Deputy Premier Somkid Jatusripitak says 2018 will be the year Thailand “takes off” – whatever that means in practical terms.
He was probably referring to the rate of economic progress – predicting GDP growth of at least 4 per cent from this year’s average of around 3.5 per cent. But he also pointed out in one of his speeches that without stable and “good politics”, hope of steadying the economy would be undermined.
So, is he implying that the country will only “take off” if the return to electoral, parliamentary democracy is implemented in a smooth manner?
It’s not easy to draw the country’s “economic tsar” into political discussion, despite talk of a new “military party” being formed with him at the head.
Initially he denied the rumour outright. But his latest response to lingering questions was somewhat diluted. “Don’t take it seriously. I am getting old. I would rather go home to take care of my grandkids.”
That, in Thai political parlance, does not amount to a denial. Has he really been approached to undertake a mission to “finish what Prayut started” when he staged the coup in 2014?
Nobody is ready to respond to such a direct and sensitive question. But there is no shortage of clear signals from many quarters that serious attempts are being made to pave the way for Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain the country’s leader after the election through clandestine moves being made in public and behind the scenes.
In a way, 2018 could be described as the “take-off” year for politics: It will feature 12 months of intense activity on all sides.
Prayut’s Article 44 order issued on December 22 to “reset” political parties has touched off a major controversy that will inevitably spill over into the new year.
The order gives newly launched political parties a one-month head start over existing ones when it comes to in registering members. That clause has been slammed by veteran politicians, who are convinced that the move is aimed at aiding new political outfits while placing veteran parties at a huge disadvantage.
The requirement that existing party members must reaffirm their allegiance in writing within the month of April 2018 is seen as a tool to weaken the traditional parties. This is the first time that the grass-roots are being required to go through a cumbersome process to retain their party membership.
A frustrated and angry senior Democrat politician declared: “We have about 2.8 million party members, the highest among all parties. But if we have to follow the new ruling, we will be lucky to still have about 100,000 legitimate members left by the end of the procedure.”
Doubts have been raised as to the real motive behind the rewriting of the rules. Uppermost in the mind of critics is the suspicion that this amendment and others have been drawn up for one obvious objective: To pave the way for a military-backed political party, which would then use the new provisions to draw members of existing parties to defect to its own ranks.
The ultimate aim of this complicated web spinning new rules for the political game? To put General Prayut back in power after the election.
And that’s not all. Loopholes in
the new organic laws could well open the way for former MPs from existing parties to defect to new parties
without having to go through the humiliating process of formally
abandoning their old affiliations.
Things will get messier if politicians decide to challenge the legality of the new rules in the Constitutional Court. Such a move would pour oil on a fire already burning with widespread predictions that the new clauses will cause indefinite delay to the election timeline.
All this does not augur well for 2018 and hopes that the economy would rebound with the return to electoral democracy.
The much-heralded 2018 “take-off” for Thailand may end up being aborted, with the country’s economic engines staying grounded after a decade of drawn-out conflict.
If political controversies do overshadow the economic outlook, 2018 could end up being the Year of the Mad Dog.
Let’s hope I am proved wrong on all counts in 12 months’ time.