Sibling sightings part of political PR game

Sibling sightings part of political PR game

Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra pose for a photo (since deleted) with Thaksin's son Panthongtae last week in Singapore. (Instagram/@oak_ptt)
Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra pose for a photo (since deleted) with Thaksin's son Panthongtae last week in Singapore. (Instagram/@oak_ptt)

The recent sightings of two former prime ministers, Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, in many countries in the region are not a coincidence. Rather, they mark a ramping up of their power game.

First, a photo featuring the two fugitive leaders in China went viral about two weeks ago. It was the first snap featuring Yingluck with her big brother to surface since she fled the country in August last year ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling on a malfeasance case against her. Their Beijing appearance is believed to have taken place during Chinese New Year.

The ousted leaders then left China for Japan, where another photo of them in the Land of the Rising Sun again went viral. More photos followed, documenting a trip that also took Hong Kong and then Singapore last week.

Soonruth Bunyamanee is deputy editor, Bangkok Post.

Although the pictures seem to indicate that the pair were unwittingly photographed, particularly during their walk at a Beijing market, there are substantial clues which suggest that these "leaks" were both calculated and politically motivated.

In Singapore, the siblings and Thaksin's son, Panthongtae, posed for a group photo which also went viral after the son posted it on his Instagram account for one minute before deleting it.

During these trips, it was reported that they met several key Pheu Thai Party figures, piquing the suspicions of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

It prompted the regime to play its party dissolution card against Pheu Thai, as they threatened that the meetings between the party's executives and the fugitive former leaders could violate the constitution.

The current charter prohibits intervention by any outsider in the internal affairs of a political party. Violators, whether individuals or political parties, could face harsh punishments, ranging from fines to imprisonment to party dissolution.

If these pictorial teases are politically motivated, as speculated, the main question is: Why now?

Well, from March 1, the NCPO will allow new political parties to be registered, some of which are expected to be formed purely with the mandate of supporting an "outsider" to be selected as prime minister after a general election.

There have been news reports that many politicians of existing parties are being tapped to join these new parties, especially former MPs from Pheu Thai strongholds in the North.

One such former Pheu Thai MP, Chonlanan Srikaew, says several former MPs from his party in several provinces have been approached to join new parties.

Even though most former Pheu Thai MPs, particularly those in the North and the Northeast, have pledged not to defect, Mr Chonlanan said he was uncertain whether they would keep their promises. When the time comes, he said, these former MPs might be induced by some attractive benefits offered in return for their defection.

The Democrat Party also faces a similar situation. Some party members said former MPs have been approached to defect to new parties.

The most-talked-about new party is the one being established by former street protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who is a former Democrat secretary-general. Although Mr Suthep himself has not confirmed the rumour, his little brother, Mr Thani, did so on Tuesday.

Mr Suthep, a former head of the defunct People's Democrat Reform Committee (PDRC), is reportedly setting up a party which will advocate for Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to return to the helm as an "outsider" PM after the election.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has admitted Mr Suthep retains a significant influence over several members and former MPs of his party.

Still, if Mr Suthep really sets up a political party, it is likely the Democrats would rather seek an alliance with his party than Pheu Thai after the election.

Since Yingluck fled the country, several former Pheu Thai MPs have cast doubt over the party's future.

The appearance of Yingluck accompanied by Thaksin in the region seems to be a message to Pheu Thai members and former MPs, as well as the siblings' supporters, that the former premiers are still vigorous and ready to back the party in any coming poll.

In the meantime, a music video titled My Brother Will Be Back was released on social media by a pro-Thaksin group last weekend.

The video features the photos of Thaksin and Yingluck as well as other Shinawatra family members. Its lyrics are about injustices against the two former leaders and their eventual return to the country.

These activities show the Thaksin camp is gearing up its efforts to reclaim power or, at the very least, prevent the regime from returning to prominence after the election.

Refusing to become a sitting duck, the regime kicked off its so-called Thai Niyom Yangyuen (sustainable Thainess) development scheme early this month.

In the first phase of this high-profile project, which began on Feb 12, the regime's teams will be dispatched to knock on the doors of people in over 80,000 villages to ascertain the needs and problems of "grassroots" people.

A generous 2-billion-baht budget has been allocated for food and beverages during these field trips.

The rest of the scheme's total budget of 150 billion baht will be allocated from the Central Fund for the implementation of various projects over the next four years.

Political observers note the scheme is likely a PR drive by the regime ahead of the election.

Superficially, some may say that the poll, now expected early next year, will be a fight between the pro-democracy camp and the pro-authoritarian one. But, in fact, it will be a battle between the pro-Thaksin camp and the military regime.

Soonruth Bunyamanee

Bangkok Post Editor

Bangkok Post Editor

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