23 May 2024

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants his planned return to Thailand to be seen as a family affair. But few are fooled by his latest political act.

All of a sudden Thaksin has become a key player in the weeks-long political haggling over the formation of a post-election coalition.  His announcement that he will finally end his self-exile and fly back to Bangkok on August 10 is seen by many as a signal that a deal has already been sealed.

Despite his years of absence, Thaksin still calls the shots in Pheu Thai Party, which is now entrusted by its allies with the task of forming a coalition. The ongoing attempts by Pheu Thai to get wider support outside its alliance for its prime ministerial nomination has, however, run into a brick wall.

With Thaksin’s blessing, Pheu Thai now is believed to be only a step away from abandoning the pact it has made with seven other parties. Pheu Thai, according to political analysts, now has a pretext to go its own way in forming a coalition — with or without these allies.

Most likely to be left out in the cold is Move Forward Party whose prime ministerial nomination, Pita Limjaroenrat, has been rejected by the Senate which is opposed to his party’s plan to amend the lese majeste law, known as Article 112.  Parties on the other side of the political aisle courted by Pheu Thai have also shunned Move Forward for the same reason.

In the past one week, key leaders of a number of political parties have reportedly flocked to see Thaksin in Hong Kong where a deal was said to have been struck to pave the way for Pheu Thai to form a coalition with some of the parties in the outgoing Prayut government.

Among them are Bhumjaithai, Chat Thai Pattana and Democrat parties.  PalangPracharath, the key component of the outgoing administration, is also under consideration.  The combined House seats of these parties would give a Pheu Thai-led coalition a comfortable majority while Move Forward, which emerged the biggest winner in the May-14 general election, would be banished to the opposition.

The question of who will be the prime minister is reported to be under negotiations. Pheu Thai’s ideal choice would be one of its prime minister candidates, most likely real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin.  

However, speculation that the Pheu Thai-led new alliance may have to make way for Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul for the top executive post as a compromise still persists.

Political analysts foresee a strong public backlash against this scenario.  Pheu Thai would be seen as betraying its political allies and going back on its election pledge not to work political parties associated with the old power clique. Only weeks ago, Pheu Thai’s top leaders were still portraying these parties as political pariahs.

“It’s going to be a heavy price that Pheu Thai will have to pay,” said Thanaporn Sriyakul, a political scientist of Kasetsart University.

For now, however, it seems that whatever the consequence Pheu Thai will face is secondary to Thaksin’s desire to come home.

“The need of the real owner of the party has to come first. One who foots the bill often has the final say,” said Thanaporn.

By Thepchai Yong