How “no-vote censure” can guard against post-election implausibility

It’s the Pheu Thai Party who has done much of the talking in Parliament this week, but it’s Move Forward who stands to benefit the most. The biggest opposition camp, it seems, is lecturing its way out of a possible marriage with the Palang Pracharath Party after the general election.

This is not to say that the supposed Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath union has been likely. It never was, and this is to say that if there has been the tiniest possibility of it happening, the slightly-gaping door has all but been slammed shut.

The Prayut government, which Pheu Thai accuses of blatant cronyism, devastating economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, and proliferation of “grey-area businesses” by foreigners, has Palang Pracharath as its heart and soul. Prayut Chan-o-cha picked the ministers, of course, but choices had been provided by coalition parties including Palang Pracharath.

For months, Pheu Thai has had to cope with uncomfortable rumours that it might join hands with Palang Pracharath in forming the post-election government. The unfathomable scenario has refused to go away from the political gossip circles for two main reasons. Firstly, unless it wins the election by an earth-shattering landslide, Pheu Thai would still need the Senate’s support, and Palang Pracharath at its side will give the opposition party that. Secondly, Pheu Thai’s frenemy relationship with Move Forward can worsen during the election campaign because the two parties share the same voting market and there might be major legislative conflicts between the two allies in the future.

Pheu Thai initiating and leading the “no-vote censure” will soften up the Prayut administration before the election, but it also amplifies the feelings that a marriage with Palang Pracharath will be a travesty. In politics, they say, people have short memories, and Pheu Thai can always rely on the “reconciliation” narrative if it wants to justify a unification with Palang Pracharath, but even those with short memories will remember what Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew said in Parliament this week.

Here are the highlights of his salvo: The government ignored all policies it had told Parliament it would implement, including everything it had promised to do urgently; the government has worsened the lopsidedness of the Thai society; government budgets were spent on populism programmes only; government initiatives were only meant for political expediency, not public interests; political ethics went out the window; cronyism was everywhere; corruption was rampant; and it has been a norm to sell or buy government positions that can be used to reap personal gains.

Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat just played along. He lambasted military influences in politics and constitutional obstacles. But whatever he said, there would be no consequences, since he had been expected to say those things anyway. Cholnan, on the other hand, was telling everyone Palang Pracharath was bad without actually saying so.

Pita must be smiling inside. There have been warnings that his party could get smaller after the election, and that it would lose its relevance if it ends up in the opposition bloc one more time while Pheu Thai is in the government. Cholnan must have eased those fears on the first day of the “no vote censure.”Pita’s party might still be unable to outgrow itself, but the chances of being tagged along by Pheu Thai seem to have increased overnight.

In other words, Cholnan did in one day what the whole Pheu Thai Party had been incapable of for weeks regarding the rumours. Former red-shirt activist Jatuporn Prompan, who has turned completely against Thaksin Shinawatra, had called Pheu Thai’s Palang Pracharath denials “soft”, and dared Pheu Thai to “swear” that the union would never happen. Cholnan did not swear, and he was among those guilty of “soft denials”, but this week he has probably done something even more aggressively explicit.

The general election’s aftermath promises a few inconvenient coexistences no matter what transpires. A Pheu Thai-Move Forward government coalition would have to navigate key conflicts like the minimum wage and Article 112, whereas Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan would be intriguing opposition allies, looking helplessly at each other wondering what went wrong between them.

A Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath government might still happen, although the possibility has dropped drastically this week. The scenario would see Prayut and Prawit in opposite sides, and Pita looking lost in the opposition, and alongside the man the Move Forward leader vehemently attacked this week as well. Meanwhile, a Ruam Thai Sang Chart-Palang Pracharath government would likely have Prayut call Prawit “Mr Prime Minister” (or the other way round which could be equally awkward).

As for street protests, they will most likely feature in all of the scenarios.

There will be no fairy-tale ending. Nobody will “live happily ever after”, so to speak.

By Tulsathit Taptim


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