10 February 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed in the most recent date.
THAILAND: "Unprecedented Victory And Obligation"
Suthichai Yoon commented in the independent, English-language Nation (2/10): "The big, loud and decisive vote for Thaksin also means that the bar has been raised for his political judgment in setting the priorities for what issues to tackle. Hard nuts have to be cracked, and difficult choices have to be made without further delay: Education reform, corruption and the violence in the deep South stand out among the great failures in the first term. Conflicts of interest within the ruling circle and high-level nepotism top the list of the government’s 'dark spots,' which have defied solutions in the past four years. Once the heady celebrations over the big win are over and reality sets in, PM Thaksin may find it illuminating to take a break from all the back-slapping to listen to those outside of his sphere of influence who have been trying to persuade him to seize this once-in-a-life-time opportunity to embark on the great path of a genuine statesman. He is capable of using his massive public mandate to do really great things for this country.”
"Effective Opposition Is Still Possible"
The independent, English-language Nation declared (2/10): "The commanding victory of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party dealt a humiliating blow to the Democrats, the country’s oldest political party, which must now pick up the pieces and figure out how to make the best of a grim situation. A leadership change is already underway in the wake of the decision by the party’s executive committee, led by Banyat Bantadtan, to resign to take responsibility for the party’s devastating defeat. A new generation of Democrats, led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, is now expected to take the helm, bringing with it a much-needed youthful energy and new ideas. The new Democrat leadership will inherit a party that is struggling with an identity crisis. The Democrat Party as a brand requires a drastic makeover if the party is to stay relevant as a key player in the tough world of Thai politics.... With perseverance, good social networking and creativity, the opposition, though tied down by legal constraints, must reach out to a wider audience with the help of like-minded lovers of democracy, social activists and independent voices in the media to preserve the right to dissent, which is a main pillar of democracy.”
"Opposition Has Its Work Cut Out"
The lead editorial in the top-circulation, moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post read (2/9): "As the unofficial vote count stood yesterday, the Democrat, Chart Thai and Mahachon parties will have only 124 seats between them in the lower house. This is one seat short of the constitutional requirement to back a motion of no-confidence against and so remove any cabinet minister found wanting. If at least one more seat cannot be found, the new Thai Rak Thai government--with Thaksin Shinawatra at its head and all of his cabinet--will be untouchable when the parliament reconvenes. The prime minister and his cabinet will be able to enact policies unburdened by monitoring through the traditional parliamentary mechanisms. The opposition will be reduced to no more than a paper tiger, one barely able to raise a growl, let alone a roar.... The opposition might not be able to censure members of the government, but it is authorized by law to question the performance of the prime minister and members of his cabinet through motions and interpellations put before the House. Questioning perceived ill-judgments can be a very effective check on the executive branch and have real rewards for the public.”
"Victory Places Thaksin At Crossroads"
Thitinan Pongsudhirak commented in the top-circulation, moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post (2/9): "Despite claims of vote buying, fraud and irregularities from all parties, it must be said that this election was relatively clean by Thai standards.... With his awesome new mandate, Thaksin Shinawatra now has the opportunity to cultivate a positive legacy in the record books. Unlike his first term, his second round at the helm is so secure that Mr. Thaksin can afford to provide more political space to his critics and the skeptics who have clamored for greater participation and demanded greater accountability from the prime minister”
"After The Success Comes The Hard Work"
Anuraj Manibhandu noted in the moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post (2/8): "The dramatic triumph of Thai Rak Thai at the polls on Sunday has sparked concern for the future of political life in this country. The worst fear of pro-democracy groups and politicians is that TRT will form a single-party government that imposes its every whim.... The privatisation of state enterprises and regulation of the telecoms sectors are two domestic issues that demand a more collaborative approach to ensure fair treatment.... With a promise and an invitation on the record, the TRT leader will find it hard to deny participation in his second term. More emotive than FTAs is the issue of Burma, whose political deadlock continues to have a cross-border social and economic impact. The challenge for the re-elected Mr Thaksin will be to come up with an effective initiative that encourages national reconciliation in Burma."
