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Fate of Pheu Thai now hangs in the balance

Posted by pakin On September - 13 - 2016

They may doubt the survey methods, but politicians should not ignore recent opinion polls showing public support in favour of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha retaining his role after the return of civilian rule.

Following the overwhelming endorsement of the military-backed constitution in last month’s referendum, the surveys present further evidence of widespread public support for the coup leader.

Politicians can no longer afford to wait and see if the Constitution Drafting Commission drafts an organic law to dissolve political parties. If they sit still now, it could be too late to win back people’s trust and stem the flow of popularity towards the junta chief.

Instead they urgently need to restructure their parties and reform themselves to meet public expectations. The message from the referendum and opinion polls should be especially alarming for the major parties. Pheu Thaiand the Democrats desperately need to revamp themselves.

As both parties appear to be up against just one strong competitor – General Prayut – their first question is who to choose as leader for the general election next year.

Democrat incumbent Abhisit Vejjajiva, who opposed the draft charter, says he is willing to continue in the role if his members back him. He could be re-elected for a fourth successive term at the end of next year, when his current tenure ends.

The Democrat Party’s election of executives would take place close to the date of the next election as scheduled by the junta’s road map.

Pheu Thai, meanwhile, might be compared to a headless chicken. Fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is looking for a suitable person to replace acting leader Viroj Pao-in.

Pheu Thai’s status looks more shaky that that of the Democrats because its real bosses, Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, are seen as the main opponents by the junta.

In contrast, many Democrat politicians have maintained a close relationship with former party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who is currently chairman of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation and also has close ties with the junta.

It’s unlikely that the junta will allow a party dominated by the Shinawatras to rise from the grave, after administrations led by two members of the family were overthrown by successive military coups.

Generally, politicians prefer to be members of a coalition party in government rather than be sitting on the opposition benches. Pheu Thai politicians are no exception. But the chances of them forming the next government may be zero.

Hence, political observers foresee disarray for Pheu Thai. Some members may seek to defect and join other parties to ensure a better political future. A former Pheu Thai government minister, who asked not to be named, recently told reporters that he was looking for a new party.

If the worst comes to the worst, the party could be torn apart, with only the most loyal Shinawatra followers opting to stay.

Thaksin, who has lived in exile overseas since 2008, now has a choice to make: compromise, or continue fighting the military-backed regime.

A leader willing to compromise and forge a relationship with the military regime could rescue his party, but that would also risk triggering a mass defection by Pheu Thai members opposed to the dictatorship, which could sink the party.

Former PM Thaksin has been feeling the heat from legal action taken against those close to him during his post-coup government’s tenure. His sister Yingluck is also fighting criminal charges related to her government’s rice-pledging scheme, with jail time beckoning if she is found guilty.

The organic law on political parties might not end up resetting the political landscape, but other developments could set Thaksin back to square one.

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