Thai politics getting faster and more furious
There used to be an assumption that the Thai political crisis would significantly abate if Abhisit Vejjajiva and Thaksin Shinawatra each took a step back. After all, the political violence in 2010 and “Bangkok shutdown” some four years later, which was less violent but was still bloody, revolved around the two men and their political parties. The optimism is dead wrong.
Today, Abhisit is pretty much out of the picture, whereas Thaksin Shinawatra has been relatively quiet. But the trouble-plagued Thai politics is just like the Fast and Furious action film series. The fight is getting faster and fiercer.
The political wind is not changing its course. Only it is speedier and new star players are replacing the old ones. Newspaper headlines tell the story, which has been a lot more about Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich.
In 2010, it was a showdown between Abhisit’s government and protesters who backed the Pheu Thai Party. Before the coup in 2014, it was the Democrats versus Pheu Thai once again, with the two parties swapping places, with Pheu Thai in the government and the Democrats in the opposition.
Today, the Democrat-Pheu Thai rivalry has given way to hostility between the Palang Pracharat and Future Forward parties. The Democrats are playing second fiddle and Pheu Thai is reeling from one setback after another. They are too exhausted to fight each other.
Prayut now represents one side of the political divide, and Thanathorn the other. Piyabutr, Future Forward’s secretary-general, will be heard of more than Jatuporn Prompan, who took the center stage in 2010 as the protest leader, and Pannika Wanich, Future Forward’s spokesperson, can be in the news more than Sudarat Keyuraphan of Pheu Thai, who is not even in Parliament.
And while Thaksin’s political party was always subjected to legal action in the past, now it looks like it will sail on a relatively calm sea while Future Forward is set to endure major storms, which are related to problems concerning Thanathorn, Piyabutr and Pannika. Simply put, Future Forward looks a lot likelier to be legally penalised than Pheu Thai.
There are signs it could be a full-blown ideological warfare. Barring Thanathorn’s share ownership controversy, Future Forward can proclaim itself an ideological victim. Late Samak Sundaravej was ousted as prime minister because of a non-ideological issue, and Pheu Thai was associated with a controversial rice pledging program. It is obvious that Pheu Thai leaders were a lot less ideologically controversial than those of Future Forward.
Even Thanathorn’s cases of controversial media share ownership and money loaned to his own party can become heavily politicized and turned into ideological issues. Already, he is suggesting that he is a victim of a conspiracy.
The belief that if Thaksin and Abhisit left the stage, reconciliation would be easier and normalcy would gradually resume is now in tatters. It turns out that both camps in the national divide simply have new characters to lean on now. Thanathorn, though still without a corruption scandal, can prove very controversial whereas Prayut is obviously more hated by his enemies than Abhisit.
One uneasy fact to consider is that although Abhisit’s car was thrashed by angry mobs when he was prime minister, and protesters who barricaded downtown Bangkok, crippling his government, wanted nothing less than his resignation, he has been wooed by virtually the very same people who abhor Prayut more. On the other hand, action against Thanathorn and his key persons is coming very early, consistently and it can be in a no-holds-barred manner.
Action film series have to progressively project bigger villains and weapons with greater destructive powers. The speed of action has to be faster, too. Thai politics is very much the same, although everyone is portraying himself a hero at present.