6 June 2024

Senators rejecting a Pheu Thai prime ministerial nominee will be heavily criticised, but that possibility will have been largely expected. Move Forward doing the same, however, will be a lot more questionable, thought-provoking or downright controversial.

Pheu Thai has crossed the line first. Bhumjaithai was just the beginning of a slippery slope. The second biggest party is already being branded a traitor, an ideological chameleon who could be subjected to voters’ wrath in the next general election. The apparent contact with the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party is the final, big nail in the coffin.

The Move Forward-Pheu Thai collision, though, will not leave the surprised election winner unscathed.

Look who voted for Pita Limjaroenrat and look who are set to reject a Pheu Thai prime ministerial nominee, said MP Adisorn Piengkes of the second-biggest party this week. It was a swipe in an on-going war of words that has come close to _ but has not quite touched _ a very important aspect of the turmoil, the question whether Move Forward, for all its proclamations, is helping democracy.

The answer can be either yes or no. The question is very subtle and soul-searching, bringing debatable pragmatism up against inflexibility which is also doubtful. Of the two parties, Pheu Thai made the first compromise the minute it was seen to be approaching Bhumjaithai. While that alone may justify Move Forward’s consequent reactions, the biggest party may be about to cross a line itself.

At a press conference this week, Move Forward insisted that voting for a Pheu Thai prime ministerial nominee is in effect giving support to a twisted system undermining democracy. That was before Pheu Thai brought United Thai Nation into view.

Critics, however, may say democratic principles require Move Forward, regardless of anything, to support a prime ministerial nominee of a political party that won the second biggest number of popular votes now that the biggest party’s own nomination has failed.

These critics believe the jaw-dropping United Thai Nation development rarely mattered, especially as Move Forward obviously wants its rejection of Pheu Thai to be only a statement of defiance, no more and no less. (If senators are on Pheu Thai’s side, there will be nothing Move Forward can do. The Senate, Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai can combine to surpass the simple majority support for a prime ministerial candidate in Parliament. Add some medium-sized parties and the next government will be secure when the House of Representatives vote on, say, a censure motion.)

The biggest question is this: If “democracy” is about to lose, should Move Forward help ensure that at least it loses with a proper defiance, albeit with a “democratic” candidate attaining the premiership? After all, Move Forward rejecting Pheu Thai would only make the next government uglier in Move Forward’s own eyes.

What is worse for “democracy” anyway _ an “undemocratic” government led by an “undemocratic” prime minister or an “undemocratic” government with a prime minister coming from the second-most popular party? The answer is a no-brainer, unless Move Forward sincerely thinks that it could tolerate more of the same for “better things” in the future.

At the moment, it remains uncertain how senators will vote. If conditions are right, they can vote for a Pheu Thai candidate. If not, they will reject a Pheu Thai nominee, in which case it will be supremely ironic if senators and Move Forward vote hand in hand to reject someone from the second biggest party. One side would do so to prolong and protect a contentious status quo, while the other would do so because it hates the status quo’s guts.

One by one, democratic principles have become the prices Move Forward and Pheu Thai have had to pay in their peculiar showdown. Pheu Thai made people frown first by claiming that, by agreeing to support the Pita alliance (initially), it was making a great sacrifice because it could have easily followed political tradition that called for the first election runner-up to immediately assert itself as the rival government-forming core.

That was an absurd claim when democracy was concerned. A Move Forward-Pheu Thai combination is almost 300 parliamentary seats, a clear-cut majority in the House of Representatives. Pheu Thai backing Move Forward was not a sacrifice. Rather, it was a common sense, because the “majority of Thais” voted for them as they wanted them to work together, not fight each other.

Move Forward is not to be outdone, though. (A softer way to say it is that now is Move Forward’s turn to face a big dilemma.) Not backing a Pheu Thai prime ministerial candidate can endanger Move Forward’s version of democracy more.

If Move Forward wants to make a statement about democracy, why not set an example by voting for a Pheu Thai candidate regardless of its own future and saying it was a “less wrong thing” to do? Anything other than that, to many people, is letting go of the steering wheel.

Tulsathit Taptim