Why FFP must learn art of compromise
Less than four months since the new Prayut government took office, political polarisation has evidently widened with the presence of new challengers like the Future Forward Party. Fortunately, those in the conflict are still trying to play by the rules, not taking it to the streets as we experienced some 10 years ago.
The ongoing political conflict involving the government and the opposition, with the FFP at the forefront, is a clash of ideologies with the former representing the conservative oligarchy and the latter brandishing the flag of liberalism. As the strife intensifies and certain elements resort to foul play, concern is growing that the matter will get out of hand. The fear is that the hatred now being fanned by both sides may result in violence.
The apparent Yala courtroom suicide bid by Judge Khanakorn Pianchana that rocked the nation last week also brought a new twist in our political polarisation, when the FFP immediately threw its support behind the embattled judge.
FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul claimed that Judge Khanakorn had previously complained to the party of intervention in the case he was presiding over. Mr Piyabutr said the party had received the judge's 25-page statement which implicated senior judges. The matter was quickly politicised and now threatens to explode into a full-fledged political affair.
The House committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights, in which the FFP plays a key role, vowed to probe the shooting and review the judge's claim of interference. The panel will also investigate the accusation made against the senior judges. This is an unprecedented move that could be seen as legislative interference in the judiciary.
No matter what the probe's outcome, the move by the FFP has drawn mixed reactions, with some cheering and others cursing. For anti-FFP elements, the embattled judge breached judicial ethics stipulating the institution's impartiality. Meanwhile the FFP, instead of waiting for the probe into alleged intervention to run its course, seems to already have the answers in its mind.
The fact that the FFP seems to have launched a war on the judiciary may backfire. What Judge Khanakorn did, despite his good intentions, may not lead to any change in the institution, never mind reform.
In fact, Mr Piyabutr and the FFP's brazen move is in line with the party's election campaign pledge to reform a judiciary that it reckons serves the old regime. The FFP's reform plans call for parliament to have a role in endorsing the appointment of high court judges after they are approved by cabinet. The party also wants court judges to declare their assets and for judges who abuse the laws to be charged with a criminal offence.
The push to reform the judiciary is part of FFP efforts to dismantle the old power structure. The party has also taken aim high at security affairs, with proposals for a smaller army, fewer generals, the abolition of conscription, as well as changes to other legacies of the military regime, including orders issued under the special powers of Section 44.
FFP spokesperson Pannika Wanich recently landed herself in trouble for stating that all sections in the current constitution "suck". Her bold statement triggered an avalanche of criticism that forced her to make an about-face and concede that sections concerning the monarchy were an exception.
The FFP's plans for the restive South are radical in proposing the withdrawal of military personnel and also decentralisation that would allow self-rule for the Muslim majority. The ruling elite reject these controversial proposals outright, seeing them as traitorous.
This explains why national security chiefs did not hesitate to lay sedition charges against leaders of six opposition parties, including Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the FFP, for joining a charter amendment forum in Pattani where changes were proposed to Section 1's stipulation that the Thai state is single and indivisible.
Despite facing criticism for its harsh action, the government, in particular the security chiefs, are refusing to step back. Though only one academic proposed amending Section 1, others attending the forum face charges as "accomplices'' since they failed to make objections to the proposal.
The legal tactics employed by the state to block the charter amendment campaign have significantly intensified the political conflict. The Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP), the core of the government coalition, wants to impeach the six opposition leaders who took part in the Pattani forum.
The FFP's fierce, uncompromising campaign to dismantle old powers is an outright provocation that is drawing heavy retaliation from the latter that has so far generated more than 10 lawsuits against the party, Mr Thanathorn and Mr Piyabutr. Some of the charges are so serious that they may lead to the party's dissolution, as well as a ban from politics for the likes of Mr Thanathorn, who will know his political fate in a matter of months.
The FFP's political roadmap, which represents a direct and unbending challenge to the old powers, can hardly be successful since the latter has no choice but to retaliate with a similar ferocity. As a result, our society is becoming more polarised and hatred is intensifying.
Perhaps the FFP should prioritise a long-term strategy that at least secures its own political survival. This means it may have to embrace political compromises where possible. A softer stance could also draw more supporters to the party, which emerged as a new parliamentary star after coming third at the March 24 elections, thanks to strong backing from the young generation.
The FFP's performance as a key opposition member over the past three months is also noteworthy, belying its status as a newcomer. If it maintains its strong record in the check and balance role, the party could grow into a genuine political institution. But it must adjust its strategy if it wants to survive the current political backlash. Otherwise, the FFP risks becoming the falling star of Thai politics.
Assistant news editor
Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.