"Strong Messages From The South"
The lead editorial in the independent, English-language Nation read (2/8): "The historic Thai Rak Thai win was spoiled by a conspicuous absence of southern support.... To dismiss the South’s unique political model as merely an idiosyncratic of the fiercely independent southerners would be overly simplistic.... Muslim southerners, most of them of Malay descent, share virtually all of the same benefits derived from the geographical environment as their Buddhist counterparts in the upper South. But they have been held back from realising their full economic and political potential, because of persistent failure by the Bangkok government to understand and properly address their grievances. The Muslim South has for decades been tortured by successive generations of separatists who have been united under the banner of Malay nationalism.... And Thaksin has consistently failed to understand how the global jihad phenomenon has been creeping onto the shores of the deep South.... The fact that the southernmost Muslims dumped Thai Rak Thai so completely sends a clear message to the Thaksin administration that its supposed 'peace-making' policies, characterised by the use of brute military force to quell unrest, are unacceptable.... Failure to heed the challenges will diminish the prime minister’s stature as a national leader. For a man who tries to present himself as the most popular, elected leader this country has ever seen to lose the entire region, that is a very serious handicap indeed.”
"An Overwhelming Victory"
Business-oriented Post Today declared (2/7): "Such an overwhelming parliamentary majority means it is left to the public to keep Thaksin accountable.... Thailand's future in the next four years will be under Thaksin Shinawatra's control as voters wanted the government to continue its economic policies, but this may cause long-term problems."
"We Can Do More Than Just Lodge Our Vote”
Veera Prateepchaikul commented in the moderately-conservative, English-language Bangkok Post (2/7): "The voter's responsibility does not end at the polling booth. Rather, the polling booth is just the starting point of a continuing democratic process in which the voter is engaged in making sure the political parties and their candidates who won the mandate to captain the ship of state deliver on their election promises and protect the public interest. This is paramount. Far more important than the promises of giveaways and populist programs is good governance, an area where Thaksin's first term in office was seen to be noticeably deficient.... Thus, the greater need of ordinary citizens and civic groups is to fill the void left by the crippled opposition. Just keeping a close watch on the performance of our elected representatives and that of the government, and then speaking out on what we feel to be morally or legally wrong, is enough to send a clear message to the powers-that-be that somebody is watching them.”
"The Responsibility Of A Popular Mandate"
The independent, English-language Nation asserted (2/7): "The confidence the voters placed in him (Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) yesterday was most impressive and without precedent. It is imperative that he now live up to the public’s trust by giving back. As a trusted leader, Thaksin must reciprocate and build on the natural bond of trust that exists between leaders and supporters. In the context of a democracy, Thaksin could make no greater or more noble gesture than to change his ways and show respect for the rule of law, civil liberties and human rights.... At this juncture in Thailand’s political history, Thaksin has the luxury of choosing whether he will go the way of the statesman and bring Thai democracy to a new level of maturity, or whether he will become tyrannical and eventually tear down the country’s hard-earned democracy.”
"Don’t Misinterpret Yesterday’s Public Mandate"
Pseudonymous 'Café Dam' observed in elite, business-oriented Krungthep Turakij (2/7): "The obvious public ‘mandate’ indicating who the people want to see efficiently working with majority votes in parliament does not mean the people don’t want ‘checks and balances’. To the contrary, the reason the people have given their consensus to a certain group of politicians reflects their desire for a ‘performance’ that can be verified by politicians who did not receive enough votes to rule the country but was granted a ‘mandate’ to serve as a counterbalance as required by the parliamentary system.... If any political party receives so many votes that allow it to avoid scrutiny and muzzle the people’s voice, it means we can start counting down to the day of our political system’s demise.”
"Ballot In Hand, Remember The Perils Over The Horizon"
Sopon Onkgara contended in the independent, English-language Nation (2/6): "The mandate of the majority of voters brings us to a crucial transition. Never before has the fate of our country been so clearly at stake. If we continue to move on the same course, with the same policy pattern, then we stand to face grave risks and perils with formidable potential to destabilize the economic and social structure.... The campaigns we have seen during the past week tell us that we stand to have a leader who reminds us of a power-mad demagogue’s rise to power in Europe in the early part of the last century.... For good or for bad, the decision of all voters today, by whatever influence, has to be upheld. The country’s destiny has been drawn--at least until the people’s power for the good rises to prevail. We don’t know when that will happen.”
