End of an era of over two decades of political power wielded by the Shinawatra family as Pheu Thai Party manoeuvres have angered the party’s devoted base. It is a loss of faith it is unlikely to recover despite the pleas of one Udon Thani-based MP this weekend for the party to change tack and reverse course as it slides into a huge political miscalculation and blunder.
Thailand’s political crisis has already obliterated the unity and support behind the Pheu Thai Party’s ‘family’ following the decisions taken by the party’s executive in Bangkok in recent weeks, first in withdrawing from a coalition with the Move Forward Party and now for cementing a deal with the Bhumjaithai Party while preparing to accept the participation of two parties associated with the military junta in a ‘cross polar’ government. The moves have outraged Pheu Thai and Redshirt supporters nationwide who up to recent days could scarcely believe the conflicting media reports. Now, they are burning their shirts in spontaneous and numerous displays of anger just as the country’s second-largest party and the Shinawatra family appear to be on the verge of burning its bridges with its support base and power on the ground as a political movement.
A group of approximately 50 people gathered in Samut Sakhon province on Monday, west of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand, to burn an effigy of former Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra along with paraphernalia associated with the Red Shirt movement in protest against last week’s confirmation by the Pheu Thai Party, that it was forming a government across the poles which now looks like it may include parties associated with the former military junta, namely the Palang Pracharat Party of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
The 50 people gathered in the Krathum Baen District of Samut Sakhon on Monday were highly critical of Mr Thaksin as they torched materials collected during 18 years of street protests and political activity on behalf of the democratic movement which started with Mr Thaksin’s two-time General Election winning Thai Rak Thai Party which won re-election in 2005, the first time in the history of Thailand’s democracy that a party had been returned to government democratically but which was later ousted by the 2006 coup d’état after Yellow Shirt street protests.
Redshirts call the Pheu Thai Party’s actions ‘disgusting dishonesty’ as they burn T-Shirts and paraphernalia associated with 2 decades of politics
Mr Watcharin Thipmongkol, a representative of the Samut Sakhon Red Shirt movement, issued a statement to reporters as the effigy and promotional materials burned, in which he castigated the Pheu Thai Party for what he termed ‘disgusting dishonesty’ after the party did an about-turn on specific and repeated pronouncements on the campaign trail in the run-up to the May 14th General Election.
During the nationwide campaign including public rallies and media interviews, all key leaders of the Pheu Thai Party consistently denied any possibility of reaching across the aisles to the military parties, despite consistent media reports and speculation emanating from those sources, particularly the Palang Pracharat Party headed by current Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, that this would happen.
The rising tensions within the once powerful Pheu Thai grassroots or ‘family’ which is now disowning the Pheu Thai parliamentary party with rallies across Thailand in the past few days, come as Thailand finds itself in an increasingly difficult political crisis with voting for a potential prime minister in Parliament suspended pending a Constitutional Court review which is expected to be addressed by judges on Wednesday the 16th of August.
Court decision due this week will see a timetable for the next vote in parliament on the nomination of Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin as Prime Minister
The court will decide on whether to take up a challenge to the re-nomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party on July 19th.
This issue, a significant constitutional one, has since then been overtaken by political developments as the Pheu Thai Party has withdrawn itself from an eight-party alliance with the Move Forward Party to form a ‘Government of Hope’ based on democratic principles, signed on May 22nd 2023, the ninth anniversary of the 2014 coup d’état which overthrew the then Pheu Thai Party government and installed the current Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha.
Political crisis deepens as Court takes up petition, voting on PM off until at least August 16th next
After breaking with the Move Forward Party and subsequent exploratory talks with all parties, Pheu Thai announced last week a plan to form the current proposed coalition as the first step towards a cross-polar government including conservative parties linked with the outgoing government.
Opposition in the Senate reported to Mr Srettha’s candidacy for PM based on reports of a tax avoidance scheme linked with his property firm Sansiri
This new alliance which so far has been confirmed between the Pheu Thai Party which came second in the general election with 141 seats and the third-placed Bhumjaithai Party with 71 MPs, is expected to nominate the Pheu Thai Prime Ministerial nominee Mr Srettha Thavisin as prime minister.
The success of Mr Srettha’s candidacy for the top job, however, is by no means certain nor is the date for the required joint sitting of Parliament which may come as early as next Friday or Tuesday of the following week at the discretion of Parliament President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha if the Constitutional Court disposes of the legal case before it on Wednesday.
Senators have raised Section 160 (5) of the Constitution which sets down the characteristic behaviour required of any prospective prime minister towards ethical standards, suggesting that the upper house has a particular duty in this regard.
There are multiple and persistent reports that many senators are uneasy about Mr Srettha’s proposed nomination after media reports concerning the businessman’s property firm Sansiri from which he resigned before the election campaign when Mr Srettha committed himself to a new career in politics.
These reports concern alleged tax avoidance manoeuvres by the property firm in association with a large property purchase in which it is alleged by whistleblowers such as Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit the firm helped the sellers of the land avoid over ฿520 million in taxes with the company denying any improper conduct or illegality in written clarifications on the claims made against it.
Confusion and disorder reign in Pheu Thai’s efforts to form a new government with conflicting reports that some analysts attribute to a conservative plot
There is, in fact, general confusion concerning the Pheu Thai Party’s efforts to put together this new coalition with many analysts suggesting that such uncertainty is being deliberately created and is already beginning to undermine its credibility amongst the public and within the negotiations for a new government.
