11 July 2024

The opposition will not jump for joy and Thailand’s oldest party will not celebrate, either. Korn Chatikavanij, who has bade farewell to the Democrat Party, will remain with the government coalition and even probably break into Prayut Chan-o-cha’s Cabinet, thanks to a well-acknowledged economic expertise.

Speculation about Korn’s departure has been rife for months. He is said to be frustrated over “underappreciation” after the Democrats revamped their leadership, and also rumored to be discussing forming a group or new party with a number of people.

Korn has not publicly talked about his future, but a newspaper analysis has this tantalizing line: After leaving the Democrats, Piraphan Saliratvipak has been made a prime ministerial advisor and nominated as head of an ad hoc House committee studying charter amendment, what would someone with a clout as big as Korn’s get?

He needs a new home. Just a few days ago, Korn posted a Facebook statement insisting that he has not been asked by Palang Pracharat, the biggest coalition party, to be or do anything. His denial of any link with the opposition Future Forward Party was stronger.

Korn, now 55, joined the Democrat Party in 2005 at Abhisit Vejjajiva’s invitation and has closely allied with the former party leader, who was his former schoolmate at University of Oxford. He served as a deputy party leader while Abhisit was the chief. In the Democrat-led government headed by Abhisit, Korn served as finance minister from 2008 to 2011.

After Abhisit disappeared from political view following the party’s humiliating election defeat in March last year, Korn faded, too. But the latter has re-emerged into the political limelight.

Another option for Korn sounds a lot more idealistic. It has to do with presenting himself as a political alternative.

What are Prayut, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Sompong Amornwiwat and probably Abhisit and Sudarat Keyuraphan in common?

They are, to different degrees, politically or ideologically divisive.

Which can make Korn stand out. Over the past 15 years, people can count with one hand the number of times he made headlines with political rhetoric, one designed to enhance abstract or debatable political courses or rebellious plans, but one that has little or nothing to do with real issues. It’s a remarkable achievement, considering the party he has been with, one renowned for political eloquence that, for most parts, has been focused on the potentially explosive subjects of “rights”, “democracy” or “dictatorship”.

As an economic key man, Korn may have been a little bit lucky because reporters looking for belligerent political remarks would not go to him, or any harsh comment by him would not get published or broadcast anyway. But reporters familiar with how he has gone about his political business know that if current politics is about seeking to “destroy” in order to “succeed”, he does not fit quite right in.

Because of his height and good look, Korn is an outstanding man. In politics, though, he is the sort of guys who let many people, including those less qualified, fly overhead. Abhisit’s departure from the Democrat Party’s helm may have pushed Korn to the forefront as a leadership candidate, but the Democrats have remained Democrats, so to speak. At least Korn thinks so, and that is probably the main reason for the goodbye.

The departure is a risky move, however. Politics means Korn will still need to mix his academic and financially knowledgeable aura with an old- fashioned political approach. He is obviously not comfortable with that. In Thailand’s political realm, sophistication is probably secondary. His good pal Abhisit was there before, being criticised for giving his family more importance than going to unacquainted funerals, weddings and all the social functions that could reinforce the party’s image and perceived generosity. “Image” in the eyes of all the questionable but influential groups like certain local and foreign media outlets is also important.

The paradox is this: If Korn is to become an alternative, he must not sell that kind of image. In politics, once one tries to sell, he or she is in front of the infamous slippery slope. Selling a product requires breaking its rival down, and it does not matter if there is anything good in that rival product.


By: Tulsathit Taptim