Shifting alliances, it's deliciously Machiavellian. There are no BFFs (best friends forever) in politics. Don't be surprised if the old establishment, the military and the Thaksin Shinawatra political machine make a pact to govern Thailand as a triumvirate, leaving the Democrat Party out in the cold. Don't be surprised if negotiations are already under way to achieve that.
Incidents such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission investigating and then dropping the case of alleged asset concealment against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are merely part of the game _ negotiating parties taunt and threaten to put on a show of force in order to haggle out the best deal from a position of power.
This is speculation, not a prediction, another intellectual exercise in the form of educated guesses meant to ascertain what's behind how politics plays out. Remember, this is a world where players are sometime logical and sometimes erratic, but at all times motivated first by self-preservation and second by power.
Let's presume that the old establishment's and the military's goals are to preserve their status in the Thai social hierarchy and maintain, if not expand, their power.
Many of my dear readers would argue that the goal of the Shinawatra political machine is freedom, human rights and democracy, but for the sake of this exercise, let's go way out on a limb and presume that it's not. Rather, it is to maintain and to expand its power by pushing the Democrat Party and any opposing civil movements into irrelevance.
If they haven't already, sooner rather than later the three sides will find that they have much in common, and recognise that it will be a win-win-win situation for them to join forces.
As things stand today, the Democrat Party is still relevant with its 12 million electoral votes, its hold on the national capital and its ability to upset any bills proposed in parliament. However, there is no viable civil movement against the Shinawatra political machine. The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is now a memory.
The task then is for the Shinawatra political machine to convince the old establishment and the military that their interests align with the Pheu Thai Party _ while the latter two must negotiate the best deal in the interest of preserving their status and power.
Over the past decade, the balance of power in Thailand has clearly been disrupted. It's too late to turn back time, but the old establishment and the military remain the two greatest threats to the survival of the Thaksin political machine. The Democrat Party remains the obstacle to it expanding its power electorally.
There are two means of toppling the Pheu Thai regime. One is a military coup, always possible, but not likely given Thailand's present political and social climate.
The other is by dissolving the Pheu Thai Party through legal manoeuvring, always possible, but not likely given the threat of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) putting tens of thousands of red shirt protesters on the streets.
Either would invite a scale of disruption that Thailand could ill afford. If the old establishment and the military are not already convinced of this, it is the job of the Shinawatra political machine to convince them.
Forging an alliance with the military is a work in progress, and progress has been made. Many of the rank and file - field officers and colonels - are already red shirts from the Isan region. And while army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the ruling military circle remain staunch opponents of Thaksin, they will retire, sooner rather than later.
It is the task of the Shinawatra political machine to manoeuvre friends, cousins and classmates into positions of power within the military, making the term "watermelon soldier"apply to the army from top to bottom.
Purging the military of anti-Thaksin officers could be done in the next three to five years, if not less.
With the military going melon, while more and more citizens become disdainful of the traditional hierarchy, or simply disconnected to it and apathetic about it, the old establishment will find itself cornered. To protect its status and power, the only logical choice is to partner up with the Shinawatra political machine.
The political machine also realises that a partnership with the old establishment would provide spiritual legitimacy, which is very important to Thai society.
This would not persuade the anti-Thaksin portion of the population to suddenly fall in love with the man in Dubai, but it would strip them of an all-important cause.
Current developments favour the Shinawatra political machine, and in the next three to five years this partnership could come into full realisation.
First the old establishment and the military would have to accept that their reduction of status and power is an unavoidable reality. But they can take comfort in the fact that they will still have status and power. It would be a triumvirate of unequals, but that is always the case.
The population is divided, and if and when the political machine forges a full partnership with the old establishment, the other half of the country would lose a rallying symbol.
Personality cults are part of the Thai cultural psyche. But even without Thaksin, the Shinawatra political machine already has the advantage of a firmly established Yingluck cult for the UDD to rally around.
But the UDD must be utilised strategically. Any move to upset the political machine's consolidation of power must be met with the threat of tens of thousands red shirts in the streets. This intimidation must always appear constant, real and dangerous.
It is in the interests of the political machine to keep the UDD active, passionate and loyal. The political machine must also be careful, however, lest the UDD expand beyond control. Otherwise the game may change dramatically. There are many historical lessons that urge caution.
Thaksin himself must deal carefully within the power structure of the political machine. He must realise that the machine cannot be all about him. There must be a system, a structure and other key players who can perpetuate the power and control even without him.
To keep it within the family, sisters Yingluck and Yaowapa Wongsawat and ex-wife Pojamarn are set to carry on with the vision in the short to medium term - while son Panthongtae is marked for the long term. However, it might be wise to let the power flow beyond the immediate family to capable people.
If the Machiavellian cards are played correctly, within five years the Shinawatra political machine will have a firm control on Thailand, with the military on its side, spiritual legitimacy gained from the old establishment and the constant threat of tens of thousands of red shirts in the streets.
The Democrat Party would then find itself completely irrelevant.
To prevent this scenario from playing out, the Democrats would need to convince the old establishment of its vitality and relevance.
It would have to form a connection with the inner circle of the military and be able to influence military appointments.
It would have to convince the relevant parties of its own status and power as a significant force in Thai society, now and in the future. That it could replace the Pheu Thai regime. That it too can pose the threat of putting tens of thousands of protestors on the streets. The Democrat Party needs to figure out how to discredit, disrupt and disintegrate the political machine.
But how to do this?
A few months ago, as a guest speaker at their annual dinner, I told a room full of Oxford and Cambridge alumni at the Oriental Hotel that if I ever have children I would send them to either Sam Houston State University or Kentucky State University. This was said in jest, of course, but it had the ring of truth to it considering the Thai political landscape.
So let's see if the Oxford leadership of the Democrat Party can turn the game around. Otherwise, one day we might have a prime minister named Panthongtae.
Again, this is not a prediction, merely an intellectual exercise on the shape that Thailand's future will take. That said, prime minister Panthongtae does roll off the tongue quite well, doesn't it? Two P's sandwiching an M. Now that's definitely got a certain ring to it.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator