Who will come crawling?

From Manager, April 8, 2018
Left, PM Prayuth: Let’s watch… after the election he will come to me asking to be part of my government.
Right, Democrat Party head Abhisit: Let’s watch… after the election he will come to me asking for the support to be Prime Minister.
Caption: Do you think after the election… who will be crawling to whom?

[This cartoon points up the conflict between the ruling junta and the Democrat Party.

For several years now, the junta has been positioning itself to control the government after the next elections.

In past years, the complex issue of who will lead the Pheu Thai Party encouraged the junta. For the first time, it seemed as though Thaksin might not be able to exercise full control over the party’s leadership to force it to forego maintaining normal government stability to once again attempt a charter rewrite. There were also signs that party itself might fragment under the growing feeling that Thaksin could no longer dominate government.

With the highly restrictive military-approved charter in place, it seemed that the junta was poised to maintain its hold on government.

Underpinning this would have been the Democrat Party. As the largest party not controlled by Thaksin, it was thought that the Democrat Party would find a way to support a post-election coalition that excludes the Pheu Thai and also supports Prayuth to stay on as PM under the guise of a compromise for political stability.

The Democrats have been noted (and derided) for being eager to take advantage of the political chaos that follows Thaksin and his political parties. This means that the Democrats seek to be at the core of a government that excludes Thaksin-controlled parties, particularly after events that destabilize the previous government.

In a surprise move, the Democrat Party declared it would not support the return of Prayuth for PM after the next elections. The Democrats have also distanced themselves from a breakaway party to be composed of Democrat MPs that will support a military PM after the elections.

This has sent shockwaves through politics as it means the military has little chance to maintain power after elections and that the odds that Thaksin’s Pheu Thai will be the core of the next government increase.

This new confidence about the Pheu Thai is reflected in Thaksin’s raised political profile and comments about politics, as well as declarations from Pheu Thai leadership hopefuls that a referendum to rewrite the constitution will be a top priority for the party and the nation.

All of this would indicate yet another return to the cycle of Thaksin manipulating the government for amnesty and then another round of protests, bloodshed or coups.

However, there is a more pragmatic view. This view is that it seems unlikely that the parts of the military, politics, business and bureaucracy that oppose Thaksin will let the Thaksin cycle repeat itself yet again.

The cartoon seems to suggest that, at some point, the military and the Democrat Party must work together or risk handing back government once again to Thaksin and his family.

Almost the exact same sort of calculations were discussed before the 2011 elections. It was assumed then that there would be a broad swath of electoral winners and some sort of Thaksin-blocking government could be formed. Instead, the Pheu Thai won big and were able to form the government in the way they wanted.

This time around an overwhelming vote for the Pheu Thai would throw all of these plans for the military to hold on to power into question. Even with a new parliament packed with hand-picked military men, it would be a daunting undertaking to have the military stall or block seating a PM from the political party with an overwhelming win.

No wonder the junta seems so eager to continually postpone setting an election date.

It is likely that any real change in the future cycle of politics will come from within the Phea Thai itself. With political kingmaker Sanoh Thienthong in the news it seems there is a real struggle going on for control of the Pheu Thai. Sanoh and his mastery of blocks of MPs have been able to both bring governments to power as well as cause them to collapse.

Sanoh influencing the party either directly or indirectly could mean a muting of Thaksin goals such as charter rewrites and budget-busting populist handouts. It could see a fragmentation of the diverse collections of MPs that were brought together under the Pheu Thai banner. It would be a switch to governing with the goal of maintaining coalition stability as opposed to the gambits of risking it all for high-stakes amnesty. But it would also mean a very venal government that makes deals between itself and the military to ensure its own continued survival.

All these years after the ground-breaking 1997 “People’s Charter,” Thailand might be returning to a version of its own past that emphasizes stability over the reform, populism and absolute power politics of the Thaksin era.]

And here is a totally opposite opinion: Rice Wars – A New Hope (i.e. It’s all about returning democracy, Thanatorn’s new party has no political baggage, Pheu Thai’s leader is not being selected in Dubai)

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