All major political players share one dilemma: Public distrust 

opinion May 25, 2017 01:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

6,786 Viewed

Nobody can say when the next general election will take place, despite an official timeline that promises we should be able to cast our ballots once again before the end of next year. 

But one veteran politician, Tavorn Sanniam, is already predicting the likely outcome of the next poll: the Pheu Thai Party will win around 200 seats and the Democrats 150, with the rest going to the middle-sized and small parties.

But holding an election won’t necessarily mean we see a transfer of power. Tavorn, a former executive of the Democrat Party and an ex-leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), declared in an interview with the Thai Post over the weekend:

“I am 1,000 per cent [sic] confident that the existing powers-that-be will continue to be the government for the next five to eight years, no matter whether the current prime minister is an MP or an outsider.”

Doesn’t that sound a bit strange? What’s the point of having a post-coup election that changes nothing in the political ecosystem?

Tavorn’s analysis is likely based on a facts-based assessment of possible post-election scenarios.

For one thing, the new constitution provides for 250 senators to be virtually handpicked by the current Cabinet led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. This practically guarantees the formation of a coalition government based on whoever controls this chunk of parliamentary seats.

“I don’t know who the prime minister will be,” Tavorn said, “but I know that the current power-holders who have 250 votes in their hands could form the government just by pulling in MPs from various parties, which will then decide who the new prime minister should be.”

The fact that the new charter leaves the way open for a non-MP, or “outsider”, to head the new government has led political pundits to remark that “The more things change, the more things remain the same.” 

The magic number for anyone seeking to form the new government is 251 – the quantity of MPs in the House needed to obtain a simple majority in Parliament.

But what if that exercise fails? What if MPs from certain parties refuse to play ball? The veteran politician had a ready answer to that question: “They can just dissolve Parliament – and ask the people to cast their ballots again.”

If that sounds a “pragmatic” analysis of what lies in store for Thai politics in the near future, that’s probably because Tavorn’s direct boss, Suthep Thaugsuban, had just come out in support of PM Prayut continuing in office after the election.

Tavorn’s interpretation won’t jibe with those who want the military top brass firmly back in the barracks once the election produces a new government. 

Though Tavorn graded the three-year performance of the current government at just 55 per cent, PDRC leaders seem ready to accept the military’s presence in politics even after the next election.

The PDRC, whose leadership mostly comprises former Democrat Party executives, seems to have parted ways with the Democrat Party under Abhisit Vejjajiva for good. Rumours of an attempted PDRC coup against the current party leadership remain unconfirmed, but there is little doubt that there is no love lost between Suthep and Abhisit.

Meanwhile Pheu Thai Party executives have kept a low profile while they try to figure out a way to win big in the upcoming election, whenever it finally takes place. Their biggest priority is to find someone who can lead the party into a new and more challenging battle now that former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, sidelined by a series of court cases over the party’s controversial rice pledging scheme, has effectively been crippled as Pheu Thai’s figurehead.

In the wake of a pervasive public fatigue with politics, none of the major players in the political arena is capable of winning a clear mandate from voters.

The dilemma is clear: The military can’t continue in power for ever, but the politicians have yet to regain the trust that would spur the public to demand en masse a return to genuine democracy.