Can Democrats stop rash of defections?

Can Democrats stop rash of defections?

Anutin Charnvirakul, second left, speaks with Abhisit Vejjajiva, third right, during election registration. Chanat Katanyu
Anutin Charnvirakul, second left, speaks with Abhisit Vejjajiva, third right, during election registration. Chanat Katanyu

An interesting event took place at a restaurant in the Sala Daeng area last Thursday. It was the first lunch get-together between Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and former Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The meeting of the men was arranged by Deputy Public Health Minister Satit Pitutecha, one of the deputy leaders of the Democrat party. Also present was Pholapee Suwanchawee, deputy secretary-general of the Prime Minister's Office.

It was not known what they discussed, but it is enough to assume it was no ordinary chit-chat, particularly when both parties are locking horns over the controversial Cannabis Bill, a flagship bill of the Bhumjaithai Party, in parliament.

The bill has driven a wedge between the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties. Democrats had voted to support the bill during the first reading.

However, the party in the second reading changed its stance, withdrawing support on the basis of morality and social issues.

So why the U-turn now? Most pundits and the Bhumjaithai party believe Democrats are playing politics.

The Democrats cannot afford to let the bill become law, allow Bhumjaithai to claim the credit and win the hearts and minds of voters who will benefit from it.

Opposition parties also reject the bill for the same political reason -- social and moral issues. Pheu Thai even demanded Mr Anutin, who is Public Health Minister, put cannabis back on the narcotics list.

No matter what their reasons are, it is ridiculous to see MPs such as those from the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties support the Move Forward Party's Progressive Liquor Bill but at the same time reject the Cannabis Bill on health issue grounds as both liquor and cannabis can be harmful to consumers.

The meeting between Mr Abhisit and Mr Anutin may not cause a tsunami in the Democrat Party, but it definitely causes jitters among party leader Jurin Laksanawisit and secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on.

The Democrat Party has been hard hit by "internal bleeding", which saw several veteran members defecting to seek greener pastures with the Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath (PPRP) and Ruam Thai Sang Chart (RTSC) parties.

RTSC is led by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, former Democrat and former close aide to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Several Democrats have joined the party, among them Akanat Promphan as the secretary-general, Wittaya Kaewparadai, Samart Maluleem and Kriangyot Sudlapha.

More are expected to join after the end of the Apec Summit in Bangkok, including veteran ex-Democrat Trairong Suwannakhiri, who was appointed as an adviser to Gen Prayut when he quit the party.

Mr Jurin has given the impression that he is not fussed by the numerous defections, saying the phenomenon is normal for an old party, liking it to an old tree shedding its leaves and barks but still having stable roots.

But wait until after the end of the Apec Summit, when there could be a surge of defections. If the Democrat Party was dealt a humiliating defeat in the last election, the next poll could be devastating.

Speculation of a House dissolution will make the rounds more often after the summit and parties will step up their activities, such as introducing their candidates to different provinces.

No politician with a modicum of intelligence will believe that this parliament will last until the end of its term on March 23. The Election Commission has set the tentative election date on May 7.

There is, however, one important issue to be settled by the Constitutional Court on Nov 30. The court is expected to determine whether the allocation of party-list MPs will be divided by 100 -- the number of party-list MPs -- or 500 -- the number of both constituency and party-list MPs in the House.

Like the football transfer window, defections of MPs or the poaching of promising MPs by major parties will become more intense after Apec Summit and the court's ruling on the MP election bill.

Watch out for Mr Pirapan's RTSC, which has made it clear it will extend an invitation card to Gen Prayut to join the party. The prime minister is finding himself alienated by many members of the ruling PPRP after the failed attempt by Capt Thamanat Prompao to unseat the former during a censure vote.

Shunned by PPRP members and hated by opposition parties, the prime minister still has his trump card -- which is the power to dissolve the House.

And he will most likely choose the right moment that will most benefit him politically to play his last card.

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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