Plot twists put democratic return at risk

Plot twists put democratic return at risk

Authorities received so many fearful calls about a possible coup on Sunday that the army had to put reassuring 'On exercise' signs on their armoured personnel carriers indicating they were not taking part in a coup. (Photos provided)
Authorities received so many fearful calls about a possible coup on Sunday that the army had to put reassuring 'On exercise' signs on their armoured personnel carriers indicating they were not taking part in a coup. (Photos provided)

An explosion of far-right anti-Thaksin extremism is by far the most worrying fallout from the political tumult that grabbed the nation by the throat last Friday, among other disturbing developments.

From its relatively stable position as a dictatorship moving towards a new election, Thailand plunged back into extreme political volatility overnight.

Speculation is rife about what could happen next with a plethora of assumptions and possibilities, but no clear facts.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

The murkiness and climate of doubt blanketing the country is decidedly not healthy for the upcoming poll and ultimate return to democracy.

The royal command confirming that Princess Ubolratana remains a royal member, thus above politics, even though she relinquished her official titles decades ago, quickly returned calm to a country rattled by her nomination as a prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The reprieve is looking increasingly short-term, if not tenuous.

The surface calm lasted for a single day before it was shattered by rumours of another military coup.

By Sunday night, social media were abuzz with "reports" that police had been put in position to guard key places in Bangkok before a fake order firing commanders of the armed forces became widely circulated.

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon in charge of security affairs stopped the fake news yesterday saying there will be no repeat coup and authorities will take care of people who are spreading the rumours.

Uncertainties still hang in the air, however.

The future of the Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) Party, set up as a second-line banner for Thaksin's main political vessel Pheu Thai, remains in doubt as election authorities went back to work yesterday.

As the public face of this unprecedented political manoeuvre involving the highest institution, the TRC appears to be the biggest loser having borne the brunt of ire from this audacious game gone wrong, as wells as suffering damage to its brand of liberalism and engendered a sense of alienation within a party billed as a hotbed for "progressives".

Royalists and anti-Thaksin forces called for the party to be dissolved. As authorities flip through laws to find the best way out of the tangled trauma, worries grow as to whether a decision on the TRC's fate will cannon into the validity of the March 24 poll itself.

Amid the doubt, a climate of fear settled in. This was reflected in concerns over the whereabouts and well-being of TRC leader Preechapol Pongpanich following the shock nomination, though he reappeared in public shortly after.

The move was unprecedented, unthinkable even. There is no map beyond this line. Anything thus seems possible, and the unpredictability of what may happen to the party and people associated with events that do not conform to existing rules, norms or traditions carries a spooky effect.

Anxiety and fear are building just as anti-Thaksin sentiment seems to have become more intense than ever.

The late-night command from the royal palace may have effectively put the body politics that had been on a tailspin during the day back on track, but the political as well as psychological effects of the royal nomination can't be undone.

For the royalist elite and other anti-Thaksin groups, the nomination of Princess Ubolratana as prime minister was a sacrilege and has apparently raised their hatred against the former PM to a fever pitch, even spurring bloodlust among some of them.

Arguably, the frenzy may benefit pro-junta political parties as they run against Thaksin-backed election champions like Pheu Thai and associated banners. The more people are made to hate, or fear, Thaksin, the more votes are likely to go to the other side.

But the whipping up of far-right extremism must stop as the country comes back on course towards next month's election. The royal command may be interpreted long into the future over its coverage and implications.

What is clear, however, is the King's statement has restored calm to a confusing political flux that put the country on edge. A return to extremism could upend this fragile peace, which is something the country can't really afford at the moment.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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