Is Pheu Thai’s “breakup” for real this time?
Thaksin Shinawatra’s political camp is no stranger to reports, rumors or speculation about senior figures “leaving”. Most of the time any “split-up” was tactical, like when the now-defunct Thai Raksachart Party was formed, or was seen by some as a Trojan Horse strategy aimed at planting “secret weapons” beyond the frontiers.
Doubters, therefore, can be forgiven for assuming that the formation of the “CARE” group, which brings together top Thaksin lieutenants and strategists and has been decried by many other Pheu Thai members, was just another highly-strategic plan and did not reflect genuine concern for the people like the acronym suggests.
It was too soon for Phumtham Wechayachai, the group leader, to disclose the ultimate plan. But all the Thaksin heavyweights are with him, including Pongsak Ruktapongpisal, Prommin Lertsuridej and Surapong Suebwonglee. The name of Chaturon Chaisaeng, always an unofficial prime ministerial candidate, has also seriously featured. These people, news analyses suggest, have grown increasingly weary of Sudarat Keyuraphan and, probably to a lesser extent, Chalerm Yoobamrung.
Sudarat is Pheu Thai’s most influential figure when it comes to the voting base in Bangkok, always tipped as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, but has failed to win the hearts of MPs upcountry. Her long-standing conflict with Chalerm has resulted in an unclear power structure inside Pheu Thai and sometimes overshadowed other important things.
CARE, which stands for Creative Action for Revival & People Empowerment, is also aware of the political progress of the Move Forward Party, the reincarnation of the dissolved Future Forward Party. Move Forward and Pheu Thai have been uneasy allies because they have to compete for the same “market”, so to speak. The former has appealed more to youngsters, rapidly expanding its support base while the latter is busy with the Sudarat-Chalerm power struggle.
Phumtham has been evasive on whether CARE, which is being officially launched, would form a new party and he has never totally ruled such a scenario out, only basically saying that nobody knows the future. One response, when he was asked about CARE in a media interview, was “When the country is hopeless, anything can happen if people who are worried about the situation come together to talk.”
If he does form a new party, financial support from the Shinawatras can flow away from Pheu Thai. As this scenario has been conjured up, it coincided with a heated Pheu Thai debate about its future and CARE a few days ago, during which several party members complained that reports about, or emerging from, CARE has put the biggest opposition party in a bad light. Those making complaints also said northeastern Pheu Thai MPs have been under-appreciated.
Amid intensified CARE speculation, another rumored development was also intriguing. Sudarat was said to have had a secret meeting with a few Bangkok MPs of Move Forward, angering and worrying the big bosses of the new party in the process. Now, some people believe, Pheu Thai does not face just one major breakaway, but two.
In the biggest picture, defections that can possibly rock Pheu Thai and Move Forward should not affect the ideological polarity which has virtually carve Thai in half. When push comes to shove, Pheu Thai, Move Forward and their possible defectors will join hands to overthrow the other side, whose unity has been seriously shaken itself.
So, does Pheu Thai face a breakup? Quite likely. Is the “break-up” for real? It depends on how ones look at it. If the ultimate goal of overthrowing the other side is achieved, any breakaway could be just another “satellite” strategy. But funding from the Shinawatras could answer that second question as well. If it drains from Pheu Thai, a new name will come to feature in the Thai political divide.
By Tulsathit Taptim