AUSTRALIA: "Thais Give PM The Thumbs Up"
The national conservative Australian editorialized (2/9): "Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra deserves to be congratulated for his stunning victory in Sunday's election.... Thaksin's is the first government to last a full term in Thailand since the end of military rule in 1992--but his consolidation of power comes as anything but a surprise.... Thaksin has combined personal charisma, hands-on populism and canny economic management to capture the loyalty of the electorate and gut his opponents. Under 'Thaksinomics,' Thailand has enjoyed annual GDP growth of 6 per cent, rising incomes and better services in health and education without blowing the budget.... Thaksin has built an economy able to withstand internal and external shocks, like the one that was delivered in the shape of the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.... Despite all of which there are deep problems in the Thaksin ascendancy...[such as] plenty of opportunities for crony capitalism.... The flavour of authoritarianism that has infected Mr Thaksin's dealings with the media is also reflected in the cursory justice his government has dealt to alleged drug dealers and Muslim separatists.... Thus it would be a great pity if Mr Thaksin's domination of the parliament led Thailand further in the direction of effective one-party rule and increased authoritarianism. Thailand's containment of Islamist militancy in the south is good news for neighbouring Malaysia, and very good news for Australia too. But over the longer term, police brutality and the suspension of civil rights can never be as effective against a fundamentalist insurgency as a vigorous multi-party democracy. That formula has proved elusive in Southeast Asia, but Mr Thaksin should use his popularity and his prestige to advance it."
CHINA: "Thai Election Has No Suspense, Steady Victory For Thaksin"
Yang Ou wrote in official Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) (2/8): "This election was an election with the least suspense in Thai history, the Thai Rak Thai party could be rated as 'outshining others', and although other political parties did their utmost, they could not get rid of the status of being 'green leaves complementing the red blossom'.... Thaksin's easy win was not at all surprising. That the Thai Rak Thai party could gain an election victory was thanks to the Thaksin government's outstanding achievements.... Analysts think that Thaksin will continue present policies, strengthen international cooperation, especially cooperation in the economic and trade domains, promote regional stability, make efforts to promote Thailand's international image, and lead Thailand to new heights."
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Testing Times For Thai Democracy"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post said (2/7): "What is worrying, post-election, will be the lack of opposition voices in the new parliament. Without the necessary checks and balances that are so central to the principals of democracy, Thailand could easily head back down the path of authoritarian rule. Mr. Thaksin's sometimes iron-fisted approach gives further rise for worry.... But such matters should not mask the way he has dealt with issues of human rights and media freedom. Under his watch, more than 500 Muslims were killed last year in shootouts with the military or in custody on suspicion of being extremists. Efforts to improve conditions in Muslim-majority southern provinces, the poorest in Thailand, have been half-hearted.... Thais, seeking strong leadership to move their country forward, opted, as happens in any democracy, for those they believed would do the job most capably. Mr. Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai were their obvious choice. But while Mr. Thaksin has been given the clearest of mandates, he must not view it as approval to disregard other voices in society. As in any free and fair system, he must allow debate and hear a wide cross-section of arguments before putting forward a policy for approval. Strenuous efforts must be taken to ensure that opposition politicians in parliament, who have been just as democratically elected, are given a say in shaping laws. Without such care, Thailand will be in danger of returning to the days when authoritarian rule trampled under foot the basic rights and freedoms of Thais."
BURMA: "Thaksin's Victory Good News For Junta, Bad News For Opposition"
The pro-opposition Internet-based weekly Irrawaddy declared (2/8): "Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's landslide victory in Sunday's election is good news for Burma's military regime but holds fears for Burmese opposition groups.... Opposition groups fear that Thaksin may use his consolidated position of strength to support the Burmese government's plan to reconvene the National Convention this month and to control pro-democracy Burmese activists in Thailand.... Observers note Prime Minister Thaksin's statements in support of the Burmese regime.... Thailand made a commitment to political reform in Burma by hosting the "Bangkok Process" dialogue last year.... But...the Bangkok Process had totally lost its credibility."
