Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollsters and voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political experts and defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.
This article was originally published by the Center for International Maritime Studies (CIMSEC) on 22 May 2015.
With a coup d’état in May 2014 and the appointment of General Prayut Chan-o-cha as Prime Minister, 2014 proved to be a tumultuous year in Thai politics. Still faced with a deeply divided society, it is difficult for the Thai authorities to articulate foreign policy priorities or a grand strategy for the country. Even so, the Royal Thai Navy may soon have important tools available with which Thailand can make its presence felt internationally.
Although often overlooked by most reports in favor of the contributions made by the Chinese and the Russians in years since, Thailand was an important player in counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. In response to an increase in Somali-based piracy, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 was established in January 2009 to secure freedom of navigation along international shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Although comprised largely of vessels and crews from NATO member states, Thailand deployed a Pattani-class off-shore patrol vessel and a supply ship to join the force in 2010-2011.
For many years Thailand was admired for its rapid economic growth. It was a good security partner for the US and Australia, and many foreigners liked visiting the country. The zigzag course of its political development, alternating between democratically-elected governments and military regimes, has prompted frowns at the appropriate times from Western governments, but the widespread assumption was that there was an underlying upwards trajectory. The election of Thaksin Shinawatra—a wealthy communications tycoon—as Prime Minister in 2001, held out the prospect of a more contemporary and business-oriented style of government.
Insurgencies and local resistance to Buddhist-Thai rule have plagued the predominantly Malay-Muslim provinces of southern Thailand for well over a century. In response, Bangkok has used a mixture of economic development, military action, the restructuring of regional governance, and a series of secret talks with a range of insurgent groups. These attempts to stymie recurring upsurges in ethnic violence have unfortunately met with only limited success.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the latest effort to enter into a formal dialogue with one of southern Thailand’s leading separatist groups, the Barisan Rovolusi Nasional (BRN), has also experienced its fair share of troubles. Yet, if the next Thai government succeeds in reviving the now-troubled talks and brings a degree of political stability to the embattled South, then the efforts of the now-deposed Yingluck Shinawatra government may not have been in vain.
The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military?