21 July 2024

Politically, modern Thai history is on nobody’s side, but neither is the future. Therefore, a pretend and celebratory phone call to a late revolutionary reformist to say “We have made it” is a bit premature.

First, history. It has been a Jerusalem-style ideological fight with rivals taking turns gaining or losing control for decades. The euphoria flooding the Move Forward camp immediately after the May 14 election overshadowed the fact that the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party won 376 House of Representatives seats in 2005. That was far more than twice the size of Move Forward.

The Democrats captured 159 seats in 2011 but were unceremoniously placed in the opposition bloc. Pheu Thai secured 265 seats in that election but its government faced a massive and prolonged street protest and was finally toppled by Prayut Chan-o-cha’s tanks. The point is that even parties with bigger parliamentary numbers than Move Forward could not be guaranteed government leadership or stability.

Now, the future. Move Forward’s 141 seats might be enough to propel Pita Limjaroenrat to the top executive post next week, or they would just make him leader of a big opposition party like many before him. If the former happens, the iTV case will haunt Prime Minister Pita early. Then there are issues of Thaksin Shinawatra, Article 112 and other sensitive legislative affairs that could provoke fiery street campaigns, or Pheu Thai rebellion, or both.

Thaksin’s return will make a Pita-led Move Forward-Pheu Thai government extremely awkward. The prime minister will face the public when he turns left, Pheu Thai when he turns right, and his own party’s image and reputation when he looks straight. It’s a dreaded crossroads that nobody wants to arrive at.

Pheu Thai, meanwhile, can hope for an “accident” in which Pita failed to secure 376 votes of MPs and senators, the minimum requirement for him to get past the last hurdle and realise his prime ministerial dream. (Had Move Forward won 376 House of Representatives seats like Thai Rak Thai in 2005, Pita would not have had to worry about the Senate.) But a Pheu Thai coalition would be badly unstable as well.

New charter must protect democracy and prevent coups

Like a Move Forward government, a Pheu Thai-led administration can be blown away by Thaksin’s homecoming, which if materialising will be explosive. To add to that, Pheu Thai will have to deal with angry supporters of Move Forward, many of them have shown how aggressive and daredevil they can become. Some of Pheu Thai’s own supporters will also threaten to walk away if they prefer Move Forward’s head-on collision type of fighting to Pheu Thai’s jabs and footwork.

Will Prawit Wongsuwan get a windfall? Some people think so including Pheu Thai’s most famous defector Jatuporn Prompan. In this unlikely yet possible scenario, Pita failed to get parliamentary support, and Pheu Thai, trying to lessen the impression that it was stabbing him in the back, agreed to let Parliament bypass its own nominees Srettha Thavisin and Paetongtarn Shinawatra.

Some people saw the selection of Wan Muhamad Noor Matha as the House speaker as a compromise between Move Forward and Pheu Thai, but others considered it a scheme that the latter created and the former fell prey to. To begin with, Move Forward would have wanted one of its own to oversee the voting to elect the new prime minister. Instead, the biggest party has to contend with someone who is close to Pheu Thai and who says the premiership selection will last until Parliament finds a person it approves.

A Prawit government with Pheu Thai in it will be numerically fine. If it really comes into existence, Thais will see an extremely ironic phenomenon of Move Forward and Ruam Thai Sang Chart of Prayut Chan-o-cha sitting uncomfortably side by side in the opposition section of the parliamentary floor. For all the farce happening in Thai politics, Pheu Thai and Ruam Thai Sang Chart in the government together could be too much for anyone to take.

A Prawit government backed by Pheu Thai will also have to handle the Thaksin issue, however. If it lets him come back and gives him just a slap on the wrist, Move Forward as an opposition party will say “See? This is why Pheu Thai abandoned us.” Prawit, however, can always try to play his reconciliation card, whether it will work or not.

It’s obvious that being an opposition will make it easier to deal with Thaksin. The government, on the other hand, can be perceived as being too soft or too harsh and no-one knows where the middle ground is. Move Forward as the government will be cursed, but so are Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath if they conspire against Pita and form an unlikely government.

The most improbable scenario has the Senate ignore Pheu Thai and proceed to make Prawit prime minister with the support of the current government alliance. This will make the new administration the most fragile in recent times, because senators will not be there to help the coalition later. This government can sink just when it leaves the shore, so to speak.

All of a sudden, Pheu Thai is finding itself in the unfamiliar middle. (By this, it can play “left” by siding with Move Forward on the surface but it will do so while knowing full well that there will not be enough senatorial votes to get him to 376. In the end, it has to reluctantly go with the “right” so that the country could “move forward.”)

Yet it seems everyone is heading toward a big dead-end _ the left, the right or the “centrist” (pretentious or else). The middle of July, days away, may just reveal whose problems are bigger for now.

By Tulsathit Taptim