INDONESIA: "Southern Conflict"
Semarang-based economic-political Suara Merdeka held (2/7): "The conflict in southern Thailand is the main task facing Thaksin's government during its second term in office..... A new approach is needed."
"Agricultural Development Makes PM Thaksin Re-elected"
Independent leading Kompas asserted (2/7): "The results of the Thai parliamentary election have raised no surprise at all. As foreseen before, the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been confirmed to have a landslide.... It seems that Thaksin's victory has been due to his high popularity amongst villagers. It turns out that the theme of his campaigns, which stressed free health services and agricultural development, has utterly touched the majority of the Thai people, who are farmers."
MALAYSIA: "Thaksin's Difficult Duty To Fulfil Election Promises"
Malay-language Government-influenced Berita Harian said (2/8): "Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's system of government and his wisdom in taking advantage of issues and tragedy faced by his country is said to be the main reasons for Thai Rak Thai party's victory.... Despite the fact that Thais are already bored with problems among political parties, including ill-practices and money politics, they allow Thaksin to continue to lead.... Not only residents of big cities such as Bangkok have given solid support to Thaksin, people in villages also favor him.... However, residents of three southern Thai provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, the majority of whom are Muslims, are not trapped by Thaksin's election promises. They have given the victory to opposition candidates. The failure of Thaksin's policy in dealing with violence in the crisis-hit areas has caused voters to reject TRT candidates contesting for all the 11 seats. The result of the election is considered a reflection of the Muslim residents' anger that has not subsided...following the bloody incident in Tak Bai in October 2004.... Nevertheless, the factor that worries political observers is that many Thai opposition parties that used to get public support in the past will soon be ignored.... In the previous two general elections, opposition parties had such a strong voice that they could threaten and weaken the government's machinery. This time around only the main opposition, Democrat Party, secured 80 seats and is still able to make its voice heard. Clearly, the opposition parties' allegation that TRT sponsored widespread programs to buy votes and bribe voters failed to hamper Thaksin's success. We hope a more stable Thai government will enable Thaksin to face and reduce various forms of threats and to settle the conflict in southern Thailand, which has been haunting its Muslim residents. We really hope that Thaksin will fulfill his election promises to develop the southern region."
"One Party Political Era In Thailand Might Create Authoritarian Government In Region"
An editorial in Chinese-language government-influenced Nanyang Siang Pau read (2/8): "The victory of Thai Rak Thai party led by Prime Minister Thaksin in the general election signifies that from now on, Thaksin would be in a better position to continue his economic and social plans without having to work closely with other opposition parties. But on the other hand, we are afraid that such a one-party political system without any checks and balances might eventually lead Thailand into an authoritarian government. Thaksin has won majority support in the election for his contribution towards economic reform and open market policy.... But his policy towards the Muslim population in the southern provinces remains a critical issue.... Violence and terrorist-type explosions and threats continue in the south.... Thaksin has failed to win the hearts and minds of his Muslim population. As a ruling party leader, it is sad that the distance between him and his Muslim population has furthered been divided. But to Thaksin, his relationship with the Muslim population would not harm his administration in any significant way. But...we just hope that Thaksin could make use of his one-party privilege to resolve the many outstanding misunderstandings he has created in the past towards his neighboring countries."
