11 July 2024

The triangular love-hate affair of the Thai politics is not going back to Square One. It’s entering a new chapter which is more unpredictable than the last.

The Pheu Thai Party’s past few days have been terrible. A popularity poll has it way behind Move Forward. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s political future has been put in jeopardy. Last but not least, Thaksin Shinawatra has been revisited by huge legal trouble.

It’s a triple blow with potentially far-reaching ramifications. All of a sudden, digital wallet is no longer deadly-important, and Yingluck Shinawatra might be heaving a sigh of relief somewhere after possibly brooding over why Thaksin failed to make it a “package deal”.

Thai political prophets are retreating into the anything-can-happen comfort zone. There are too many variables to make predictions that could earn them a “Wow” later. Even parties not directly involved, like Move Forward, will play a big part in future developments.

The first question is whether Srettha will survive his own political crisis. Some say he will but others say he will not.

An “educated” answer is that when a constitutional will clashes with legal loopholes, the winner will be decided by what route the judges will take.

The will guards against unscrupulous appointments, with prescriptions seeking to make the appointer, in Phichit Chuenban’s case Srettha, very careful.

Loopholes ask this question: How is the prime minister supposed to know everything?

If it’s the end of the road for Srettha, it will have to be a reset. Will the conservatives back another Pheu Thai candidate? Will Pheu Thai even stay? What will Move Forward think and do? These are the main questions.

Move Forward will have to think about the popularity poll, which puts it very far ahead of Pheu Thai.

A reconciliation will not make the biggest party more popular, with the worst-case scenario having Move Forward and Pheu Thai shrink together.

In addition, Move Forward will need to think about Thaksin and Yingluck. Politician and well-known academic Kaewsan Atibodhi was apparently sensible in suggesting that the biggest political party now has two choices:

Be patient, continue to sit on the fence, make sure its popularity continue to grow and wait for the next election, or take a highly-dangerous shortcut.

Move Forward needs to realise that while what is happening to Pheu Thai makes their reconciliation a tempting option, Thailand is no longer divided down the middle.

In the biggest picture, the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”is underlined, not diluted.

The country’s polarisation existed on a key condition, which was that Pheu Thai had to lead. The party can’t play second fiddle to Move Forward. It’s as simple as that.

Pheu Thai does not only want to take back the number 1 position in its ideological half, but the party also has key policies it likes to implement unobstructed, and ministries it wants to control like finance.

More, there are the issues of Thaksin and Yingluck and the “lopsided”treatment of “political”defendants or convicts.

As radical and unorthodox as Move Forward is, it does not have the luxury enjoyed by the other parties.

By that, it can never be perceived as compromising its stance for the sake of political expediency, or its popularity can drop like a stone.

However, that it is wise for Move Forward to stay away from Pheu Thai does not mean reconciliation will not happen.

Around this time last year, everyone was saying it was wise for Pheu Thai to stick with Move Forward, too.

The next unpredictable things concern Thaksin. Will he be denied bail? If he is afraid he will, what will happen before June 18?

If he is granted bail, what will he and Pheu Thai do? If he is in jail, how will it affect the uneasy relationship between Pheu Thai and the conservatives?

A bail would enable Thaksin to stay out of jail for three or four years, which is enough time to think of something. Legal opinions have been divided on whether a bail can be granted this time, however.

The law says a new offence will return a paroled convict to jail, especially those with “flight”history. Whether Thaksin’s Article 112 case is “new”is arguable.

Some say it’s not an offence until the prosecutors or judges say so (in which case Thaksin being formally charged will be

considered an alleged new crime). Others say he committed the alleged violation years ago, so it must be an old offence.

As we can see, it will be hard to predict what happens next. Thaksin can be put in jail and Srettha carries on. Or Srettha will lose the premiership and Thaksin will get the bail. Or both will survive. Or both will be dealt respective blows.

Or Move Forward will reject Pheu Thai’s olive branches. Or Move Forward will say “I don’t care” and re-embrace Pheu Thai, promising that Thaksin and Yingluck will be safe and sound.

Or the conservatives will look at the popularity poll and still see Move Forward as their greatest threat. Or they will change their opinions about Move Forward and Pheu Thai.

Each of the scenarios is scary to someone. However, it’s advisable for everybody to fasten the seatbelt, as this is not going back to where we started, but an entry into an even more unfamiliar territory that is even more treacherous.

Tulsathit Taptim