By KAS CHANWANPEN
THE RIGHT-LEANING Action Coalition of Thailand (ACT) party is showing signs of instability just days after unexpectedly voting for MR Chatumongkol Sonakul to lead it, while also hinting that changes are likely in the next four to five months.
Despite the vote last Sunday to elect its new leader, ACT member Prasarn Marukkapitak said the party is working to attract more members when the number grows over the next five months, votes would again be cast for a new executive.
Anek Laothamatas, 64, a high-profile academic who was heavily promoted to be leader in the two months since the party launched – but gave up his candidacy at the last moment on Sunday – remains a possible candidate, Prasarn said. But if someone new turned up before the reselection, it was also possible the party would see a completely new leader, he added.
“In the meantime, it doesn’t mean we’ll pursue some specific people. We don’t really have anyone in mind. This is never officially discussed in the executive board,” he said. “But personally, each individual may have a personal connection with someone they think is good for the job. But I don’t know.”
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat anti-Shinawatra campaigner and highly influential pro-coup figure has become ACT’s patriarch. He is, however, not being considered for the leadership role, said Prasarn.
“We can count [Suthep] out,” Prasarn said. “He’s just an ordinary member. He won’t be an MP or the leader. He just helps the overall campaign.”
The uncertainty over the party’s leadership has prompted questions about its competence, given supporters’ hopes that it would help the country’s right wing dominate Parliament after the next election. But some political observers are confident that ACT is internally intact and that Anek would resurface to lead it.
A veteran politician who asked not to be named told The Nation he believed this was just some sort of game being played.
“There’s something funny going on behind the scenes. But after all, it has to be Anek,” he said. “His mind is all made up. He wouldn’t have quit the reform panels he was heading if he hadn’t been sure about what he’s doing.”
The politician was referring to the junta-backed political reform committees that Anek vacated in preparation to run for the party leadership.
“These are all big positions and he left them all. So, he must do it for something bigger, right?” he explained. “Their move right now is just part of the strategy. They’re just playing this game. But in the end it will be Anek who leads the party.”
Critic Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist from King Prajadhipok’s Institute, agrees that Anek will return. The superficial change right now was a way to reduce any possible friction, he reasoned.
“We might see the old faces resurfacing again as candidates when they’re voting for the leader in the next five months,” he said. “This could be the break [Anek] needs. He can avoid confrontations and all the questions that do nothing but weaken and exhaust him before the time for the election comes.”
However, all the machinations and speculations do not really matter, the political scientist said.
“After all, everyone knows who’s really running this party – the de facto leader – and what it’s here for. The leader who’s there for the formality doesn’t matter all that much.”
But veteran political critic Sukhum Nualsakul begged to differ on the question of ACT leadership. Anek may really have been unattractive, and hence the change, he said.
“The past two months might have been a trial and maybe Anek is just not the one,” he said. “And he’s not new. He’s done this [running for election] before and failed.
“On the other hand, MR Chatumongkol Sonakul, who may be a little older, is so much more of a fresh energy in politics and he’s clean,” the critic added. Chatumongkol is 74 years old.
Sukhum does not think the change will lead ACT on a different course.
“Suthep has made it clear that ACT will be part of the government. That’s their direction,” the critic said.
“So, I’m not worried about their leader. I’m more worried about what they will do if they don’t get what they want.”