Part 1 of 5
Although it is very early to make predictions about the election, it is possible to imagine, in broad outlines, some possible outcomes. The election result will in no way settle the political schism, but instead is being treated as a tactic for all sides to position themselves.
At the time of writing, there are indications that the Pheu Thai are winning the hearts of the people with engaging candidates and enticing promises. However, there are several weeks to the election and many variables are yet to be played out. Thai voters can be pragmatic and the hope of the establishment may be that even those who dislike the current government may decide to pick one of the alternative parties rather than the Pheu Thai.
Here are some possible outcomes.
Part 1 – Scenario: Pheu Thai Forms a Government on Its Own Terms
If Pheu Thai forms a government entirely under its own terms, it could be a repeat of 2008 when Thaksin’s People Power Party held power.
2008 was an unusual and chaotic year where many boundaries were broken and precedents set. It was the golden chance for Thaksin to return. The People Power Party government did very little governing, but insisted the country was in crisis and constitutional amendments were first needed before anything else could be done. By August, court cases and protest by the PAD began to paralyze the government.
That year also marked the explosion of anti-royalty websites and rallies where threats were made. These actions threatened the way the state positioned itself and justified its role. These kind of attacks overall should be seen as a way of needling the establishment if it does not accede to the demands of the government or political party.
As the year ended, it was likely a shock for the party as the military, courts, and People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) were able to stymie the elected government and its attempted moves on Thaksin’s behalf. While there are many interpretations of exactly what was really going on that year, the end result was essentially a coup–albeit a non-coup coup.
A Pheu Thai government, formed with its own majority, would once again raise the specter of this type of year and the attendant unease of the establishment with Pheu Thai intentions in a number of areas.
On one hand it is likely the Thaksin camp has learned the limitations of this approach. On the other hand, if Thaksin senses a reticent military, it may feel emboldened to halt the government once again and push for an immediate solution to enable his return. This option is more feasible at this point since the PAD are fragmented and dispirited (unlike the Red Shirts, it is not possible to merely sponsor thousands of yellow shirts people and bus them in to town—we may know for sure later this year one way or another).
If a strong Pheu Thai government does comes to pass, the establishment will almost certainly reply with legal challenges (of which there are many to choose from) to disband the party. Possibilities for these cases are numerous and have not been acted upon. It may be that cases to disband the party are being held as a kind of blackmail to moderate the ruling government’s actions.
The Pheu Thai could fight back with a number of provocative actions. Just one example is the move to allow selected provinces to directly elect their own governors. This would undoubtedly benefit Thaksin and make it harder for Bangkok authorities to mute popular sentiment for him. Whether the action would only be a threat (used as leverage in other areas) or an actual push for elected governors is not clear. Either way this strikes at the heart of the centralized Thai state—especially when pro-Thaksin provincial governors where alleged to have been behind the burning down of provincial town halls after the end of the Red Shirt siege in Bangkok in 2010.
It could be that instead of holding the government in stasis as they did in 2008, a Pheu Thai led government would push though some of its promises to reinforce its position and gain legitimacy against any attempt to unseat it. It could put forward the friendly face of Yingluck to insist that reconciliation has been achieved and it was time for amnesty to absolve all.
Depending on the resolve from the establishment, it is equally possible a Pheu Thai government could be more aggressive than ever and push for immediate pro-Thaksin measures on the heels of a big election win.