Thinking the unthinkable: A coalition of the two big parties

opinion November 30, 2017 01:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

8,142 Viewed

If you want to stir a huge debate among friends at this point, when no one is sure when the next election will take place, there is one sure way to ignite a really heated exchange.

Just say that you’re almost certain the two major parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, will form a grand coalition government after the next election.

With that, you provoke people on at least three major controversies:

1. How do you know there will be an election?

2. How do you know Abhisit and whoever is really running Pheu Thai will agree to that formula?

3. How do you know the military will not do everything in their power to block that?

Speculation about the possibility of a “grand coalition” has always been part of the Thai political landscape. Nothing has come of it, so far. You would think that, by now, veteran politicians must have learned the lesson of their delayed efforts to reach political compromise only for the military to inevitably come up with their own solution: Another coup, another promise of an election. The vicious circle continues.

The same old scenario is looming yet again. The outgoing military junta has somehow managed to ram through a new charter that will give them a good portion of the seats in Parliament after the election. 

Under even the best-case scenario, none of the existing political parties can win a simple majority. That opens up the way for the military to remain in power one way or the other, claiming constitutional legitimacy. And with the provision allowing an “outsider” (a non-MP) to become the prime minister, there is every reason to suspect that things have been arranged in such a way that General Prayut Chan-o-cha, if he so wishes, can continue to head the government post-election.

Dissenting voices have proposed that a way must be found to ensure sure that the genuine representatives of the public will –  MPs elected by the people – should be running the government after the polls, instead of letting the military brass continue to call the shots. 

Hence the not-so-subtle suggestion from a deputy leader of the Democrat Party and a senior member of Pheu Thai during a panel discussion over the weekend that perhaps the two major rivals should consider undertaking the “impossible mission” of forming the next government – or else they would be accused of playing the role of military lackeys.

The immediate reactions were predictable. Leaders from both parties were quick to pour cold water on the idea. One side said the two parties’ platforms were poles apart, making a coalition on that scale unlikely. The other side countered that such a proposition could confuse the voters – so much so that their party’s expectation of victory in the upcoming election could be seriously undermined.

Being polite, both sides said it was premature to discuss a possible alliance between the two parties to torpedo the chance of a non-MP prime minister leading the next government.

There are more immediate concerns for the parties, with concern growing they might not be able to meet the deadline of January 5 to review their membership databases. Under the new rules, political parties face being disbanded if they cannot produce the required membership on time.

And while the junta maintains the ban on political gatherings, it seems impossible to even raise the issue of a new, unprecedented political alliance.

But ask a veteran political science academic such as Dr Anek Laothammathat, who chairs the Political Reform Committee, about the issue and his answer is surprisingly down-to-earth.

“I have talked to a lot of politicians recently. They are all ready to follow the new rules and accept the outcome of the elections. All they want is to make sure the election will take place. So, the proposed grand coalition between the two rival parties isn’t all that unlikely.”

Anek added: “Politicians are very innovative people. They can do things that may seem out of the ordinary. After all, isn’t politics supposed to be the art of the impossible?”