Year-end storms batter everyone politically
The Pheu Thai Party has suffered a shock by-election loss. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been deemed by Government House reporters a confused hypocrite, but his bigger worries should be about problems among coalition partners. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his top lieutenants are staring at party dissolution and even jail.
All political protagonists, Thaksin Shinawatra included, go into the new year dreaded and none of them is in a good shape. That the Democrats are not even in the picture tells much about their party’s current state of affairs.
2019 started with a promise, with a general election coming after years under a military rule. But extremely divisive politics quickly overshadowed everything and hopes for a fresh beginning disappeared as soon as vote counts were completed. It cut a swathe through Parliament, the conventional media, the social media, and Thailand as a whole.
The key players cannot be in fully celebratory moods during this festive season. Prayut’s coalition won a couple of by-elections first in Nakhon Pathom and very recently in Khon Kaen and is believed to stand to benefit from a few defections and the uncertainties surrounding the Future Forward Party, but trouble remains unchanged in the grand scheme of things. Pheu Thai has been repeatedly rocked by rumoured or actual rebellion; realistic threats of losing grounds to the “new-generation” politicians and their supposedly growing fan base; and continued speculation that Thaksin’s political and financial commitment to the party will be significantly fading.
Khon Kaen’s by-election loss is not just a physical, but also psychological, blow. It renewed fears that Thaksin is not “going all in” any more. The defeat, which handed Palang Pracharat an additional parliamentary seat, was by just a couple of thousand votes, something that shouldn’t have been a big problem if the man in Dubai had not “folded” like he did a lot lately, analysts and disgruntled party members said.
But in greatest jeopardy is Future Forward. The party faces being disbanded by the Constitutional Court, with the “judgement day” likely to come as soon as early 2020. Worse still, Thanathorn and top executives of the party are being threatened by possibility of jail sentences, a grave trouble that seemingly prompted them to “test the waters” with the recent Skywalk gathering. The torch of anti-government campaign may have been passed from Thaksin to Thanathorn, so to speak.
2020 will see more street protests and very likely “counter protests”. All will look peaceful at the beginning but everyone knows how ugly political demonstrations can turn. The Bangkok gubernatorial election will be an enormously significant contest that will determine not only the government’s popularity, but also proclaimed unity between coalition parties and within the opposition bloc itself. A charter amendment drive may not contain issues that concern the well-being of Thais directly, but it can become highly explosive.
2019 laid the groundwork for what could be a perfect storm, especially if the economy gets staggeringly worse. Political divide may peak next year, compounded by conflicts within the coalition government and the opposition parties themselves. Palang Pracharat, the Democrats and the Bhumjaithai Party cannot see eye to eye, but neither can the Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties.
Who’s the biggest loser? Those who deserve better, of course. In this case it’s none of the aforementioned but the Thai public, who will continue to have to put up with old-fashioned, winners-take-all politics featuring costly populism designed to weaken enemies, nepotism which has kept truly qualified people away from key positions, constitutional amendment agendas that only serve to divide and not put food on the table, and national divisiveness cooked up by politicians who only want to protect their own vested interests.
By: Tulsathit Taptim