Bangkok Court Ruling Disbands Thai Government
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Thailand's political crisis has not been resolved, although at least some flights are once again leaving the airport in Bangkok. The Constitutional Court has ordered Thailand's prime minister to step down and the ruling party to be disbanded. And all of that meets some key demands of protesters who have been occupying, in fact, two main airports in Bangkok for nearly a week. So some cargo flights took off today, although many political questions remain, as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: In theory, those who've occupied Bangkok's airports got most of what they wanted today when Thailand's Constitutional Court essentially eviscerated the ruling People's Power Party after one of the party's senior members was found guilty of vote fraud in last year's general election.
(Soundbite of announcement made in Thai)
SULLIVAN: The ruling means that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and many party leaders are banned from politics for five years. Two other allied parties were also banned. Outside the courtroom, thousands of red-shirted supporters of Prime Minister Somchai's party expressed their displeasure with the uncommonly swift verdict.
(Soundbite of demonstration)
SULLIVAN: Many of the demonstrators were visibly agitated, shouting, "Fight, fight," before being forced to vacate the area by police. Many government supporters see the verdicts as a sham, part of a creeping coup by the Bangkok elite to deny the mostly rural majority its government.
Dr. THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK (Professor of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University): The court verdict to dissolve the three government parties has exacerbated this crisis. Some see it as a way out, but in fact they're likely to make this intractable crisis now even worse.
SULLIVAN: Political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
Dr. THITINAN: The pro-government protesters now are likely to mobilize because they see this as a grand effort to disenfranchise their voters. And this is the second destruction now of Thai Rak Thai, former party of former Prime Minister Thaksin. And that party connected with the rural electorate, the rural masses. And I don't think that they will just go home, back to the farm, quietly. So we're going to see some tumultuous times ahead now.
SULLIVAN: The antigovernment People's Alliance for Democracy, meanwhile, shows no signs of ending its airport occupations. Political analyst Panithan Wattanayagorn says that's because they're waiting to see whether the new government, too, will be dominated by allies of the former prime minister. Until then, Panithan says, the PAD will stay.
Mr. PANITHAN WATTANAYAGORN (Professor of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University): For the time being, yes, they are occupying a strategic position and have an advantage over the shaky coalition government who is now in caretaking position. For the time being, well, we hope that the parliament can reconvene very quickly and produce acceptable leadership or people to come in and solve the crisis.
SULLIVAN: But finding someone acceptable to the opposition PAD seems unlikely, says analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
Dr. THITINAN: The ultimate goal is to get to an interim administration so that they can rewrite the rules or write a completely new set of rules, a new constitution. They reject the principal of one man, one vote because as long as we have a one man, one vote system, they will always lose. That's why I think the PAD is ensconced at the airport now indefinitely. And we have to be prepared for an indefinite closure of the two airports.
SULLIVAN: That's bad news for the foreign tourists stranded here and bad news for the Thai economy too, already reeling from the bad publicity generated by the political turmoil here. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok.
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