A corrupt ruler-in-exile, his sister Prime Minister, and the crown prince: these are the players in what has become Thailand’s stagnant electoral process, stalled indefinitely by street clashes and civilian demonstrators. The Kingdom, overseen by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, is a supposed puppet government of her politically-entrenched family.  Live footage has shown protestors screaming in the streets against Shinawatra and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who lives currently in self-imposed exile after his 2006 ouster by the military.



The current political crisis started back in December 2013, when a proposed amnesty bill that aimed to pardon Thai politicians inspired anti-government protests – the bill would have allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand sans standing government convictions, absolving him of what is popularly thought to be a series of oppressive measures. Following the bill’s unanimous rejection by both the pro-government Red Shirt movement and the opposition Democrat Party, Democrat Suthep Thaugsuban, one of the two politicians that would have been pardoned by the bill, led protests that redirected the population’s general frustration towards nepotistic politics and turned towards a purely anti-government agenda.

The protests, now led by Suthep, escalated over November and as police officers began using tear gas and water cannons to suppress the protestors, desperately trying to prevent a repeat of the 2006 military coup. Tensions climaxed on December 8th, 2013, when all 153 Democrat Party Members of Parliament resigned, leading to Prime Minister Yingluck to dissolve the House of Representatives and schedule a general election for February 2nd of the next year. It seemed that the Thai population had finally gotten what they wanted – a chance to put those they deemed most fit to rule back in the seat of government. The change, however, was for the worse.

Advance voting that began a week before the election was disrupted by protesters blocking entry to polling stations, effectively preventing more than 400,000 registered voters from casting their ballots. Yingluck pushed through, declaring that the elections, notwithstanding the chaos on the streets, would have to continue, leading to a measly 47% turnout for the country’s watershed election. A simultaneous boycott coordinated by the Democrat Party led to Yingluck’s loyalist Pheu Thai party to win the election by a landslide, but with the low numbers, the election failed to fill the 475 members of the 500-seat parliament constitutionally required to establish Thailand’s government.

Outcry over the disenfranchisement of almost half a million voters pressured Yingluck’s government to declare a second election for the 28 constituencies unable to vote, with advance voting on April 20 and the general election a week later. The situation has left the Thai people to stagnate in two months of civilian discontent before they will see any structural or institutional change, and the angered impatience of Thai citizens threatens to spill over into civil war.

A February 14 speech given by Suthep stated that his Democrat Party refused to work or cooperate with Yingluck’s shambled government, stating, “I am not too excited to talk with a puppet with someone pulling the strings from behind.”  The shadow cast by Thaksin continues to haunt the Thai people – or so they think – and Yingluck’s government and appeals for reconciliation have suffered from a nationwide perception that she is but a pawn in Thaksin’s political game. But the main impetus, a more concrete one, lies outside of the political deadlock and in the economic realm: with food prices skyrocketing and the economy foundering, protesters have found all the reason more to take to the streets and protest the shortcomings of the current transitional council, an unelected group of leaders viewed more as figureheads than actual policy-makers. The group, installed by Yingluck as she scrambles to form a new government, has made limited progress on fixing Thailand’s increasingly dire emergency. 

And though history would do well to repeat itself now with Thai military intervention, the current Thai king is in no position to negotiate with the overpowering Shinawatra duo, as shattered as their disillusioning government may be. The Crown Prince, a close friend and ally of the siblings, is not likely to surrender power to the Thai military and will not risk his own impending rule on such a political gamble. He looks to weather the current political storm, moving in quickly after to solidify his rule via democratic tradition.

Whatever the meaning elections may have for Thailand in its current state, the country is in for either a startling political overturn of longstanding dynastic rule, or for the continuance of political deadlock. Only time will tell, in the two months leading up to Yingluck’s concessionary by-elections, whether elections will serve to liberate the people or lock the handcuffs around their wrists.