It could be “so near yet so far” again for birthday boy

A Pheu Thai “landslide” is very likely, no matter how the party-list calculation fights end. In fact, despite the Thai Raksa Chart setback and failure to win a single party-list seat in 2019, the party emerged with the biggest number of MPs, 136. In 2011, the party won 265 seats out of 500.

To add to the impressive past records, the recent Bangkok gubernatorial and City Assembly elections showed that the politically fickle Thai capital must have swung in Pheu Thai favour, probably heavily. The party’s 2011 “landslide” happened in spite of Bangkok, which gave Pheu Thai just 10 seats compared with 23 for the Democrats.

Again Thaksin Shinawatra is hopeful. But again, it can end up being another case of “so near yet so far.”

It must be noted that Prayut Chan-o-cha launched a coup against the “landslide” government of Yingluck Shinawatra, who, like Paetongtarn Shinawatra, was a political minnow and a young woman in the male-dominated Thai politics. For the military to be able to overthrow a government whose ruling party had just won 265 seats, there must be a great pretext. And what pretext could be greater than a Thaksin-related one?

The trigger at that time was an amnesty bill that critics charged was crafted with a hidden agenda. Thaksin, it was said then, was misled by the Yingluck landslide into jumping the gun. Critics feared the bill would allow him to come home from exile without having to spend a single day in jail. When Pheu Thai flexed its muscles in the House of Representatives to try to force the bill through in the face of strong political and public opposition, it was all over.

A western media report called the amnesty bill “one of the biggest political blunders ever seen.” Street protests dwarfed uprisings in recent memories and shut down Bangkok sporadically for months. A controversial politician, Suthep Thaugsuban, went from an almost has-been to a political superhero. Pheu Thai supporters, many still buoyed by the Yingluck miracle in 2011, did not know what him them. Protests turned violent. Then tanks rolled.

History is not on Thaksin side, but neither is the future. Pheu Thai is having a powerful “frenemy” whose goal is totally different and absolutely unrelated to Thaksin. If a Pheu Thai-led coalition has Move Forward as a key partner, such a bill could be all but ruled out.

There have been occasional conflicts between Pheu Thai and Move Forward, because they fight for the same market in elections. Thaksin has been a tantalizing source of big tension, barely suppressed because both parties have a common enemy in Prayut. Signs of a potential explosion are always there, however.

Earlier this year, when a pro-Pheu Thai writer and celebrity, Lakkhana Panwichai, better known as Kam Phaka, referred to the “Orange movement” as “Salim Phase 2”, supporters of Move Forward were infuriatedThe picture at the time was that, before the arrival of Move Forward (previously Future Forward), Thailand had been divided into “pro-Thaksin” and “anti-Thaksin (pro-military). “Salim Phase 2” was “anti-Thaksin” and “anti-military”.

But debate soon morphed into supporters of Pheu Thai and Move Forward accusing each other of being a disruptive force. To Pheu Thai fans, “Salim Phase 2” is a movement that has become disillusioned with “non-democratic intervention” in politics but wrongly cannot bring itself to support Thaksin, who really “represents democracy”. 

To Move Forward supporters, the “anti-Thaksin” attitude was right, as he was involved in scandals too controversial to just sweep under the rug. Pheu Thai was also taunted for just pretending to fight and not doing it like a man.

The argument was limited to fans’ forums, as there were no such issues as the amnesty bill to obsess politicians. When both Pheu Thai and Move Forward are powerful enough to push for legislative changes, the debate can intensify with leading politicians on both sides going at it.

Simply put, even with 265 MPs of its own and without Move Forward to worry about, Pheu Thai still found the Thaksin issue too hot to handle. A future “landslide”, therefore, guarantees nothing when the man in Dubai is concerned.

In a statement marking his birthday anniversary this week, Thaksin said his only mistake was his failure to learn “how to live in a jungle.” He compared the Thai elite to a jungle not suited for naïve” people like him. He did not talk about returning from exile to Thailand, only mentioning that he had told his loved ones not to cremate him when he dies, because he wanted to be “immortal” in their eyes.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “It’s just a pity that I couldn’t serve my country longer.”

To some, it’s a heart-wrenching birthday wish. To others, it can be an unpleasant déjà vu with some new characters thrown in.

By Tulsathit Taptim


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