October 09, 2012 00:00
By Avudh Panananda
Excitement over the naming of Pheu Thai's new leader is much overrated - given it's largely a matter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra choosing one "yes-man" over others.
The only reason Thaksin has yet to pick his favourite is because he wants to cushion the blow to allies who would then become the unchosen ones.
In order to put the Pheu Thai leadership into context, it is essential to factor in two party dissolutions involving Thai Rak Thai and People Power.
The Thai Rak Thai disbandment had a huge impact on 111 top-notch party executives, including Thaksin, while the People Power dissolution triggered the collapse of the Somchai Wongsawat government and saw the removal of 37 party executives.
The Pheu Thai charter has been written in such a way as to avoid the catastrophic consequences inflicted on Thai Rak Thai and People Power.
Unlike other Thai political chiefs, a Pheu Thai leader is supposed to serve three key functions – to take the fall in lieu of the prime minister and government in the event of the party being dissolved by the courts, to ensure the party’s day-to-day running, and act as Thaksin’s henchman to sort out factional differences.
Yongyuth Wichaidit was installed as the first Pheu Thai leader, with Thaksin’s blessing, at the party’s plenary session in December 2008. Thaksin picked him over other favourites like Chalerm Yoobamrung, Apiwan Wiriyachai and Mingkwan Saengsuwan.
Even though Yongyuth was party leader, Pheu Thai opted to endorse Pracha Promnok, then leader of Puea Pandin, to vie for the position of prime minister in 2008. The House eventually voted for Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
It is clear Pheu Thai has no tradition of nominating its leader for the position of prime minister or other key appointments.
Following the 2010 election victory, Yongyuth became the senior-most deputy prime minister simply because he had proved himself a trustworthy right-hand man serving Yingluck in her campaign to be premier.
The true legacy of Yongyuth is not his leadership quality but his devotion to serve and protect the Shinawatra family. He has even agreed to strip himself of all positions in the party, government and legislature in order to foil a Democrat move to seek a judicial review of his job status.
His departure from the ruling party and government seems to have left minimal impact. He was not indispensable and the Shinawatra family will merely replace him with another trusted ally.
Under the party charter, Thaksin will have until the Pheu Thai convention at the end of this month to make up his mind on the party’s new leader.
Yet, key party figures continue to float names as potential candidates for the job as if the next Pheu Thai leader could emerge today or tomorrow.
They may harbour a secret hope that Thaksin and Yingluck will allow the next party leader to concurrently become the senior-most deputy prime minister.
It seems futile to fight over party leadership when Thaksin is the only true voice in Pheu Thai. But becoming a designated successor to Yingluck may be something worthwhile.
For the time being, Viroj Pao-in has been named as caretaker leader and tasked with organising the party convention to elect the next leader and executive board.
Thaksin is likely to reveal his decision on who will lead Pheu Thai at the last minute. He may opt again for a lesser known but trustworthy ally, such as Kanawat Wasinsungworn or Phumtham Wechayachai, like when he picked the then unknown Yongyuth.