By Tulsathit Taptim
Panthongtae Shinawatra has branded the Palang Pracharat Party a dinosaur for using its “sucking power” to draw in rival politicians. It’s a risky thing to say, because all parties have used the same method to grow their influence, his father’s included.
Palang Pracharat may be more brazen than Thaksin Shinawatra when it comes to “consolidating support”, but in reality isn’t it merely just “driving faster” than him?
In Thai politics, parties take short-cuts – it comes with the territory. The difference this time may be that while Thaksin consolidated support under the normal rules of the game, Palang Pracharat is doing so by exploiting its post-coup advantages. Some people might even have had their arms twisted by the party, which wants Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power after the election.
In the grand scheme of things, though, Thaksin and Palang Pracharat are operating in the same way.
When Thaksin “recruited” politicians, some thought it was unfair. Just ask Chuan Leekpai and Abhisit Vejjajiva what they thought when the man in exile swallowed up the New Aspiration Party in early 2000s.
Obviously, Panthongtae does not think Palang Pracharat is giving his father a taste of his own medicine. The young Shinawatra’s Instagram feed a few days ago carried a picture of a green, cartoonish dinosaur which he said was “always effective for luring children and politicians”. The message was that Pheu Thai defectors were not joining Palang Pracharat for “natural” reasons.
Panthongtae’s frustration coincided with his decision to formally join Pheu Thai. Without the dinosaur swipe, his enlisting would have been seen as little more than something that was long overdue. Now, the young Shinawatra is making analysts curious. Has he joined Pheu Thai to send a message from his father and thus stop the bleeding?
With Yingluck Shinawatra gone and leading red-shirt figures scattering, Pheu Thai members may be forgiven for thinking that their party is being “abandoned” by those who matter. Panthongtae, in applying for membership, appears to be signalling for calm among the demoralised ranks.
The political mood has shifted considerably since the window for politicians to switch parties closed a few days ago. Prior to that deadline, the Thaksin camp was buoyed up, not least because the newly-formed Thai Raksa Chart Party guarantees to produce MPs and looks an effective way of beating the new constitutional rule on seat rationing. But last-minute Pheu Thai departures to the pro-military Palang Pracharat dampened that optimism.
If Thai Raksa Chart can secure extra seats for the Thaksin camp, the defectors can do the same for Palang Pracharat. Even if they lose in all pro-Thaksin or anti-military constituencies, being well-connected veterans they will attract a substantial number of votes for Palang Pracharat. Under the new seat-rationing system, those votes may translate into an impressive number of MPs.
In the past, votes for losing constituency candidates did not count.
Now we have a scenario where two candidates can lose their constituency battles, but still earn their party two seats in Parliament if they win enough votes.
The good news for Thaksin is that Palang Pracharat will have to fight it out with the Democrats. The bad news is that Pheu Thai may have to do the same with Thai Raksa Chart, and that the Palang Pracharat and Democrat parties might still join hands after the election.
An agreement is reportedly in place for Pheu Thai and Thai Raksa Chart to avoid head-to-head battles. Pheu Thai will primarily field candidates in constituencies it is confident of winning, while Thai Raksa Chart will concentrate on picking up “losing” votes. The pact is simple on paper but could prove difficult to stick by in certain constituencies.
Another crucial factor is the various parties who are sitting on the fence. The likes of Bhumjaithai, Chart Pattana and Chartthaipattana will join anyone they consider has the edge. In other words, seats won by
the Thaksin camp and its rivals will determine who those parties will side with.
Panthongtae has been lashing out at the military, not least because he himself is the subject of major legal proceedings, the consequences of which may be serious. His “dinosaur” jibe, though, is probably the most significant for analysts trying to interpret election developments. He may love his father too much to compare past and present, but still some feelings should be kept inside. The current political scene is like a game of poker: expressions of emotion do not belong.