11 July 2024

It could be a Hail Mary pass in an increasingly unpredictable playing field. The scenario of imminent Thaksin Shinawatra homecoming, amplified by the man himself, can help Pheu Thai, but it can also destroy it as well. At times in politics, though, caution needs to be thrown to the wind.

Normally, underdog players or those staring at defeat throw a Hail Mary. Pheu Thai is neither an underdog nor losing player, as almost everyone predicts the party will emerge from the May 14 election a winner. However, a normal win will not be enough. Even a big win may not be enough if it does not meet expectations.

“Let me go home and raise my grandchildren,” Thaksin said very recently, keeping alive a speculation that he had created. In effect, it was a desperate throw at a desperate time. Move Forward is breathing down Pheu Thai’s neck in terms of expected numbers of parliamentary seats and its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, has even leapfrogged Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra as the most popular prime ministerial candidate in at least one opinion survey.

Something needs to be done, because, all of a sudden, Pheu Thai’s landslide hope appears seriously doubtful with several opinion polls giving similar worrying signs. Someone somewhere and somehow is convinced that a real possibility of Thaksin return can restore the big lead.

So here we are. Just over a week before an election, Thailand once again has to grapple with Thaksin Shinawatra. A new grandchild helps fuel the speculation, which is also being intensified by the likelihood of Pheu Thai returning to power.

But while it had been hard for Thaksin before to utilize political circumstances while plotting to come home, it looks harder this time. At least it is far less straightforward now. Thai politics is a lot more splintered than when it was yellow on one side and red on the other. Everything is getting tangled up and the Thaksin Hail Mary is just part of an increasinglyconfusing and unpredictable landscape just over a week before the election.

Pheu Thai is not seeing eye to eye with its biggest ally, Move Forward. Even if Thaksin is taken out of the equation, some financial or monetary policies can pit them against each other. There are also ideological issues that Move Forward advocates but Pheu Thai is afraid to touch. If they share government powers, honeymoon may be quite short.

Super Poll predicts Pheu Thai will not win a landslide, but will win most seats

When it comes to allies turning foes, Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan are not to be outdone. But theirs is a character showdown, which can be easier to deal with than the Pheu Thai-Move Forward tension that involves policies, ideologies and one Thaksin Shinawatra. A government comprising Ruam Thai Sang Chart and Palang Pracharath will navigate conflicts which look more negotiable than those awaiting a Pheu Thai-Move Forward administration.

Problem is, Move Forward and Pheu Thai will almost definitely have more parliamentary seats combined. The other camp will most likely need the Senate to flex its provisional muscles to be able to vie for government power after the election. Apart from senators, Ruam Thai Sang Chart and Palang Pracharath will have Bhumjaithai and Democrats on their side.

Pheu Thai’s best case is a mega landslide allowing it to form a single-party government. That would facilitate a lot of policies or agendas. The best Move Forward can hope for is a government coalition with Pheu Thai as the core, in which case it will worry about other things later.

Prayut, meanwhile, must be wishing that Pheu Thai and Move Forward snatching votes from each other would somehow benefit Ruam Thai Sang Chart constituency candidates. (Hypothetically, in a 50,000-voter constituency where 30,000 are against the government, a pro-government candidate can still win if 15,000 vote Pheu Thai and 15,000 others vote Move Forward, leaving the rest of the populace, 20,000, to unitedly decide the winner.) Prawit must have been wanting the same thing, although ideological voters appear to overwhelmingly prefer Ruam Thai Sang Chart to Palang Pracharath.

Last year’s Bangkok gubernatorial election was an arguable example of how candidates from the same camp can help the enemy if they take votes off one another. Pro-government votes were split amongsupporters of ex-governor Aswin Kwanmuang, ex-deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul and to a lesser extent Suchatvee Sawansawat. While this had no effect on the Chadchart Sittipunt landslide, itdebatably allowed a Move Forward candidate to get second.

In the end, the number of seats each party receivesafter May 14 will shape the post-election politics. Pheu Thai has ruled out a union with Palang Pracharath, but a lot of analysts believe the biggest party was being motivated not ideologically but by Move Forward’s alarming rise in popularity. And political expediency equals political commotion.

In other words, while Thailand will continue to be divided after the election, questions remain whether the divide will be straightforward or results would create complications. Move Forward’s late surge, Thaksin, frenemy politics, other troublesome agendas and the Senate’s last chance to wield its provisional power all contribute to the great uncertainty.

Has the Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath government scenario completely died? Despite stronger Pheu Thai’s denials of late, some watchers are not quite sure. For one thing, it might even be easier for Thaksin to return under a Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath government than under a Pheu Thai-Move Forward administration.

On the one hand, it will be ironic if Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath sit together in the government while Move Forward and Ruam Thai Sang Chart make up the majority of the opposition bloc. On the other hand, it can be fitting that compromisers stay on the same side while extremists, albeit those fighting for clashing causes, are grouped on the other.

By Tulsathit Taptim