25 May 2024

After every big earthquake, major aftershocks ensue. A Pheu Thai landslide would have made headlines, but unpredictability would not have been as prevalent. Move Forward’s wham-bam victory means a lot more things are difficult to forecast now.

Here are some of the foremost:

Will Thaksin Shinawatra keep his homecoming pledge? This is the biggest question. The promised return to Thailand is virtually tied to how Pheu Thai performed in the election. A gracious arrival without him being immediately put in jail has to coincide with an epic Pheu Thai resurgence only, with public sentiment euphorically and unequivocally in favour of the party.

An administration with Move Forward at its core comes with a big question mark regarding how Thaksin will be treated if he decides to come back. He can still return, but any hint of him being given unfair privileges can negatively affect the ruling party and Pita Limjaroenrat. As everyone knows, Thaksin does not want to spend a single day in jail, and if that is granted, unfavourable consequences could rock everyone perceived as allowing it to happen.

Certain news analyses said a Pheu Thai-led government could seek new trials to cancel out old ones that many thought were influenced by his political enemies resulting in jail terms for Thaksin. This would have facilitated an “honorable”return. A Move Forward-led government might still do the same regarding trials, which would require wielding legislative powers, but a push would be harder for obvious reasons.

Ex-PM Thaksin emphasises respect for the monarchy

In an unlikely scenario of Pheu Thai backstabbing Move Forward and shoving the latter into the opposition bloc, pro-Thaksin legislative maneuvering would still be hard. The public mood was generally pro-Move Forward as the election day showed, so even if Pheu Thai managed to govern at Move Forward’s expense, it would still be haunted by the unmistakable election-day message.

How does Pheu Thai go from here? This question is related to the Thaksin one. The party’s long-term future is in doubt after May 14. The “injustice” befalling Thaksin worked all the time in the past but the latest Thai election proved it has lost a big chunk its magic. Pheu Thai winning more than 140 seats was still a great achievement, but the party and Thaksin expected the outcome to be a lot bigger, using the “persecution” as a main selling point.

As votes were being counted and a Move Forward surprise looked bigger and bigger, Paetongtarn Shinawatra even appeared more tense than Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan. The two men had anticipated big losses or humiliation, but she did not.

Liberal govt led by Move Forward may be a pipe dream

Move Forward’s poll triumph apparently means Pheu Thai may have to move forward from Thaksin. It still has a strong rural following, but if it could not take full advantage of eight years under a pro-military system and four years in the opposition wilderness, something must be seriously wrong and it has to be fixed.

Are the Democrats done? Thailand’s oldest political party lay flat on the canvas a few times before, but it often got back up immediately and was lively in the next round. This time is different. May 14 was the second general election in a row that put the Democrat Party in embarrassing oblivion.

And the latest misery came amid Palang Pracharath’s decline as well, something that should have helped the Democrats. To add to that, Prayut was not as popular as in 2019, which also should have benefited the Democrats in Bangkok.

The party may be finding out that life “in the middle” is not necessarily good in politics. It was vehemently against Thaksin but ex-leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also took the military to task regarding the Constitution and yet the party under new leader Jurin Laksanawisit (who has resigned after the latest election) supported Prayut as prime minister.

Abhisit may return as leader of the Democrat Party

The tightrope was too tight for comfort, so to speak, and worse news is that even if the Democrats decide to go a bit more extreme, they will have to compete with Move Forward.

Last but not least, after such idealistic highs, how can Pita resist the gravitational pull of political realities? It took Suthep Thaugsuban just a couple of years to go from a political superstar to a sad has-been who opinions were not even sought by the media nowadays.

Pita’s challenges will be enormous if he becomes prime minister, a position that in old-fashioned politics require dirty-job doers; giving key posts to people less qualified than others; turning a blind eye to wrongdoings of people supporting it; and making some other shady deals for expediency’s sake.

Move Forward’s shocking win was largely because many expected him to oppose all that. The force is always strong but easy to fight when one is in the opposition. When the role is changed, the force can be stronger and harder to cope with.

By Tulsathit Taptim