This week’s virtual pledge of loyalty to allies by the Pheu Thai Party cannot entirely soothe them, because they know all too well that in politics, even cutthroat one like Thailand’s, promises to friends and threats to foes can fall apart overnight when push comes to shove.
There’s another reason for allies’ anxiety to linger. Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew suggested the possibility of a single-party government if the anticipated “landslide” was massive enough to allow his party to do it alone. However, with the Senate lurking, the single-party administration scenario is a long shot, as it would require the mother of all landslides to materialise.
Pheu Thai’s press statement denying rumours that it would join hands with this or that party after the general election, particularly one or two camps in the current government was meant to pacify voters more than existing allies. The party’s supporters can condone, for example, the absence of Move Forward from a Pheu Thai government, but they can’t bear the thought of voting for Pheu Thai so that it could form a government with Palang Pracharath and/or Bhumjaithai.
That Pheu Thai is trying to calm its voters down does not mean it will absolutely never hurt them later, though. Political survival can outweigh all promises, and the current narrative of “we will never” do this or that can change into something along the lines of “if you want us to” be the government, you must accept this and that.
In Pheu Thai’s best-case scenario, it wins a landslide huge enough to dominate the House of Representatives and keep the Senate from flexing its muscles. If that really happens, a single-party government is possible.
The next best thing requires Pheu Thai to seek one or two “harmless” allies, having achieved a moderate landslide. In this case, Move Forward can be potentially more troublesome than, say, Seri Ruam Thai. Pheu Thai’s biggest partner at the moment could turn into a political time bomb over issues like the minimum wage, Thaksin Shinawatra or Article 112.
Another scenario strengthens Move Forward’s hand. Not big enough, Pheu Thai needs this ally, instead of the other way round. Everyone will worry about the minimum wage, Thaksin Shinawatra and Article 112 later.
Another scenario yet is messy. Pheu Thai still emerges the biggest party but it’s 2019 all over again. Worse still, Move Forward becomes smaller. The party would need all the help it could get. And if those from the present government could aid its return to power, then so be it.
Numbers will affect everyone, not just Pheu Thai. An overwhelming House of Representatives majority could make the Senate respectful and thus keep the nonelected chamber at bay. Tight contests would tempt senators to assert themselves. An undisputed landslide would keep both friends and foes of Pheu Thai silent for a while, or as long as there is no contentious issue of the kind that sent the Whistle Mobs to the streets during the last days of the Yingluck government. A close election will embolden both allies, frenemies and enemies.
So, recent messages by key political leaders seemed ambiguous and contained intended loopholes through which they could use as a way out. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat seemed to welcome the Bt600-a-day minimum wage for unskilled workers but he also said the issue was not for anyone to seek political gains. Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul in one breath downplayed and overplayed the relevance of the Senate. Pheu Thai’s key men have firmly denied an unthinkable pre-election pact, citing respect for democratic principles, but have yet to bang the table and say the unthinkable would never happen.
The only certainty is that Pheu Thai and Ruam Thai Sang Chart, which is set to welcome Prayuth Chan-o-cha, can never mix. It would be too outrageous even by the Thai standard. Other than that, including the uncomfortable sight of Ruang Thai Sang Chart and Move Forward sitting side by side in the opposition bloc, anything is possible.
By Tulsathit Taptim