"Thaksin's Golden Opportunity"
Wong Sulong contended in the government-influenced English-language Star (2/8): "Over the weekend, Thai voters had their say, and they returned Thaksin Shinawatra as Prime Minister with a landslide victory. Reports indicated that Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party could win as many as 400 of the 500 seats in parliament. It is a triumph of democracy in South-East Asia.... No doubt there were complaints about vote-buying, missing voters lists, dirty tricks, etc, but no one can deny that the elections...were free and fair, and the complaints, however justified, do not alter the outcome.... Thai voters...want governments that can ensure political stability and deliver economic progress and equity. Whatever critics may say about Thaksin--that he rides roughshod over humanitarian issues, that his vast business empire could have created situations of conflict of interests, or that his Thai Rak Thai is a one-man party--the 56-year-old former-policeman-turned-tycoon-turned-politician has delivered.... His swift hands-on approach to the tsunami-stricken provinces of the country further enhanced his image among voters. The biggest setback during his first term as prime minister is the flare-up of violence in Thailand's southern Muslim provinces.... The massive electoral mandate he has just won has given Thaksin a golden opportunity to find long-term solutions for the restive south which showed its disapproval of Thaksin's policies towards the region by decisively voting for the opposition. It would be a serious misjudgement on his part if he thinks that his government's hardline policies towards the Muslim population were justified.... Frankly, Bangkok's perception and policies towards its southern Muslim provinces have been seriously flawed.... The first thing Thaksin needs to do is change his stance towards the south, replacing his tough approach with one that is designed to re-establish trust, respect and dialogue.... Thailand's southern provinces need a new deal from Bangkok to expunge the sense of anger and alienation. If anyone can do it, it's Thaksin, Thailand's man of the hour. But he must seize this golden opportunity."
"Thaksin's Poll Victory Creates Democratic Expectation, Anxiety To Observers"
Leading government-influenced Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily editorialized (2/7): "The victory of Thai Rak Thai party led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the poll yesterday [6 February] has made Thaksin the first ever national leader managed to be re-elected for a second term through direct votes by the people. Despite many pre-election rumors that the Islamic militants and terrorists might stage attacks on poll day, we are happy to note that the Thai police has not become a tool for political struggle in the Thai general election. This is a democratic achievement for Thailand in years of democratic setback. To many Thais, the four years under the reign of Thaksin is a journey filled with bitter democratic struggle. The high-powered approach of Thaksin towards his southern Thai Muslim population has offended not only the Thai Muslims but also the international Muslim community. In his anxiety to strengthen his control over his southern provinces, Thaksin has failed badly in his diplomatic flair by blaming Malaysia and Indonesia for nurturing and protecting the Thai Islamic militants.... Many political observers have earlier predicted that the post-Mahathir era in the region would be an era led by Thaksin. But unfortunately, the arrogance of Thaksin towards the region has disappointed many regional leaders. It looks like the region would now look more towards Sushilo, the new president of Indonesia, as a future leader to lead in the regional affairs. If Thaksin counties to think that his one party governmental could single-handedly lead his country for another four years without giving due concern to the basic human rights of his people, his recent electoral victory could only create excess democratic expectation and anxiety to his people."
"Not A Dictator"
Malay-language government-influenced Utusan Malaysia opined (2/7): "It is appropriate that the prosperity which the Thai people are now enjoying should be shared with those in the south.... The margin of Thaksin's victory shows that the Thai people love Thaksin, giving the lie to accusations that he has become a dictator."
SINGAPORE: "With Thaksin's Win Goes Duty"
The pro-government Straits Times declared (2/8): "The huge electoral mandate Thai voters have given Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shows how deep the yearning is for a leader who can bring growth while maintaining social calm in a country that takes its freedom seriously.... He ran on his first-term record of solid export-led growth, careful tending of the rural massses and a decisive leadership style.... Thaksin has, for instance, been daring with social programmes, like rural credit and heavily subsidised health care.... Thaksin has now won a second term and by a margin that will allow his Thai Rak Thai party to rule without entering into a coalition partnership. His critics worry a concentration of absolute parliamentary power does Thai democracy a disservice, but they will be hard put to explain how he managed to retain Bangkok, where anti-government carping is persistent.... But he has to use the mandate wisely. He should be deeply troubled by Thai Rak Thai's total rejection by voters in the three southern Muslim provinces.... Bangkok's middle classes may see the deep south as detached from the Thai family, but a prime minister who has visions of building a modern nation of equal opportunity cannot betray so much as an inkling of prejudice. It was not encouraging to hear Mr Thaksin say he would not change his policies in addressing the grievances of the south, which he regards as a law-enforcement matter. It is a problem of national integration, nothing less. Mr Thaksin's stability-boosting win will improve Asean's acceptability to investors and foreign tourists. The cohesiveness it brings can accelerate Asean free-trade deals with China and India, from where future growth will come. But if the Muslim resentments in the border provinces are mishandled, the consequences will not be Thailand's alone to bear."
