Suthep’s long and winding road
The Thai politics nowadays may be crawling with estranged allies. Sudarat Keyuraphan is said to have upset many in the Thaksin camp. Jatuporn Prompan is not seeing eye to eye with quite a few in the Pheu Thai Party. Abhisit Vejjajiva is torn between his abhorrence for the Shinawatras and fears that military influences in parliamentary affairs will spiral out of control. And if certain voices are really heeded, Chalerm Yoobamrung would not be leading Pheu Thai’s election campaign.
Those are old news, however, and current whispers are focused on two men who brought down the Yingluck government together.
With his massive and relentless anti-government protests, Suthep Thaugsuban staggered the Yingluck administration with the first blows. Then Prayut Chan-o-cha, army chief at that time, finished the job by staging a coup on May 22, 2014.
The coup ended the “Suthep fever” and made Prayut the new darling of anti-Thaksin Thais. And although Suthep spoke openly in support of the military intervention, a few curious things have happened since. The protest leader entered the monkhood. Another key protest figure, a belligerent monk, was arrested and defrocked. Suthep, after becoming a layman again, set up his “own” party instead of joining the pro-Prayut Palang Pracharat Party. New electoral rules prohibit Suthep’s picture from appearing in election posters or billboards. One case on the desk of the National Anti-Corruption Commission concerns alleged irregularities in the construction of police stations, a project related to Suthep while he was in power.
Are the two men falling out? The answer is “not quite” or “not badly”, but many things are not the same. A lot may have to do with Suthep wanting a little more credit that he thinks he deserves. He is like a footballer who provides an “assist” for a goal. It gives you a nice feeling for a while, but sooner or later the goal-scorer becomes the only one whom people talk about and remember.
Many analysts wonder why there have to be two parties _ the Action Coalition for Thailand, which Suthep helped found, and Palang Pracharat, which is being run by another group entirely. A “smoother” scenario would have been Palang Pracharat incorporating all Suthep elements. That would have solved a lot of problems including overlapped electoral zones.
As it turns out, Action Coalition for Thailand will have to compete with the Democrats, Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat all at once. It will most likely stand for Prayut when he needs it, but Action Coalition for Thailand may emerge from the election a feeble force.
Some analysts point at another charismatic name as possibly standing between Prayut and Suthep. Somkid Jatusripitak is thought of as another influential man behind Palang Pracharat, although he has been keeping a low profile. While Suthep can accept playing a second fiddle to Prayut, it is hard to be in a place where Somkid’s shadow looms.
Palang Pracharat’s list of prime ministerial nominees will answer a lot of questions. It will clear the air over Prayut’s future and also unveil whatever plan Somkid may be having. As for Suthep, if his picture can’t be in Action Coalition for Thailand’s posters, he may fade yet further from views.
The current laws only allow party leader and prime ministerial nominees to be in the campaign posters and billboards in addition to candidates’ photos. If nothing changes, the middle of this month is a crucial period, because every party will have to announce its nominees for prime minister.
Suthep doesn’t like the restrictions. However, after his tumultuous campaign against the Shinawatras before Prayut’s coup, he will have to grit his teeth and bear them. He has already been bruised by heavy criticism after going back on his promise that he would not play parliamentary politics ever again, and the road ahead is still not rosy for him.
Things may not have turned out the way he expected, but he has decided to go past the point of no return. His apparent ambivalence when Prayut is concerned may be the theme of the coming election for all Thais of all “colours” — if you can’t vote for the best, then go for the lesser “bad.”