Thaksin's influence no longer potent

Thaksin's influence no longer potent

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra stands for a selfie with a supporter at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok on Tuesday. BLOOMBERG
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra stands for a selfie with a supporter at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok on Tuesday. BLOOMBERG

The return of Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand continues to raise questions about the fairness of our justice system.

Critics have perceived the way that the former PM served his jail term as "above the law" compared to other prisoners. Such accusations, however, are understandable.

Thaksin did not spend a single day behind bars. During his six-month "imprisonment", the 74-year-old convict spent time at Police General Hospital.

His sentence had been commuted from 8 years to one, thanks to a royal pardon.

Recently, he was also branded by political opponents as "untouchable" after Pheu Thai MPs insisted his name could not be mentioned during parliamentary debate.

During a debate in the Lower House on March 28, Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome sought an explanation from Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong about Thaksin's special treatment at the hospital.

Pheu Thai MPs protested over his reference to Thaksin.

Finally, House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha stepped in to ask Mr Rangsiman to refer to Thaksin not by his name but his position as "a former prime minister".

The Move Forward MP also demanded to know the names of doctors who certified that Thaksin was suffering from life-threatening illnesses to justify his treatment at the hospital for 180 days instead of the Corrections Department hospital.

There was no response from Justice Minister Tawee about the names of the doctors, but Pheu Thai MPs complained the House Speaker was failing to control the Move Forward MP, saying the session was not a censure debate.

The the doctors who approved of Thaksin's illnesses remain faceless.

It is wishful thinking to hope that they will have the audacity or decency to come forward to admit that he or she lied to the people throughout Thaksin's stay at the hospital.

More heated verbal exchanges ensued between Pheu Thai and Move Forward MPs until the House Speaker intervened with a threat to boot the quarrelling lawmakers from the chamber.

Such is the "untouchable" status of Thaksin that even Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is not given much credit by Pheu Thai MPs.

For Pheu Thai, the former prime minister is regarded as its only valuable asset that can rival the Move Forward Party and restore the party's popularity among the electorate.

But that wish for the return of the glorious past appears to be a distant dream as the political landscape has changed drastically since the rise of the Future Forward Party and, now, its incarnation, the Move Forward Party.

Thaksin's three-day visit to his hometown in Chiang Mai in mid-March, supposedly to pay respects to his deceased parents, was, in fact, the first litmus test for his popularity among his loyalists.

The result was far from impressive. Not many showed up to welcome his homecoming, aside from several government officials and ageing red-shirt supporters.

Obviously, his popularity has waned, particularly among young people, many of whom hardly know him, let alone adore him.

By design or coincidence, former Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat was also in Chiang Mai to observe forest fire operations.

Thaksin's next move is to visit Nakhon Ratchasima to revive his old connections with the red-shirt leaders there, many of whom have become disillusioned with the Pheu Thai Party. These days, the red-shirt movement in the northeastern region is anything but a force to be reckoned with.

A political survey for the first quarter by NIDA Poll shows Mr Pita scoring 42.75% as the most popular politician, followed by Mr Srettha's 17.75%; Paetongtarn Shinawatra's 6% and 3.55% for Pirapan Salirathavibhaga of the United Thai Nation Party.

In terms of political popularity, the only advantage of the Pheu Thai Party is the likelihood that the Move Forward Party will be dissolved.

No matter how high its popularity is, the biggest problem confronted by the Move Forward Party is that it can be dissolved by the Constitutional Court on a charge of attempting to overthrow constitutional monarchy over its election campaign to amend the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

Its 10 executive committee members, including Mr Pita and its incumbent leader Chaithawat Tulathon, are likely to be banished from politics for at least 10 years if the party is dissolved.

In the wake of a worst-case scenario, Plan B appears to have been adopted to save the party.

A new home has been put in place where the MPs who escape the axe from the court will take refuge and fight on.

For Move Forward and its predecessor, Future Forward, the characters involved are not the key element that makes them popular among the young; it is their unorthodox policy for changes which are in sync with the aspirations of new-generation Thais such as the abrogation of mandatory conscription, structural reforms and reform of the monarchy.

It will not be a surprise if the Move Forward Party is dissolved by the court.

It is certain that its successor will prevail and is likely to win the next election again, although perhaps short of a landslide victory to form a government.

The Pheu Thai Party may once again join hands with the conservative parties, among them Palang Pracharath, Bhumjaithai and United Thai Nation, to form the next government.

Members of Move Forward or whatever the name of their new party is are mostly young people and they can wait until 2030, or six years from now, when their former leaders, among them Thanathorn Juangroongruantkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, will have been freed from the 10-year political banishment and can return to active politics.

By then, Thaksin will be too old and out-of-touch with the new generation of Thais to pose much of a threat.

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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