May 23, 2013 00:00 By Suthichai Yoon The Nation 3,405 Viewed
Political pundits seem to have come to the conclusion that the ruling Pheu Thai Party is gunning for an early election, perhaps before the end of the year, or even earlier.
The reason is quite simple: ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has told his party members that dissolution of Parliament and a new election are the obvious strategy to adopt if things don’t go the way the party wants in the House and Senate. Of course, you don’t call a new election unless you are confident you will win. Pheu Thai has every reason to be certain that it will win another election, perhaps with a larger margin than in the previous one.
It’s becoming a political fact here: Thaksin plots, Pheu Thai acts and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva reacts.
The opposition leader seems to have convinced himself that Thaksin meant what he said when he announced that he badly wanted to come home – and perhaps a new election might bring that scenario closer to reality.
How? The proposed “reconciliation bill” has been deferred several times in the House in the face of strong opposition from the Democrats and a sizeable section of the population. That’s not as bad or unexpected as the fact that some factions within Pheu Thai and its allied parties have been reluctant to go all the way in backing the bill for fear of a popular backlash against them.
That naturally has irked Thaksin, who, without naming names, accused some MPs of lacking the guts to push through the bill and constitutional amendments. His solution: Pheu Thai must have an absolute majority in Parliament to make sure that all the laws he wants passed will be approved. And achieving that means another election sooner than the expiration of the four-year term. Now, it seems, he doesn’t even want to wait until half of the term is completed. Patience is clearly not one of his strengths.
Opposition leader Abhisit seems resigned to the fact that the new election will come long before his Democrat Party is ready to put up a fight. But it’s not him who calls the shots.
The opposition leader points to Pheu Thai’s move to pressure the Constitutional Court over its decision to accept a petition against the government’s attempt to amend Section 68 of the charter. The government argues that the court doesn’t have the authority to review the issue. Pheu Thai MPs claim that the court, by taking up the complaint, is meddling in parliamentary affairs.
But timing is everything in politics. The ruling party probably wouldn’t want a snap election before it pushes through the controversial Bt2-trillion infrastructure loan bill. For obvious reasons, it’s crucial that the powers-that-be go into an election with the authority to spend huge amounts of money. Mega-projects are usually godsends for politicians, who can use them as election campaign pledges and also to highlight their ability to channel the budget to their pet projects.
The infrastructure loan bill, in fact, passed in the first reading despite questions about transparency, accountability and return on investment. There is little doubt that Pheu Thai could ram it through the second and third readings in the next parliamentary session, which will also consider the 2014 budget.
Once the matters of money are passed into law, Pheu Thai MPs will be ready to go to the hustings to ask for a new, bigger mandate to rule.
There are also “real reasons” why an early election has become an urgent matter for the government. Populism has caught up with the administration, and before the growing number of questions become unanswerable, holding an election to distract critics from the hot issues has become a must.
The rice price-pledging scheme has hit a wall. Unsold paddy is piling up at government godowns and the huge losses can’t be covered up until the scheduled election. The Bt300 minimum wage has also become a hot potato, and the dissolution of the oil fund is another huge question with no ready answers.
Thaksin is confident he will win again. Abhisit says he isn’t sure he can turn the tide. But as we the citizens prepare for the possibility of going to the polls again, I am reminded of an old quote from a long time ago: “If you don’t vote, you get the government you deserve. If you do, you never get the result you expect.”