“Pragmatism” will clash with “idealism” in Thai elections

Four starving men trudge across a vast desert with just one piece of bread left. Sharing it and nobody will die first or immediately, but most likely they all will die afterwards. The only chance for anyone to survive long enough to get past the desert is for that person to be given the whole bread.

At the expense of the other three, of course.

Pheu Thai is reportedly in favour of the “one survivor” scenario. Former red-shirt warrior Jatuporn Prompan calls that selfish, but some others may describe it as pragmatism. The party’s allies, for obvious reasons, prefer idealism even if that might lead to the whole bunch ending up once again in the opposition bloc.

The biggest party is getting the two-ballot electoral system it likes, and gone will be the “every vote counts” rule that prevented it from being handed any party-list seat at all in the 2019 election. Pheu Thai is asking voters to select its constituency candidates and mark the party’s name in the popular vote ballot.

Every party is doing the same. However, one proposal is breaking that common sense. To help Move Forward which is under threat due to the new electoral system, it has been suggested that a voter of this ideological half should select a Pheu Thai constituency candidate but cast his or her popular vote for Move Forward. This way, the second biggest opposition party can get a sizeable number of party-list MPs.

Pheu Thai’s strategists cannot be blamed if they consider that too risky. The opposition bloc repeating its 2019 success or slightly bettering it will not be impactful enough to sway senators. For the Senate to at least think twice, one opposition party must register a real landslide. For that to happen, Pheu Thai will need all the party-list seats it can get.

Move Forward Party leader first choice in Bangkok for next PM – NIDA Poll

To neutralize the Senate which is itching to exercise its provisional power to join the House of Representatives in selecting the next prime minister, PheuThai needs a resounding victory, not the ceremonial triumph as in 2019 that did not help at all. That year, Pheu Thai emerged the biggest party with 136 seats, compared with Palang Pracharath’s 116, but the latter went on to be the core of the government while the former had to settle for a place in the opposition. One of Palang Pracharath’s biggest attractions was that the party had the Senate on its side.

From Pheu Thai’s perspective, split vote could kill us all. This is somewhat sensible because the party and Move Forward virtually share the same market, meaning one’s gains can be the other’s losses.

Under the split-vote strategy, Pheu Thai might not get much bigger whereas Move Forward still faces uncertainties in constituencies where the parties’ candidates have to square off against one another. If Pheu Thai shares party-list seats with Move Forward but beat the latter at most constituencies, it all could go back to Square One, or 2019 to be exact.

Critics of the “one survivor” theory has two main arguments. First, to really keep the Senate at bay, the current opposition bloc will have to win 376 House of Representatives seats. Supposing Pheu Thai wins 310 seats, an unlikely case, it will still need 66 more, which will be hard to find if Move Forward pays the price for the landslide. So, why jeopardise an alliance with a major yet selfish landslide that might prove insufficient anyway?

Second, last year’s City Assembly elections showed that “strong together” approach and outcome are possible.

Ideally, Pheu Thai should get a bit bigger, Move Forward should remain substantially big and other opposition allies should be able to maintain their relevance. While this might not tempt the whole Senate to stay in the barracks, a few might abstain or even switch sides.

Problem for the alliance is that Pheu Thai will need to choose pragmatism or idealism now. The party will need to tell voters what to do on May 14. If it chose a “pragmatic” approach, Move Forward will be left with a bad taste in the mouth, and Pheu Thai will not want its key ally to sulk.

As we can see, Palang Pracharath’s shadow still looms in the “one survivor” scenario. If Pheu Thai eats the whole bread and all its friends die, the “destination” may remain out of reach. It is possible that Pheu Thai will still need senators, and what is a better way to get their support than holding hands with Prawit Wongsuwan?

Move Forward can have its own pragmatism-versus-idealism dilemma, although the problem may come much later. If it joins Pheu Thai in a government, ethical questions might emerge especially if PaetongtarnShinawatra or Srettha Thavisin is the prime minister.

Jatuporn’s creditability has suffered lately, but he seemed to have been spot-on about one important thing this week. Paetongtarn and Srettha are no strangers to property development, and the business involves a lot of practices that may be controversial if one plays politics, let alone serves as head of government.

Pragmatism” may make Move Forward ignore any controversial activity. Idealism may dictate otherwise. Imagine the “servants’ shares” scandal taking place while Move Forward was a coalition partner. The party would have been torn between high-moral politics and expediency.

That could happen in a Pheu Thai-Move Forward government with either Paetongtarn or Srettha as prime minister.

Ones can always argue that nobody is squeaky clean, and that there are always secrets to cover up no matter who is the leader. But isn’t that exactly why Thailand has to be here in the first place?

In the ultimate picture, it’s not a vast desert with just four travelers. It’s a tightrope for everyone.

By Tulsathit Taptim


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