23 May 2024

Over the past few days, Abhisit Vejjajiva was provoked by two key figures on both sides of the national divide. Suthep Thaugsuban of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party asked if the Democrat leader was siding with Thaksin Shinawatra because the latter’s latest remark seemed to suggest so. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said Abhisit’s remark against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was nowhere near enough, and the Future Forward Party leader challenged him to openly declare war against the Palang Pracharat Party. 

Suthep’s and Thanathorn’s criticisms only confirm that Abhisit’s political tightrope is becoming more treacherous. The Democrat leader is playing an “alternative” card that could make or break his party and himself.

Propping oneself as a political alternative can work well in elections. But it’s questionable if the strategy suits the Thai political situation, where a vast majority of voters is deeply divided and does not want to “take risks.” Either they will vote for one camp or the other.

Abhisit has been trying to appeal to voters who don’t want to see a resurgence of the Shinawatras and don’t want to see Prayut remain in power, either. The big question is: How many are they? In other words, is this electoral market big enough to give the Democrats a minimum 100 seats that will save him the party’s leadership?

Abhisit’s promise to step down from the party’s helm if it fails to win a minimum 100 seats reflects his belief that the market is huge. His intention to portray himself and the party as a good alternative was also seen in his latest open letter to voters, in which he compared Thai voters to a woman torn between four boyfriends.

According to him, Palang Pracharat is a control freak, Pheu Thai a cheater, Future Forward a rebel who hates everything and everybody, and Democrat a dull but sincere boyfriend who has stuck with the woman he loves through thick and thin.

It’s a creative election campaign, but it’s highly doubtful creativity will bear fruits on March 24. Thailand’s political polarity will most likely override beautiful faces, wonderful policies and attractive campaign messages on the election day.

Abhisit’s latest attacks on Prayut strongly suggest that the former sees the latter and Palang Pracharat as a more immediate threat than Pheu Thai. The Democrat and Pheu Thai parties were wooing different markets in the previous elections, meaning Democrat candidates were facing no threats in the anti-Shinawatra market whatsoever.

That is not the case in this election. Palang Pracharat has gone all-out in its anti-Shinawatra campaign and, with Prayut as its prime ministerial nominee, demonstrating a capability to deliver what anti-Shinawatra voters want. All of a sudden, Abhisit has found himself playing second fiddle in a market he used to dominate.

Attacking both Prayut and the Shinawatras might be the right thing to do, but a Thai cautionary tale, “Nok Mee Hoo Noo Mee Peek”, which asks the question if the bat is a bird, because it has wings, or a rat, because it has ears, is there for a good reason. Abhisit may be seeing himself as an alternative, but doubters or critics — Thanathorn included and Suthep probably among them — may be just seeing a bat that wants to fly high.  — By ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk