Pheu Thai must size up its options
text size

Pheu Thai must size up its options

People cross the road near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on the eve of the general election. (Photo: AFP)
People cross the road near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on the eve of the general election. (Photo: AFP)

By today, we should know the unofficial election results, particularly whether the Pheu Thai Party will win a landslide election or win the most House seats of all the other parties contesting the race for 400 constituency MP seats and 100 party-list seats.

In the past few days, the Move Forward Party, led by party leader Pita Limjaroenrat, was breathing down the neck of the Pheu Thai Party as its popularity has steadily surged, especially among young voters as clearly witnessed in the large turnout at its last pre-poll rally.

But most opinion polls and pundits believe the Pheu Thai party will still come first and win the most House seats.

By tradition, it should have the first right to form the new government with the parties of its choice including Move Forward and others who brand themselves in the liberal camp.

They must command at least 375 votes for a majority in parliament without the need of the Senate's support.

Before election day however, a trial balloon of a minority government comprising parties from the conservative bloc and support from the majority of the Senate was floated to pre-empt the liberal bloc from forming a government.

Such an idea is unacceptable because it defies the principle of democratic rule by the majority to reflect the will of most voters.

It will be ideal if only Pheu Thai and Move Forward have a majority to form a government of only two parties.

But that prospect may not be likely if the Move Forward Party still sticks with its pre-election promise to amend the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code, which is considered a highly sensitive issue.

The Pheu Thai Party has also made clear that it will not amend the law, which could stir up a hornets' nest.

Even if many young urban people who wish to see monarchy reform may not mind if the lese majeste law is amended or scrapped, there are many among the silent majority who may feel offended and rise up if their revered institution is desecrated.

Another controversial policy of the Move Forward Party is to do away with mandatory military conscription, a policy embraced by many young voters but opposed by the military.

However, this policy is not as disturbing to Pheu Thai as the lese majeste law change.

As far as the Move Forward Party is concerned, an about-turn on both flagship policies will amount to a betrayal of the trust of its young supporters.

That would be the price it pays if the party drops those two pre-election promises to join a government with the Pheu Thai Party.

There is yet another disturbing problem, that is the fate of Pita Limjaroenrat over his share ownership in the media company ITV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 90s.

Political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana has asked the Election Commission to investigate Mr Pita, claiming the Move Forward Party leader owns 42,000 shares in ITV which is against Section 98 (3) of the constitution which forbids an individual from being an owner or holding stakes in a media company from contesting an election.

Mr Pita, however, claimed he is just an executor of the shares which were inherited from his late father.

He also claimed he had reported the shares in his assets declaration to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Mr Pita will have to prove that he is just an executor of the will and not the owner, or the case will go to the Supreme Court (Election Cases Division).

He and his party's candidates may end up like his predecessor, Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit, leader of the now defunct Future Forward Party, and his party's candidates, who were banned from politics.

Will the Pheu Thai Party join hands with Move Forward Party when the latter advocates amending the lese majeste law and with its leader's future hanging in balance? The party may have to think twice.

The other alternative lineup is for Pheu Thai to join hands with the Bhumjaithai Party which has announced that it can work with any party even though it is part of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha which also included the Palang Pracharath Party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon.

Adding one or two more parties, such as the Thai Liberal Party and Thai Sang Thai Party, would give the coalition a comfortable edge in the House.

Forget about the campaign rhetoric that the party will not associate itself with a "dictatorial" party like Palang Pracharath, whose campaign slogan is overcoming political conflict and poverty.

A coalition of the Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath parties will be more stable and less problematic than one with the Move Forward Party.

However, the Pheu Thai Party cannot take all the important first-grade cabinet portfolios and leave the second-grade portfolios to its partners or the party may be left alone.

In this scenario, the United Thai Nation Party will be sidelined and the party's prime ministerial candidate, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, will be sent packing to the comfort of his family.

His faithful supporters will miss him just as many will rejoice his departure after eight years of failed promises.

It remains to be seen what the face of the new government will look like.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, 'Bangkok Post'.

Do you like the content of this article?