The once invincible Pheu Thai Party is facing one of the toughest times in its history as the military-led government looks to use the very tactic that it deployed over the past decade to make sure that it returns to the helm after the elections.
The tactic of pulling various members from the smaller parties to help shore up support for a return to power, the plans to raise funds and all-out spending in the form of populist policies are all being played out by this government to win the hearts and minds of the people.
Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.
The junta's moves seem to be taken from the playbook of the very party that they are looking to bring down, Pheu Thai. Not too long ago the Thai Rak Thai Party, followed by its reincarnation as the People's Power Party, before both were disbanded to give birth to Pheu Thai Party, attempted to pull in the best of the best candidates to increase their chances in the polls.
This ploy, coupled with populist platforms saw the party win every election held since 2001. The junta-backed party in incubation has already taken this tactic to heart, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been at the forefront with his visits to the various power centres around the country.
He went to the Northeast to muster support then recently was in the eastern seaboard area to promote the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) where he also managed to bring in the godfathers of that region -- the Khunpleum family members -- to the junta's fold by offering them "adviser" positions. Then came the appointment of Sakoltee Pattiyakul, a member of the seven-decades-old Democrat Party and key actor with the People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC), as deputy governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. This came just days after he reportedly met junta-appointed Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
"So much for reconciliation" is the thought that comes to my mind. This government came in promising to bring about a swift reconciliation and four years later this remains its excuse for not having held elections earlier. With just 23 days to go before the fourth anniversary of the putsch that propelled the then army chief Gen Prayut to power, the word reconciliation seems like it no longer exists in the dictionary of our military rulers and the appointment of Mr Sakoltee is yet another example of how ignorant the junta is about the feelings of the people. One can talk about reconciliation and the promises of the junta over the next few weeks before the anniversary but let us get back to the issue at hand -- the plans by the junta to get back to power.
Although the coup leader Gen Prayut has denied being a "vacuum cleaner", sucking up talent from other parties, all parties are feeling the heat. Even the Democrat Party, which was supposed to benefit from the military coming to power, has come out to say that it expects nearly two dozen of its potential MPs to be sucked up by a pro-Prayut party.
To make matters worse there have been talks of funds being raised to finance a bid for power. Although this has been denied by the junta, sources have said for months that the government has been on the lookout for ways to finance its campaign.
The number coming out in the media seems to be as high as 40 billion baht, a number that could make 2019 the most expensive election in the history of this country. If the military-backed party is going to spend 40 billion baht, it would not be surprising if Pheu Thai spends a similar amount or more, while the Democrats, Bhumjaithai, Chatthai Pattana and others will also have to spend lavishly to compete.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the famous fortune teller Warin Buawiratlert has come out to say that Gen Prayut is likely to return as the prime minister after the general election slated for February 2019. He also ruled out the possibility of the Democrats and Pheu Thai forming the core of the next government; a notion that looks very likely as their hatred for each other is so deep that they may not be willing to work together to bring down their common enemy -- Gen Prayut.
And this common enemy has been determined in his efforts to destroy both the Pheu Thai party and the Democrats with its liberal use of executive power. Although the world witnessed something once considered impossible on Friday with the handshake between North and South Korean leaders, and their steps to end their conflict, hopes of such a breakthrough in this country seem like a very long shot.