"Time For Thaksin To Defuse Tensions In South"
Muhammad Haniff Hassan wrote in the pro-government Straits Times (2/8): "The Thai Rak Thai party has swept back to power in Thailand's latest general election and its leader, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, is set to return to office as prime minister with a much stronger mandate. One of the key challenges waiting for him to resolve is the conflict in south Thailand which is threatening to radicalise the Muslim community there. If prolonged, the conflict could increase sympathy and, possibly, support for separatist and militant groups.... The tensions in the Muslim south have to be defused and the underlying causes addressed.... To begin with, the authorities can take a softer line...to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims.... Adequate representation of the locals is also a vital component of development strategies in the south. In this respect, it would be helpful if the local leadership, such as governors and other office-bearers, reflect better the demography in the south where the Malay population is dominant.... On their part, the Muslims in south Thailand...can review their goal of separatism.... Finally, Thailand's active role in the U.S.--led war on terrorism must be carefully managed so as not to be seen as a war on Muslims, which could only inflame local sentiments.... While the government maintains its firm grip in order to contain separatism and militancy, it needs to realise that its bigger battle is winning the hearts and minds of the southern Muslims."
BRITAIN: "An Occasional Democrat"
An editorial in the left-of-center Guardian read (2/8): "By becoming the first prime minister to complete a full four-year term in office and then to trounce his opponents to win a second term, he can guarantee stable government--a significant change after long experience of military coups and weak coalitions. But the scale of Mr. Thaksin's win--probably 380 of the 500 seats in parliament--has brought fears of an erosion of democracy and an effective one-party state."
"Second Terms In Office: Lessons From Thailand And Denmark"
The conservative Times noted (2/8): "Thaksin Sinawatra understood the importance of shouldering responsibility in times of crisis, and after the tsunami made repeated visits to the stricken fishing villages and beach resorts. The result is that his quaintly named Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party won at least 275 of the 500 seats in parliament. With such a crushing majority, he now has few constraints on the exercise of power that already, critics say, is intolerant of dissent. The Prime Minister must remember that Thais do not love leaders who love themselves too much."
Kirstin Wenk opined in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (2/8): "The sound victory of Thaksin Shinawatra's party in the Thai parliamentary elections was not surprising, and is, nevertheless, a revolution. For the first time, an elected government in a Southeast Asian country has survived an entire legislative term and was now confirmed in office.... With his two-thirds majority, Thaksin is now more powerful than ever before, and his few critics can hardly jeopardize him. He has planned ahead, since friends and relatives have occupied key positions.... Even though more than 2,200 people died through Thaksin's anti-drug campaigns, this did not damage his reputation. Thaksin is a hero, because he was able to gather a fortune and because he stimulated Thailand's economy, successfully fought poverty and reduced the budget deficit. His courageous crisis management following the tsunami resulted in further votes for him. In the modern Thailand, the military is no longer necessary to preserve power. Money, media control and a policy of symbolisms is much more effective. Thailand elected stability which is now running the risk of turning into stiffness."
"Authority Through Success"
Sven Hansen penned the following editorial in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (2/8): "Thaksin leads Thailand like an enterprise and cultivates the image of a vigorous doer.... He shows that he knows best how the majority of Thais think...and he knows that the majority of Thais prefer his moves over the principles of the rule of law. He gave the Thais back their pride, which they had lost during the Asian crisis.... Thaksin gave priority to the economy and turned democracy into a side show. The voters accepted this during the stage of the economic boom. But in case of a crisis, democracy no longer plays a role. Thaksin's path resembles the one of Malaysia and Singapore and revives a development model that which seemed to have been overcome during the Asian crisis."
