The leadership of the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties remains in question, and it’s a pivotal question indeed
Few expect reconciliation after the election currently scheduled to take place early next year. But, once the identities of the leaders of the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties are known, we’ll have a better chance of foretelling the country’s immediate future and whether there could be a return to the violence that characterised the struggle for power over the past decade.
Both parties are still uncertain, to different degrees, about who will lead them into the election. Warong Dechgitvigrom seems poised
to challenge Abhisit Vejjajiva for leadership of the Democrat Party, but the incumbent remains the favourite for the top post and any showdown could be just a show of how democratic Thailand’s oldest party is about selecting a leader.
Pheu Thai’s situation is glaringly different. The biggest party before the 2014 coup must be praying that Abhisit keeps his post. If he is replaced or chooses to step aside, the election becomes a whole new ball game for Pheu Thai, and a much more difficult one. The party is expected to have another Thaksin Shinawatra candidate at the helm, someone acceptable to or endorsed by the clan. The appointment would almost certainly have to be reconsidered if Abhisit is removed from the picture.
The Democrat-Pheu Thai rivalry has always centred on their leaders, which has led to counterproductive results. A violent crowd attacked the car carrying Abhisit while he was prime minister and pro-Thaksin red shirts caused tumult across the land. Abhisit was blamed for ordering the military crackdown on a subsequent protest in Bangkok that ended with almost 100 people dead. When Pheu Thai reclaimed political control, a Democrat-backed mass protest hit the streets. Bombs exploded and guns were fired before the 2014 coup finally ended all the madness.
While the Democrat leadership might be contested, Pheu Thai faces no such worry. If “the Boss” – the self-exiled former premier – gives his blessing to whoever is picked as the party’s nominal chief, everyone accepts the choice. But while the Democrats have a good idea of who could challenge Abhisit, Pheu Thai rank-and-file members will be in the dark until a decision is made for them overseas. The electorate will also have the party of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra under closer scrutiny than ever before. If its new leader is seen as “too close” to the Shinawatra clan, voters can fairly ask whether the party has the best interests of Thailand at heart.
Certainly, many citizens would like to see another Pheu Thai triumph at the polls, if only to drive home an ideological point to the military, but should the intentions of the resulting Pheu Thai government come into question, it could lead to another explosive situation.
Thus, both Pheu Thai and the Democrats find themselves on loose gravel amid leadership uncertainties. For now, all that is clear is that the identities of the two people leading the parties to the polls will define the immediate course of the country. There are two types of rivalry, after all – one constructive and the other bitter and internecine, and we’ve been subjected to the ruinous fallout from the latter type for far too long.