Will voters prioritise peace or the economy?
As Thailand is moving toward a general election next year, there is hope on the horizon for change to the political landscape.
If the election, tentatively set for Feb 24, takes place as planned without being postponed again, it would be the first poll since July 2011. This could pave the way for Thailand to move forward after more than a decade of being stuck in political turmoil.
Soonruth Bunyamanee is editor, Bangkok Post.
The decade leading up to the military coup of May 2014 saw a series of prolonged and massive street protests as a result of a colour-coded form of political conflict.
From 2005-2009, protesters from the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) undertook several street demonstrations against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra and its successor.
Its chief opponent, the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), protested against the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration from 2009-2010.
The latest protests came from the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which rallied against the government of Thaksin's younger sister, Yingluck, and the so-called "Thaksin regime" of 2013-2014.
These extended street demonstrations not only disrupted the livelihoods of many people but also caused the economy to suffer and derailed the country's development.
The political turmoil has its roots in the conflict between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps. It has also prevailed in parliament, pitting MPs of one camp against those of another.
As a result, politicians from both sides have been urged to "step beyond" the Thaksin issue, to little avail.
Some pundits are predicting the two camps' dominance of Thai politics will end at the upcoming election.
Why? Because people have had enough of street protests and political chaos. They do not want to suffer that again.
The two opposing political groups seem to have sensed this. The UDD and PDRC leaders have apparently changed their tactics.
A red-shirt core leader, Jatuporn Prompan, is reportedly joining hands with veteran Pheu Thai politician Yongyuth Tiyapairat to lead a new political party called Pheu Chart, which translates as "For the Nation".
The party is said to be an ally of the Pheu Thai Party, set up as a vehicle to help the bloc capture the maximum number of votes for party-list MPs following the introduction of a new election system.
Suthep Thaugsuban, the PDRC leader, who once told his supporters he would exit politics, recently co-founded the Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) Party and adopted the role of recruiting members and fundraising.
However, both Mr Jatuporn and Mr Suthep will fail in their political ambitions if they end up resorting to their old strategies of mobilising crowds to join their street protests and using hate speech against their political foes.
Their old strategies left too many of their supporters injured, behind bars or even dead.
PDRC supporters in particular were disappointed upon learning that their leader, Mr Suthep, has eaten his own words.
Mr Suthep seems to have overestimated his popularity, thinking it could be on par with the backing he received from PDRC supporters during the time he led the street protests.
However, his recent jaunts in several areas to recruit members for the party have apparently received a cold response.
Former parliament speaker and core PDRC supporter Arthit Ourairat recently posted a message on his Facebook page calling for Mr Suthep and other PDRC leaders who have joined ACT to stop their political activities.
He noted that people "no longer believed them".
For the next election, people will not be used as political tools anymore. The poll will not be a fight between the same two camps. After years of deep political and social divisions, politicians are now expected to really move forward and focus on what is in the best interests of the country and the public.
What people fear the most is more political chaos and violence. Some pundits have suggested the public would rather see the military regime stay in power than another election in a bid to maintain peace and order.
They say most people would vote for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to make a political comeback as a democratically elected premier should he throw his hat in the ring.
I'm not convinced by this theory but I agree people want peace and order.
Several opinion polls have shown the majority of respondents want the election to take place even if they rate Gen Prayut as their favourite prime minister. The question is, why?
I think it is because they are confident in his ability to maintain order. Yet they don't quite trust the administration under military rule as it lacks effective "checks and balances" mechanisms and transparency.
There have been several controversial issues involving the regime or its key figures. These include an investigation into more than 20 luxury watches worn by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon; massive purchases of military weapons and equipment that critics say is not needed; and a spike in graft related to numerous state projects.
The last one is somewhat ironic as the coup makers previously accused politicians of being corrupt and vowed to stamp this out.
Over the past four years, Gen Prayut, in his capacity as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has used the special powers granted to him by Section 44 of the interim charter to make laws and orders without any checks or balances. The same goes for NCPO-appointed legislators who have initiated and passed many laws.
The economy will be another crucial issue for voters. The rising cost of living and bread-and-butter issues are clearly the priorities for the public, as reflected in opinion surveys.
But the NCPO has set a new bar in terms of what kind of economic policy political parties can propose during campaigning. An organic law on political parties requires each party to disclose how it will source state funding for its policies if elected. In addition, the 2018 State Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act bans the cabinet from adopting populist policies to run state affairs.
The election will likely boil down to pro- and anti-junta camps, who will have to deliver practical economic policies. After that, Thailand will hopefully see a new political landscape after 13 years of unrest.
Bangkok Post Editor
Bangkok Post Editor
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