One thing about being journalists is that some people assume we have the psychic power to know exactly how and when a phenomenal conflict involving the two biggest political parties, top judges, top anti-graft busters, Thaksin Shinawatra, Chalerm Yoobamru
With great expectations, however, come great responsibility. Thai journalists have been trying harder than anyone to predict how this political epic is going to conclude. Even the warning words of “ex-peace envoy” Banharn Silapa-archa – that Thai politics needs to be assessed on a day-to-day basis, and anything more ambitious is pure guesswork – were never a deterrence. We journalists are lucky that wrong predictions won’t matter much. After all, billions of baht have been spent on a general election that has been annulled, so somebody has set a very high bar regarding haphazard projections and their consequences.
Enough of a disclaimer. Here are my takes on key political questions (Please note that “takes” are not necessarily “predictions”):
1. Will Yingluck Shinawatra take a break? This is not for her to answer. Thaksin Shinawatra and the National Anti-Corruption Commission will have a major say on that. If the NACC does not indict her, she will not take a break. If Thaksin fears the NACC will indict her, she will take a break. If the NACC does indict her, she will definitely get a political vacation.
Chance of Yingluck bidding a dramatic, potentially tearful political farewell: 60 per cent.
2. Will the Democrats enter the new election race? In public, they are apparently balking. In private, many MP wannabes are getting very itchy. Suthep Thaugsuban will have some influential say about that. But with Pheu Thai and its supporters so incensed by the Constitution Court’s cancellation of the February 2 election, consider the ridiculous possibility of the Democrats running and Pheu Thai boycotting. Now, that would be some political bombshell (although we have seen quite a few already).
Will we have the privilege of seeing Democrat supporters dressed in white, lighting candles and unfurling “Respect My Vote” banners?
Chance of the Democrats joining an election held to replace the February 2 poll: 40 per cent.
3. Will a new election take place at all? I hate to say it, but Banharn is right. The current political situation is like a boxing match where two exhausted and bloodied fighters are throwing wild punches at each other. We don’t know for certain which one is going to be knocked down first.
The Pheu Thai caretaker government wants a new election in late April or early May. The Election Commission has yet to get a consensus from political parties. Whatever came out of the EC internal meeting yesterday will have to receive nods from the caretaker government, political parties and that man in Dubai.
And we have the complications of rice scheme charges against Yingluck and the case of removed National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri, which could prove to be an even bigger bombshell. Thawil has won a legal fight for reinstatement, and his gain is potentially a big loss for the government.
The EC has made clear it does not favour an extended power vacuum, saying the current Constitution is very restrictive of a caretaker government’s activities, particularly spending. But – and this is a big but – that doesn’t mean the EC wants an early election that could run into the same impasse.
Chance of an early new election: 50 per cent if Yingluck doesn’t receive the rice scheme blow in the next few days. 25 per cent if she does.
4. When will Thailand ever have political peace? Hatred is far easier to implant than to remove. All you need to do to spread hatred is make sure words like “ammart” (elites) and “kwai” (buffaloes) are said repeatedly on rally stages and the rest will take care of itself. Now, even if the instigators of the “hate speeches” hug each other and decide to let bygones be bygones, peace won’t happen.
Then there is the relatively minor problem of Suthep having gone too far to turn back and his opponents’ stakes being too high to abandon now. Suthep makes “eradication of the Thaksin system” his non-negotiable goal and, as a result, the likes of Chalerm, Jatuporn and Tarit Pengdith are not only fighting for the boss, but also for themselves.
Chance of true political peace in the next two years: 0 per cent.
5. What should we, the neutrals or the only partially biased, do? In case you haven’t noticed, we have been without a functioning government since November. The electricity hasn’t gone out. The tap water is still flowing. The tax collectors are definitely working. The National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission is trying its best to bring us the political showdown in high definition. You can continue to post selfies and scold the other side on Facebook. And if you feel uneasy with the strong Army presence in the capital, you can reassure yourself by considering the size of the military’s budget, which, of course, is derived from our taxes.
The drought in the Northeast and insurgency in the far South are big concerns. But are they issues that, if we try hard enough, can be tackled by a government on the run and a military accused of politically bias? Maybe we can discuss this in detail in a future article.
All I’m trying to say is, it must have been a terrible mess when the world was first divided into a God-believing camp and an atheist one. But life has continued, hasn’t it? It should be the same for us, if we are not so cursed, that is.