Pheu Thai must ponder the way forward

opinion May 01, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

Winning an election may be the least of biggest party’s concerns 

Until late 2013, Pheu Thai Party had been strongly convinced that it would comfortably hold on to power in the years that followed because everything was going its way. The return from five-year political ban of more than 100 politicians boosted its alliance with smaller parties. Key financial bills were sailing through Parliament. The Democrats were 

having many serious problems, including a leadership issue.

Then the amnesty bill happened and the rest is history. If the city governor’s election earlier that year 

suggested Thailand’s biggest party was losing the capital to its key rival, massive street protests in the wake of what was alleged to be an abuse of power for the sake of individuals associated with the party confirmed the Bangkok theory. All of a sudden, Pheu Thai was out of power. Completely gone were the days when it could just sit on the fence watching how the Democrats could reform themselves. In fact, it’s all a struggle for survival for Pheu Thai now.

The party has always deemed the middle-class uprising against it a 

pro-Democrat conspiracy. That may be a mistake as big as the Democrats’ assumption that Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party only bought its way to power. Mass protests in Bangkok were by no means a show of support for the opposition camp, which was always snubbed by city 

voters itself, but a genuine demonstration of discontent with how Pheu Thai implemented its policies and exercised its mandate. Unless Pheu Thai realises exactly why the rallies happened, it faces a very long, rough road ahead.

Why is it important that Pheu Thai review itself? The party can come back to power, and that is why. With a new election looming, Pheu Thai has many questions to ponder and it should not head into the race with the same-old attitude. Pheu Thai can be forgiven for always blaming “external factors”. But looking back, there were actually things that threatened the party 

“from within”. 

Why did it have to launch the 

“blanket amnesty” when the nation would have been just fine without it? Did the government really need to 

borrow Bt2 trillion outside the normal budgetary channels to fund a mass transit revamp? Did Pheu Thai 

sincerely believe that international business deals should be shielded from parliamentary scrutiny? 

These are just a few issues that sparked fears it was acting for the best interests of individuals, and not the country. To distance Pheu Thai from Thaksin is something that may be next to impossible, most analysts say. But the party must have learned some 

lessons recently. Pheu Thai can still project itself as “the party for the Thai poor”, but there are ways to do that without causing divisiveness. 

How it can be done is up to the party’s strategists to work out, as even the most hawkish among them must have been tired of going round and round in a vicious circle.

Just as the Democrats have to prove they can constructively represent the grassroots, Pheu Thai must show its middle-class doubters that its policies were sincere attempts to “lift the nation” and not parts of a 

hidden agenda. And while it is hard to swallow the bitterness following the 2014 coup, Pheu Thai must do that, for its own good.

Understandably, the party has been pinning hope on new elections. Yet the time has come for it to start accepting that election victories are not the answer to every question. The party may as well start accepting that it is part of the problem, too. Unless that happens, a “return to power” might lead to something called “Square One”.