October 05, 2012 00:00 By Avudh Panananda
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are heading for their first showdown next month.
The Abhisit-Yingluck match will not cause a drastic change but could yield small ripples that will have an impact on the political landscape in years to come.
After four months of indecision, Abhisit has finally given his green light to target Yingluck in a motion of no confidence.
In addition to grilling the prime minister, the upcoming censure will cover other Cabinet members, such as Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom and Foreign Minister Surapong Towichuk-chaikul.
In other words, the Democrats will zero in on ministers seen as close to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Abhisit took so long to make up his mind on the censure simply because the Democrats had no knock-out punch against Yingluck.
Despite being a political novice, Yingluck has relied on a defensive strategy of hiding in plain sight in an attempt to evade the wrath of the Democrats. She is completely in charge of the government, hence can be held accountable for its achievements and shortfalls. She chooses, however, to deflect the opposition’s attacks to her henchmen rather than deal with them herself.
During the censure debate, Abhisit will likely hear rebuttals from Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, although his target is Yingluck.
The Democrats are fully aware that at this juncture, they have no chance of making a dent in either Yingluck’s leadership or confidence in the government.
Abhisit has opted to launch the censure not because he hopes to oust the government or boost his chance at the next polls. His real goal is to send out two clear messages – he wants the government to restrain the excess of populist policies and will block Thaksin’s homecoming unless he agrees to serve his prison term.
The bottom line is that the censure debate will just use Yingluck as a conduit to get to Thaksin. And how the Democrats perceive and deal with Thaksin will, in turn, affect the future course of politics.
Thaksin is the reigning champion of Thai populist policies. In his interview last month, he fiercely defended government intervention to boost the paddy price.
The Democrats will definitely grill the government on what they see as flaws and graft violations in connection with the rice-pledging scheme.
Even though coalition leaders are not blind to adverse impacts on the economy caused by inflated paddy price, the Pheu Thai Party will not abandon price intervention, which has such a magical effect on swaying votes.
What the Democrats can hope for is to force the ruling party to curb excessive and wasteful spending on paddy price intervention in order to minimise the rising burden of public debt.
The government often invokes poor farmers as beneficiaries of the rice-pledging scheme. But it seems to overlook the fact that large-scale farmers and rice millers, seen as a most powerful block of vote canvassers, got to the pie before benefits could trickle down to tenant farmers.
The other highlights of the censure debate will cover reconciliation and charter rewrite. The Democrats are expected to make clear their opposition to any attempts to help Thaksin elude his conviction and punishment.
Unless the government tries to strike a deal with the Democrats instead of trying to defeat them by swaying sentiment, progress on reconciliation and charter rewrite will not happen within this year as has been anticipated.