6 June 2024

Tough as they were, the jobs of Prayut Chan-o-cha, Yingluck Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva appeared straightforward. And it would have been the same for Pita Limjaroenrat if he had been named the 30th prime minister of Thailand. Srettha Thavisin, on the other hand, is having the most intricate work full of booby traps, outright dangers and potential traitors.

To start with, in politics, even a less cut-throat one, it’s never the more the merrier. The Srettha coalition contains too many parties having clashing ideologies, public policies, personal rivals and vested interests. The first big test will come very soon in the form of fighting for administrative positions. To be able to pacify all is highly unlikely, and to be able to pacify all and have an efficient Cabinet with top-notch ethics at the same time is simply impossible.

Economically speaking, there will be the likes of the “digital wallet” policy that Srettha advocates but many of his present government partners question. The cannabis issue will threaten and probably shorten his honeymoon with Bhumjaithai. Projects undertaken by the previous government can lead to strife when up for review. Pheu Thai’s projects, often regarded with suspicion among those who are now in the Srettha alliance, will also lead to fundamental disagreement.

Politically speaking, constitutional amendment is a high-risk issue. Legal matters will be thoroughly scrutinised because of Srettha’s own business connections and the suffocating presence of Thaksin Shinawatra. While ruling, Pheu Thai will have to keep looking over its shoulder because every popularity loss will be Move Forward’s gain.

Foreign policy can also be a nightmare, with the coalition government full of people deeply disagreeing over the roles of the United States and China. The superpowers’ intensified rivalry will likely demand greater clarity from countries like Thailand. It’s worth remembering that a major controversy during the Pheu Thai-led Yingluck administration concerned military and business interests of America, and the Sino-US showdown was a lot less intense at that time.

Srettha will have to get through all those economic, political and diplomatic troubles while being expected to “dilute the colours.” Granted, Pheu Thai had made it clear it was joining “the other side” because it had to, not because it wanted to, but the expectation will be high nonetheless, considering the number of senators who joined MPs in voting for him.

Prayut pledged “reconciliation, but, under his watch, two political parties were dissolved and a popular politician was temporarily banned from politics. The priority, therefore, appeared obvious. His ultimate task was not in favour of one half of the political divide, so to speak.

Abhisit and Yingluck were the same, albeit on lesser degrees. And Pita would have also been lopsided ideologically. What can Srettha do, given the names of his supporters and allies, new and old? It’s true that Pheu Thai is the government’s biggest party, but look at the numbers when Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation are combined.

Like the rest of Thailand, Pheu Thai will have to navigate uncharted waters. The one left with the simplest thing to do is Move Forward. The party will be able to continue an aggressive agenda in the parliamentary opposition without having to worry about perceived “neutrality” or bear the hope of the other side. Also, Thaksin is Srettha’s problem now.

One of Move Forward’s toughest challenges would be how to write a censure motion against Srettha, its biggest ally until just weeks ago. How to answer such a motion, however, would be Srettha’s easiest problem. In fact, Pheu Thai has done that for him over the past few days.

Move Forward obviously wants the Srettha government to crumble fast, because the sooner the next election, the greater the party’s chance of another huge win. Srettha, meanwhile, will naturally want to take his time, knowing that signing a House dissolution order too soon would be tantamount to signing a suicide note, not just for himself, but also the entire party.

Everyone has gone past the point of no return. Move Forward is way beyond the ideological safe zone. Pheu Thai is also too far to go back to where it was. It’s the same with United Thai Nation and Palang Pracharath, which have gone all-in on Srettha. Last but not least, Thaksin cannot board the plane back to Dubai.

Who will survive in the unfamiliar territories? That may be a contemptuous question, because when reconciliation is concerned, “survival” makes it sound like a game participated by greedy players. In an ideal world where it is politically peaceful, that kind of survival is not necessarily the final answer.

by Tulsathit Taptim