23 May 2024

If the tightrope stretching before the second biggest political party had been very narrow before, it’s also fragile now. A clear picture of what lies ahead has two main features: the May 14 election results and what happened in Parliament on Wednesday.

Voters liked Move Forward. This is a dilemma everyone knows. Pheu Thai can abandon the biggest party at its own risk. If Move Forward remain popular in the next election, the desertion can face heavy electoral punishment. Yet voters penalising Pheu Thai next time can be the least of everyone’s concern.

“The match remains wet only because the majority (of Thais who voted on May 14) still has hope in Pheu Thai, which clearly stated its ideological stance during the election campaign,” said political analyst and academic Sukhum Nualsakul. “The match is still wet” refers to the situation on the streets which looked manageable over the past few days despite what happened to Pita Limjaroenrat. “The match, however, can become absolutely dry and ready to ignite if Pheu Thai made a U-turn on its election promises,” he said.

But on Wednesday, Parliament showed that Pheu Thai prime ministerial nominees will likely get just one shot each. The Senate, wielding its special power to join the House of Representatives in selecting the new prime minister, has sent a strong message that even a Pheu Thai candidate will be rejected just like Pita if Move Forward is in the nominated person’s coalition.

Simply put, Pheu Thai risks losing the premiership entirely if it wants to play a good, loyal friend.

There is still hope, though. A significant realignment with a previously rejected nominee can be perceived as a “new motion”. The Pita proposal was doomed on Wednesday because its opponents insisted that it was basically the “same” as the proposal put forward a week earlier. Submitting the same motion without substantial change in its context is prohibited in the same parliamentary semester.

Is Pheu Thai ready to risk it? That’s the main question.

Srettha Thavisin, now the strongest prime ministerial candidate, has ruled out touching Article 112. That promise is unlikely to appease the Senate if he still allows Move Forward to tag along.

Legal experts challenge parliament’s rejection of Pita’s renomination

One scenario has Move Forward and Pheu Thai commit “Lovers’ Suicide”. Having won a clear majority combined in the House of Representatives, they can choose to stick to each other come what may, allowing anyone wanting to form a “minority government” to do it. Such a government will collapse soon enough, and when politicians try to pick a new prime minister next time, it will be a lot easier for this ideological camp.

One problem is that the prime minister of this “minority government” can dissolve the House of Representatives and call a new election. Pheu Thai can get smaller, so will they want to do it? A lesser question has to do with the fact that Pheu Thai does not want to be the opposition for the second time in a row, no matter how brief this time around.

A lot has to do with the matter of trust. Nobody knows the exact magnitude of hostility in the “frenemy zone” of Pheu Thai and Move Forward. Some of their supporters have been fighting fiercely on the social media, although the two parties’ leaders have looked friendly toward one another in public. Among junior party members, there have been contemptuous remarks and sulking.

To keep its ideological fan base, Pheu Thai has had to grit its teeth and look faithful to Move Forward, whose fans always accused it of “fighting one day and kowtowing the next”. But the biggest hint of strong competition has come recently from none other than Thaksin Shinawatra, who commented curiously that his political camp was suffering from a massive online attempt to belittle its ideological approach. Certain Pheu Thai members have also questioned the wisdom of Move Forward pushing for sensitive or divisive legal or constitutional changes.

Thaksin himself is a thorny issue in the two parties’ relations. Foreign analysts have joined several of their Thai counterparts in saying that Pita’s loss is Thaksin’s gain. Before Pita was officially swept aside on Wednesday, they believed in the theory that it was easier for Thaksin to come home while Thailand is under a “reconciliatory” coalition than under a Prime Minister Pita, whose needs to protect his image could clash badly with lenient treatment of the man in Dubai.

Although Pita has gone, Move Forward’s stance regarding Thaksin will likely remain unchanged. That stance first emerged in a comment by Pita’s predecessor Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. “I’m not Thaksin,” Thanathorn once said in a context that touched upon issues of ideology, corruption and hypocrisy. He later apologised for saying so, but could not prevent the remark from laying the groundwork for how to distinguish between the then Future Forward and Pheu Thai.

The complexities regarding Move Forward, Srettha, Pheu Thai and Thaksin can be underlined in this week’s comment by Jatuporn Prompan, a former Pheu Thai street warrior who has turned against the second biggest party. “Srettha doesn’t like the generals, all right, but we all know who calls the shots at Pheu Thai,” he said.

Meanwhile, to the other side, Pheu Thai appears more tamable than Move Forward, probably because the former has more old people than the latter. (The perception is that social needs are better mixed and cultural values are not as controversially focused, so to speak.)

All of a sudden, Pheu Thai is a girl courted by two imperfect boys. One wants her to teach the other a lesson, reminding her how she has been beaten up. The other is saying “He only wants you to fulfil his ego and will always belittle you whenever he can.”

It’s a seemingly cool situation, but reality is that both boys are hot potatoes. To add to that, the girl is far from perfect herself. She always planned to leave me out cold, the first boy must be thinking. I can’t believe I may have to choose this woman and stick with her, the second boy must be murmuring.

By Tulsathit Taptim