"Dream Result For Thaksin"
Center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich concluded (2/7): "Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin did not simply win the elections, it was a knock out victory.... His party won more than two-thirds of all seats in parliament, a dream result.... The voters gave Thaksin a blank check to do whatever he likes. Thailand's new man no longer needs to show any consideration for the small print in the Constitution.... Over the past few years, he used to undermine it with emergency decrees...to eliminate all critics who described him as an autocrat. There has not been a lack of warning voices that pointed to a dangerous concentration of political and economic power. What Thailand's premier gives his 63-million people with his populist course are nothing but crumbs. He promised his voters the moon if they gave him an overwhelming majority. Now he has got what he wanted. He need not show any consideration for anyone anymore, let alone the ordinary people. There should be a rude awakening if they begin to feel the consequences of his tough policy."
Moritz Kleine-Brockhoff wrote in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (2/7): "Premier Thaksin's election victory is good for Thailand, since his economic policy is supporting all classes of society. Growth means a rapid decline of poverty and unemployment in Thailand.... It would be great if a similar dynamic also developed in other South Asian democracies, where only the elites are well off. Thaksin matches his words with deeds, does not forget any one and helps many people. He was rewarded for this policy on Sunday. Those who think that Thaksin's one-man show jeopardizes democracy should not forget its core: the will of the people. The people want Thaksin. But despite all the praise, there is also reason to watch his activities. He suppresses critics who are saying that human rights were violated under him.... In this respect the UN and other governments should have raised their voices. But beyond that, Thaksin brings political stability to Thailand. That is why he is a good choice."
BAHRAIN: "A Milestone For Thaksin"
The pro-government English-language Daily Tribune held (2/8): "Barring any bizarre twist in Thai politics, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was yesterday set for another milestone in his political career.... So confident was Thaksin that he indicated...that he would drop his top coalition partner, the Chart Thai party, from the next government. Thaksin is the country’s first elected prime minister to complete a four-year term. Previous elected governments have fallen either to military coups or political squabblings.... Thaksin’s critics fear...Parliament will lose its ability to check his government’s grip on power.... Thaksin scoffed at the fears that his party’s overwhelming victory would endanger the country’s hard-won democracy.... The telecom mogul has largely delivered on his promise to revive Thailand’s economy after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. And despite accusations over his authoritarian style, Thaksin has remained popular.... Thaksin came under fire last year for alleged cronyism, inept handling of a bird flu epidemic and failing to curb sectarian violence in the Muslim-dominated south that has caused hundreds of lives.... Thaksin’s strengths were underscored by his quick and forceful response to the December 26 tsunami that devastated parts of southern Thailand. He likes to project himself as a self-made man who can slice through the country’s sluggish bureaucracy with a modern CEO style. He often points to the success of his telecommunications empire, which has made his family among the richest in Thailand. The Muslim insurgency in the south may have tarnished his image abroad, but with a solid support back home this time Thaksin’s dream of becoming a regional leader does not look as remote as before."
UAE: "Thaksin Rides The Wave Of Popularity"
The expatriate-oriened English-language Gulf News opined (2/8): "The Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was re-elected with a comfortable majority, the first time a prime minister has been returned to office via the ballot box in the country's coup-prone history. Celebrations, though, may be muted. Thaksin's mandate may lead to increased authoritarianism in a country where rights and freedoms were eroded during his first term. His electoral success owes much to his handling of the tsunami disaster which claimed the lives of more than 5,400 in Thailand. Almost as soon as the news broke, Thaksin was on the scene directing aid efforts. The tsunami also diverted voters' attention away from unrest in the three southern Muslim-dominated provinces of the otherwise Buddhist country. His policies, such as cheap healthcare for the poor, did tap into a rich seam of discontent and the Thai economy is beginning to deliver to the marginalised, especially in the rural areas. There were failures too. Methamphetamine addiction still plagues the country and he was less than open, at least initially, about last year's deadly bird flu outbreak. With such a healthy mandate for Thaksin, it will be difficult for the opposition to launch an effective campaign against policies that they view as detrimental to democracy."
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