For instance, there were reports over the weekend that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will now insist on having a cabinet position in the new government, despite reports circulating in the media days previously and attributed to Pheu Thai, that he would designate his younger brother, Police General Patcharat Wongsuwan for such a position.
On Sunday, Deputy Leader of the Palang Pracharat Party, Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn, currently the Digital Economy and Society Minister of the outgoing cabinet of General Prayut Chan ocha, came out to suggest that General Prawit had never made such a commitment and confirmed that he would accept any role in government offered to him.
‘General Prawit Wongsuwan is the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party and its nominee for Prime Minister,’ Mr Chaiwut stressed to reporters.
It is thought that General Prawit, apart from 40 MPs in the House of Representatives. personally controls a significant number of senators in the upper house, handpicked and appointed by the outgoing junta in 2019.
Senate blocked nomination of Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister on July 12th last despite the support of 62% of the House and 72% of the electorate
This unelected body, last month, on July 12th, successfully blocked the original Move Forward and Pheu Thai Party government proposed with 62% of MPs and 75% of the electorate behind it when the nomination of Pita Limjaroenrat failed.
Most senators in the Upper House abstained, 13 voted for with 39 senators against, denying him the 376 votes required to be elected prime minister under the distorted provision of Section 272 of the Constitution which expires on May 11th 2024.
Mr Pita achieved 324 votes, 51 short of electing him prime minister.
There is now concern that the Pheu Thai Party since it has rejected Move Forward and moved across the aisle to the parties associated with the outgoing government, may find itself at a disadvantage with the bargaining power increasingly playing into the hands of General Prawit and the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
Predictions that Mr Srettha’s nomination will also fail in the next joint session of parliament further weakening the position of the Pheu Thai Party
Some political analysts have suggested that ultimately Mr Srettha’s nomination for prime minister will also be blocked by the Senate and that the Pheu Thai Party will lose the initiative to form a government which will be handed over to the Bhumjaithai Party, which in turn will only accept General Prawit as Thailand’s next Prime Minister.
This is now a subject of open speculation among the public and creating exceptional unease.
On Sunday, a Move Forward MP for Udon Thani, Mr Nattapong Piphatchaisiri, commented on activities in the North Eastern Province among Red Shirt followers who have also begun to burn their shirts and paraphernalia associated with the Pheu Thai Party.
They are supported by leading celebrities, entertainers and personalities who are coming out to denounce the party for its betrayal of democratic ideals in the last week.
Mr Nattapong, on Sunday, urged the Pheu Thai Party to think again about where this is going and confirmed to reporters that this feeling and opinion is prevalent in all the small villages in Udon Thani which previously supported parties associated with ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Natapong said it was his understanding that there was a groundswell of opposition among the public to what had happened in Bangkok over the previous two weeks.
Redshirts in Samut Sakhon were bitter on Monday as they decried the ‘fraudulent propaganda’ of Pheu Thai in the runup to the May 14th General Election
Back in Samut Sakhon on Monday, Mr Wacharin and 50 Redshirts gathered and explained that the current actions of the Pheu Thai Party were a betrayal of the people’s democratic ideals.
He said the election promises and rhetoric of the party in the run-up to May 14th was nothing but fraudulent propaganda.
The bonfire of Redshirt paraphernalia included foot slappers, whistles, baseball hats and badges which have been associated with ongoing street protests linked to the political struggles of Mr Thaksin and various parties associated with a political movement that has now effectively been destroyed.
The political moves by the Pheu Thai Party in the last few weeks have sundered it perhaps permanently from its support base and obliterated the loyal following behind Mr Thaksin and his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister who swept to power with Pheu Thai in 2011.
Both former prime ministers are currently in exile and subject to prison sentences in Thailand because of criminal cases linked with corruption and abuse of power which are believed to have been politically motivated but which nevertheless still stand as an obstacle to their return to the country.
Plans to facilitate Thaksin’s return to Thailand criticised as improper for a transparent democracy by academics and former Pheu Thai Party supporters
There is also a multitude of reports linking efforts to create a cross-polar government which has portrayed the talks between Pheu Thai and the parties associated with the outgoing government as the formation of a government of reconciliation, involving some sort of a deal to allow Mr Thaksin to return to Thailand, something which has also been greeted with dissatisfaction from those advocating democratic ideals in Thailand.
Reports last month of secret meetings in Hong Kong, which were confirmed, where Mr Thaksin met key political party leaders, have been denounced by academics who would normally be supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, as not in keeping with a transparent democracy.
On Sunday, a protest rally of protesters on bicycles and motorbikes pulled up outside the offices of the Pheu Thai Party and the Bhumjaithai Party in the centre of Bangkok in the business heart of the capital.
At both locations, protesters left leaflets and splashed paint with glue traps normally used to catch mice being left at the Bhumjaithai Party offices, a reference to Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, whose nickname in Thai (Nu) means ‘mouse’.
At a rally outside the Bhumjaithai Party’s headquarters at 3 pm, closely monitored by police, following representations by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin to the Royal Thai Police in recent weeks over violent protests during his meetings and consultations with the Pheu Thai Party, officers kept a close eye on the protesters as speakers denounced the Bhumjaithai Party’s record in government, including the COVID-19 shutdowns and its efforts to decriminalise cannabis.