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Democrats caught in ‘hate triangle’ of Thai politics

Sep 04. 2018
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

The Democrats are like a girl trying to choose between two bad boys. That was a view I shared until recently. Now though I’ve realised that, deep down, she made her decision long ago. She either doesn’t know it yet or else she’s waiting for her chosen one to begin behaving a little better before she takes the plunge.

But when push comes to shove, it’s the Pheu Thai Party who will be spurned.

Recently, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva appeared to confirm what analysts have been saying  – that Thai politics is playing out like the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. According to this much-endorsed theory, the military, the Democrats and Pheu Thai will fight each other for government power after the next election, because each one hates the others.

The theory is based on the fact that political hatred can change at any second and alliances shift depending on circumstances. In other words, anything may happen after the poll, which is supposedly due next year. The theory gained ground after Abhisit’s latest comments underlined his party’s ambivalence.

He said his party had been fighting the “Thaksin system” for a long time, and would continue to do so. However, he added that the Democrats felt “a lot of things advocated by this government do not go along with what we believe in”. 

The “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” theory has spawned several disturbing scenarios. For example, the Democrats could join hands with Pheu Thai in order to keep the military out of power. Never mind that the two political parties have been arch-rivals, and a Democrat splinter group led by Suthep Thaugsuban actually organised massive street rallies a few years ago against a Pheu Thai government, creating a chain reaction that allowed the military to take power.

Another scenario sees the Democrats refusing to support military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s return to power after the election and shifting to the opposition benches. This could mean the post-election opposition includes the Democrats and Pheu Thai, if the Prayut camp is strong enough to form a government on its own. Another possible but improbable coalition set-up has the military and Pheu Thai as partners.

Yet another scenario has Pheu Thai scoring a landslide victory and not needing anyone’s backing to form a government. All its rivals would then be in opposition. However, few analysts believe Pheu Thai, which has lost a several vote-drawing politicians to rivals, can register a really big win. And even if it does pull off a surprise, the party will still be up against powerful rivals who are well-equipped to undermine its rise to power or destabilise its administration later.

Those questioning the “Three Kingdoms” theory are not necessarily influenced by ideological factors. They may claim to be simply pragmatic. When it comes to dividing the Cabinet “cake”, Pheu Thai can offer the Democrats less than the military can. This very fact will determine who lands with whom after the election.

For example, if Pheu Thai does form a government, the party will want to control key Cabinet portfolios, namely finance, interior and agriculture. Will the Democrats agree to play second fiddle in a Pheu Thai coalition?

The military, on the other hand, will have fewer qualms about, say, letting the Finance Ministry go. Here you have a bad boyfriend who’s willing to give more, as opposed to one who’s only thinking of himself.

The political suspense is building. The “primary” system, in which party branches have more say in naming election candidates, is being aborted, a development critics say will help new parties that can’t afford to abide by the new rules. But not all new parties will be supportive of the military. Prachachat is one of them. It’s led by mercurial Wan Muhammad Noor Matha and could take advantage of the “Every Vote Counts” principle that would allow votes for losing election candidates to be translated into numbers of party-list MPs. 

Abhisit has been chastising the military a lot lately, while his criticism of Pheu Thai has been basically limited to two words – “Thaksin system”. It looks like a “Hate Triangle”, hence the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” analogy.

Whether or not Abhisit’s claim that the Democrats are prepared to form the opposition is ideological, it was made against the backdrop of cutthroat politics. The factors that dictate the course of Thai politics are never ideological, whatever appearances might suggest.


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