With coronavirus playing variable, Thai political war rages on

(Photo by Thai PBS)

Rival Thai politicians and their supporters are gambling on how the country’s COVID-19 situation will pan out in the immediate future. If it gets worse significantly or improves remarkably, nothing else matters. Not even their stances on the Constitution. Not even the “ideologies” they advocate. Not even what happens in Parliament this week.

The prime movers of the ongoing censure against the Prayut government are capitalizing on the fiery increase in infection and death numbers. The embattled administration is hoping that the terrifying figures will get less scary and the skyrocketing graph will come down and flatten out. The government will win the vote, so what is a lot more important is the coronavirus tracking, which is being watched by virtually everyone in Thailand.

Cases spiking have added much weight to the opposition’s criticism against vaccine management and overall state preparations. But the frightening rise in case figures has also prevented full-blown street activities that could have considerably helped the parliamentary opposition overthrow the government. Limited activism has additionally been hindered by a few controversial incidents like sporadic violence and how a certain anti-government character was dressed.

Thai politics is unfolding with a mixture of unpredictable fortunes and acts that can be deemed anything but smart. As far as “controllable factors” are concerned, it’s safe to say that as the government was staggering (thanks partly to its own making), its opponents stepped on some banana skins (again, thanks partly to their own making) while advancing for the kill.

As COVID-19 increasingly scares the public, it has created a peculiar political situation. The pandemic has sent the government backpedaling but its opponents also have to attack on a tightrope. The state of emergency frowned upon heavily in the past, is now quite hard to argue against. To militant protesters not caring about restrictions on gatherings, cries about heavy-handed state responses to protests do not have the same impact as in normal times, when crowded demonstrations would have been considered more rightful and suppression more condemnable.

To the government, unlikely help has also come from Thaksin Shinawatra. Just when many Prayut supporters were wavering, along came the man in Dubai to remind them where they should stand. Since the political war will be decided by people who sway, making them stop swaying is unwise.

Make no mistake, Thaksin has a lot of supporters in Thailand. However, they are not the ones to tip the scale. This is a war to turn believers into doubters, period.

Which is why Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should actually thank Thaksin, who has come out with all guns blazing on Clubhouse, and the hi-so man, Tanat Thanakitamnuay. The former helped remind Prayut’s supporters why the general had to be here and the latter helped enforce the reasons why he should continue to be here at least a bit longer. Tanat has denied intending to mock anyone or any institution, but, common now in Thailand, the “judgement” has already been passed.

This week’s no-confidence debate is taking place under very intriguing circumstances. The government is in the worst shape since its formation, a situation so bad that the opposition only needs eloquence, not solid information, to rock the Prayut ship. But two major opposition parties _ Pheu Thai and Move Forward _ are having strategic problems themselves. They reportedly are not seeing eye to eye on proposed charter amendments and the “conflict” is said to have influenced the selection of censure targets, which has raised doubts on time management and how fierce they can be against ruling Palang Pracharath or even Prayut as the prime target.

Then again, the coronavirus does not care who is allied to whom, who appears invincible, and which ideology will prevail. It’s the most unpredictable variable in an ongoing political war that has divided Thai citizens but will now be won or lost in the neutral or ambivalent zone.

The winner will be the one who is able to say “I told you so” louder to the public when the dust settles down _ not in Parliament and not on the streets, but in the COVID-19 chart the whole nation is watching. Prayut’s enemies seemed to have a clear advantage until very recently. They are probably still holding an edge, but they certainly would prefer one or two months ago.

By Tulsathit Taptim



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