Political prospects may get harder to read
Prawit Wongsuwan, Jatuporn Prompan and the unbendable Move Forward Party have all expressed sound reasons lately when it comes to the future course of Thai politics. The greatest influencer, though, is not what they think, but how many seats each of Thailand’s political parties gets in the next general election.
In other words, the trio have made great points, but the reality of the future could be dictated more by expediency and lesser by ideology. Move Forward resents that potential reality, and Jatuporn also seemingly so. Prawit, however, is presenting himself as more flexible, but he is still apparently relying on the provisional powers of the Senate.
The three are part of a political landscape that looks deceptively simple, with ideological divide carving the country in half in what appears to be irreconcilable polarization, a much-deplored situation but it appears to be the norm all the same. It is increasingly apparent that the upcoming election will not be that straightforward.
Move Forward is the easiest to analyse. It will not form a government with either the Palang Pracharath Party or Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, full stop. The only chance Move Forward can be in the government is for the current opposition bloc, of which it is a part, to win a massive combined number of House of Representatives seats, enough to keep the Senate at bay and take away any Pheu Thai excuse to rely on Palang Pracharath.
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Prawit’s situation is downright complicated. He tried to look adaptable and his party’s election campaign posters talk about burying the harmful political divisions for good, but truth is that a union with Pheu Thai is not his best-case scenario. If he could form a government without Pheu Thai, he would choose that option in a heartbeat, which means national divide would never be buried if election numbers are in his favour.
But he has opened the door, and in the process becomes the main reason why the future of Thai politics is harder to read at the moment. His online post sounded like that of a man who is wearing his heart on his sleeve, and it must have struck a chord with many. He said he understood the wishes of Thai “elites” who want to see better and cleaner politics and whose criticism has been directed at orthodox politicians in the system, but he also stressed that the politicians are very important, too, and Thailand’s political system must accommodate everything about them.
His statement sounds like one of the best-ever neutral analyses of Thailand’s political conditions. “It’s very unfortunate that those people (the elites) haven’t had a chance to serve the country whose system prescribes administrative quotas according to numbers of elected representatives in Parliament,” he said. “The only way the elites could exercise their ability is through a government with special powers, albeit following a coup only. I have served in the military so I understand those wishes very well.
“But after I have mingled with politicians and led a political party myself, I have earned another experience. (And that experience) led me to understand the need to push the country forward with democracy.”
He stressed that “no matter what politicians are like”, the democratic system called for the stakeholders, or the people, to select those among them (the orthodox politicians) to rule the country. With the two “experiences” in him, Prawit expressed confidence that he could lead reunification of Thailand.
Whether or not that was sincere, Prawit has thrown down the gauntlet and Prayut must have seen it. Prawit is practically saying he is more accommodating than Prayut, who is a flag-bearer of another political party. The PalangPracharath leader is virtually telling Pheu Thai and its fan base: “Compare me with Prayut and judge for yourself.”
But Prawit is a man involved with two women, one apparently more than the other. Prayut is an existing ally, and no matter how far apart they are drifting away from each other, it will be extremely hard for Prawit to choose Pheu Thaiover Prayut to form a government with if all things are equal. While Prawitvows to eradicate the divide, it’s the divide that may dictate his future moves.
Pheu Thai is the same. If numbers allow it to choose between Move Forward and Prawit, ideology’s force will be too strong to resist. But there can be circumstances where Pheu Thai could point to the Senate and say “Look at our obstacle if we don’t pick Prawit.”
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So, when Pheu Thai is concerned, Prawit is an option. This explains why the opposition party cannot, in Jatuporn’s wording, “say it in the grass-root language whether you will join hands with Prawit or not.” Jatuporn understands the complexities, but he is wanting Pheu Thai to admit them out loud.
The activist himself is difficult to read, subject to all kinds of rumours. Some say he’s a mercenary now on a mission to plant serious doubts on Pheu Thai’s ideological stand and thus prevent its landslide. If I’m getting paid, the man asks, why have I been to prison for countless times and rarely won leniency?
He is another version of Srisuwan Janya, taking everyone to task no matter which side they are on. In 2020, Jatuporn criticised the “Orange Revolution”, or, to be more specific, its young participants, saying that the “fight for democracy” could end up with the activists becoming their own worst enemies. Yet he later led a separate street protest against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. To add to the puzzles, Jatuporn harshly attacked the pro-red-shirt United States over Vietnam, Taiwan and forceful diplomacy that he said dragged allies including Thailand into confronting nations that Washington did not like.
Jatuporn is all political contradictions rolled into one man. But he insists that his ideology is clearer than that of his former boss Thaksin Shinawatra. He statesthat his current campaign against Pheu Thai was born out of resentment against Thaksin’s “selfishness” that has allegedly devalued loyalty, faked ideology and compromised it. It would be a crying shame, Jatuporn stresses, if Pheu Thai won the election but opted to back another party’s candidate as the prime minister.
To quite a few, a Pheu Thai–Palang Pracharath marriage may not be too bad. The idea is growing on an increasing number of people, particularly those tired of endless cutthroat political fights with both sides having strong arguments and taking turn to run the country. Jatuporn and Move Forward obviously disagreewith the Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath scenario, but even they certainly believe it is possible.
Political divide prevents cooperation, rules out participation of capable persons from the other side, promotes cronyism, spawns social disunity, encourages corruption and cover-up, creates ridiculous moral standards, stalls national progress and thus weakens a country in the process.
The next election and its aftermath will answer two main questions: Will it continue? If it should not, who is the person who can realistically change the course?
By Tulsathit Taptim