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Democrats will survive vote, but...

The Democrats should comfortably win the censure vote tomorrow, but unless they come up with convincing information to counter Chalerm Yoobamrung's allegations, that could mean they will get away with murder.

Make no mistake. This "illegal donations" scandal is rather the tip of an iceberg than a shocking exposure, and it's worth noticing that the charges of underground sponsorship were coming from Pheu Thai MPs of all people. But thanks to Chalerm's clear-cut presentation this will remain a thorn in the Democrats' side in the foreseeable future.

Article 51 of the Political Party Act prohibits reception of covert gifts, whereas Article 62 outlaws misuse of subsidised money and dishonest reports concerning political subsidies. Some of those offences can lead to party dissolution.

It's a smart move by Pheu Thai, after Samak Sundaravej was dislodged as prime minister last year for merely hosting a TV cooking show and the People Power Party was dissolved later for violations of election laws by one of its executives.

The motive was, obviously, not to sway enough government MPs and win the censure vote, but to reinforce the impression here and abroad that Thaksin Shinawatra's followers have been subjected to some kind of judicial bias.

The real game will be played out after today outside Parliament. The National Anti-Corruption Commission will be tasked with considering if the case is strong enough to seek impeachment of individual Democrats. The Election Commission will have to follow up on whatever evidence the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has found about the controversial money.

It seems this issue is Pheu Thai's "Hail Mary" shot, its only hope. Other accusations made yesterday were mostly soft blows, including questions about Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's military background that looked far less complicated than those of Chalerm's own children, and about "undeclared" earrings Abhisit's wife wore at the couple's wedding. And a lot of time was spent in the afternoon, to everyone's amusement, on a protracted Democrat protest against an opposition speaker who claimed Abhisit was not the "real leader" of the ruling party.

Abhisit looked relaxed and confident. He answered questions with total composure and even appeared playful at certain points. In fact, most Democrats were like him on the first day of the parliamentary showdown.

But the seeming harmlessness of the two-day censure could betray something that lies ahead. The roads will be quite tricky. Chalerm, who was rumoured to have met Thaksin to seek advice on the censure strategy, has managed to plant more seeds of uncertainty on the already uncertain political landscape.


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