Pheu Thai won't play second fiddle

Pheu Thai won't play second fiddle

This Oct 14 marks the 47th anniversary of the student-led uprising that eventually led to the overthrowing of the Thanom-Praphas-Narong regime notoriously known at the time as the Tyrannical Trio.

In subsequent years, this historic event was celebrated in a low-key fashion at the memorial dedicated to the fallen heroes at Kok Wua intersection near the Democracy Monument. This is not surprising as most people have forgotten the event, let alone those who are under 60 who would have been too young then to take part in anti-government protests.

Time flies, but I still have the memory of being near Democracy Monument one day before Oct 14, 1973, and witnessing the march of students converging on Ratchdamnoen Avenue, with those in the front row holding pictures of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great. I also had the opportunity to listen to the rousing speeches made by key speakers like Seksan Prasertkul, Jiranan Pitpreecha and Saowanee Limmanond.

This year, it will be different. The Free People and Fee Youth movements have promised a big show of force -- not just to commemorate the fallen heroes, but to protest against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan- o-cha and to repeat their call for reform of the monarchy in accordance with their 10-point manifesto declared on Aug 10 at the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University.

For the time being, it is not known where they will stage the mass rally after Thammasat University rejected their request to use the campus.

Some veteran political analysts have predicted the crowd will be smaller than the rally held at Sanam Luang on Sept 21 because of the likely absence of red-shirt followers who made up the majority of the protesters that day.

They point to a recent shakeup in the opposition Pheu Thai Party following an audience with HM the King by Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra.

The major shakeup of the party's executive committee, which saw the re-election of Sompong Amornvivat as the party leader and the dissolution of the strategic committee following the resignation of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, was interpreted by analysts as a sign that Khunying Potjaman, the de facto party leader and the real power broker, was not happy with the party leaning toward those calling for reform of the monarchy.

It was alleged that some Pheu Thai MPs were instrumental in mobilising red- shirt followers to join the last two protests held by the Free People Movement.

Other analysts said Khunying Potjaman stepped in to shake up the party because it is losing the leadership role in the opposition bloc to the Kao Klai Party, a reincarnation of now-dissolved Future Forward Party under Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who is now the leader of Progressive Movement.

The shakeup in the Pheu Thai Party is like old wine in an old bottle with a new logo for the party's name using a new font. The new executive committee saw the departure of several members close to Khunying Sudarat who wanted Mr Sompong to be replaced by a new leader.

Instead, Mr Sompong was reelected uncontested and the party, which appears to have become rudderless recently, will be reined in under the grip of the Shinawatra family. Policy changes are yet to be seen.

But Oct 14 may provide a clue about the change, if there are any, in the Pheu Thai Party. If red-shirt followers show up in force to join the Free People Movement protest, then it means the revamped executive committee is just cosmetic.

On the contrary, if there are few red-shirt followers at the rally, it means the wind of change is indeed sweeping through the party. That the party has won every general election for more than a decade since the founding of the Thai Rak Thai Party before its dissolution by the Constitutional Court testifies to the popularity of the Shinawatra family and the political acumen of its key members.

With closer control from the family, the party will project itself as not being anti-monarchy but, at the same time, not completely detached from the new generation who remain steadfast in their call for change, including the reform of the monarchy.

Viewed in this context, the party will not stop the red-shirt followers from joining the protest but, at the same time, will not support them as it did in the past. This time around, the party will not play second fiddle to the Kao Klai Party or Mr Thanathorn's Progressive Movement. Let see whether the protest leaders will succeed in their plea for business operators to close down on Oct 14 to allow their staff to join the ground-shaking mass protest they have promised.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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