Former minister's claim that Pheu Thai will return misses vital factors about current situation
There have been two statements that sum up Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s situation. The first was said by the man himself and the second by someone who knows a thing or two more about politics than him. Chalerm Yoobamrung, resurfacing to deny rumours about his death or grave illness, stated that every time the military asserts its might politically, Thaksin Shinawatra benefits. Love Chalerm or hate him, many will have to agree, to a certain extent at least.
Almost at the same time in Italy, Prayut tried his best to avoid the impression that Chalerm promoted. The interim prime minister, appearing at the Asia-Europe Meeting, suggested that his coup in May was to prevent a bloody crisis more than anything. He did not highlight shortcomings of the government he toppled and was content with portraying the coup as the only way to pre-empt what could be a civil war.
Putting Prayut’s and Chalerm’s statements together and we have the tightrope that the former is walking on. We can also see the dual-track campaign that could benefit the Shinawatras. If the coup was meant primarily to pre-empt a potential bloodbath, certainly the government that was overthrown was not that bad. On the other hand, if the coup was aimed to uproot the Shinawatras, it fit claims about an undemocratic conspiracy against the former ruling clan. Either way, some sympathy went to those who lost power, and scepticism went to their rivals.
So, Prayut has been besieged with these questions lately. Did he stage the coup to put away the Shinawatras? Or did he stage the coup to prevent the national divide from becoming something worse? Did he mean both or did he just use the potential “civil war” as a pretext to bring down the Shinawatra? Was he actually helping Thaksin as claimed by Chalerm?
According to Chalerm, Thaksin’s political party can return whenever an election is held, thanks largely to the military. That’s probably true, as the 2006 coup and the 2010 crackdown on the red shirts’ protests could attest. But Chalerm was only telling half the story about the current political situation.
In predicting a Shinawatra return, Chalerm did not address the high possibility of a vicious circle of nominees, dubious policies, scandals, court cases, obstruction of justice or refusal to accept judicial verdicts and street protests. Chalerm also failed to see that while the Pheu Thai Party is far from finished, maybe the Shinawatras have been, not least because basically everyone knows that their return would take the country nowhere.
Thailand’s problem is a combination of wrongdoing by a lot of people involved. Chalerm was in fact part of a big mess considering his roles in some controversial government agendas. Political reform will be a very delicate process in which a balance has to be restored whereas those causing any imbalance must be put on the sides. This is Prayut’s extremely sensitive task, and a man with Chalerm’s political expertise should have known the whole picture.
Prayut can be encouraged by recent opinion surveys, in which the Thai public seemed to be more at ease and hopeful than before the coup, although it has to be said that opinion polls in Thailand are never reliable indications of what happens next. Chalerm, meanwhile, foresees a return to the old days, when election results reigned supreme and little else mattered. The political veteran, too, appeared hopeful, although it’s debatable what he based his hopes on – democratic principles or loyalty that could have blinded his analysis.