From Manager, February 20, 2018
Thaksin: I am sorry Noi [Sudarat Keyuraphan]… I think puppet Pheng [Phongsak Raktaphongphaisaan] is easier…
At right in the darkness is a discarded puppet of former PM Yingluck.
Caption: The boss has a new puppet
[“Noi” is the nickname of Sudarat Keyuraphan. “Pheng” is the nickname Phongsak Raktaphongphaisaan.
This cartoon shows the intense speculation about who Thaksin will pick to head his Pheu Thai Party in the next elections.
Initially Thaksin seemed to indicate Sudarat would head the Pheu Thai. This caused much consternation in the party as Sudarat is a Bangkok-based MP not connected to the bulk of Pheu Thai power brokers and supporters in the Northeast.
She is also a conventional politician with her own power base and its attendant obligations. This meant that, unlike all former prime ministers appointed and controlled by Thaksin, Sudarat might have the influence to manage the party for her own ends and not for Thaksin’s goals.
It was thought a more conventional politician like Sudarat might be necessary to lead a credible challenge to a junta that had been relatively successful in governing and was sending signals it would field a military party to contest elections.
However, in recent months, the junta has endured a near collapse of credibility in a series of scandals. These scandals exposed how the military government cannot even live up to the standards of normal elected governments which they have long derided.
Thus, future leadership of the Pheu Thai may have again shifted to a less prominent figure, Phongsak Raktaphongphaisaan, who is seen as more directly controllable by Thaksin from overseas.
Underlining the rising optimism about opposition prospects in a future election, Thaksin emerged on the world stage again with multiple meetings with Pheu Thai Party figures in nearby countries. This has been normal procedure for Thaksin in the run up to elections to send the message to wavering MPs that the party is still his and decisions go through him.
The junta’s precipitous loss of public approval comes at a perfect time for Thaksin as there were rumors nearly every month throughout 2017 that chunks of MPs, formerly aligned with Thaksin’s political machine, were investigating new political groupings.
With the junta struggling and Thaksin openly displaying his mastery of the Pheu Thai once again, rebel MPs will think twice before jumping ship.
No Thai political season is complete without warnings and threats of violence. Those who seek to decisively send the military back to its barracks warn that a repeat of the bloody political events of 1973 or 1991 is guaranteed if the military dares to “cling to power” by returning an unelected military figure to the premiership or otherwise stymie a Pheu Thai return to government if it wins a majority of MPs.
At the same time, analysts outside of Thailand, both Thai and non-Thai, are busy advising their clients (and anyone else who will listen) that Thaksin has retired from politics and has no connection with politics in Thailand. There is also a concerted effort to paint the present Thai political situation as having nothing to do with Thaksin, but really simply being a desire by Thais to end the military dictatorship and return democracy.]