Conservatives still wield 'lawfare' axe
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Conservatives still wield 'lawfare' axe

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin looks on during an interview with Reuters in Koh Samui, Surat Thani province, on April 7. (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin looks on during an interview with Reuters in Koh Samui, Surat Thani province, on April 7. (Photo: Reuters)

Thai politics is facing a dilemma once again as key parties are being slapped with lawsuits.

For the Pheu Thai Party, no one would ever have thought that the ruling party, despite having reached a compromise with the old power groups and leaving the alliance with the Move Forward Party (MFP) to form a coalition with military-leaning parties, would be in such a difficult situation.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin finds himself in trouble from appointing Pichit Chuenban, regardless of his jailbird past, as PM's office minister in the reshuffle.

A group of right-wing senators took the case to the Constitutional Court to decide whether such a controversial appointment breaches political ethics.

The court has accepted the petition but stopped short of suspending the premier from work. Instead, it gave him 15 days to clear himself, with the deadline being June 7.

Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai's de-facto leader, is also being indicted for an old interview he gave to South Korean media many years ago that was deemed an insult to the monarchy.

As he entered the information into a computer system, he also faces a computer crime charge because the Office of the Attorney General considers such an act a threat to national security.

However, the agency could not arraign him as his lawyer submitted a medical certificate stating that Thaksin had contracted Covid-19.

If that is not tough enough, Pheu Thai has experienced a deep plunge in popularity.

A recent survey conducted by King Prajadhipok's Institute showed that if the elections were called soon, the party that won 141 seats in the May 14 polls could grab only 105 seats, almost half of the prospective gain, 208 seats, from its friend-turned-foe, the MFP.

When asked who their favourite candidate for PM would be, Mr Srettha came in fourth place with only 8.7% support, after MFP chief adviser Pita Limjaroenrat (46.9%), former prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (17.7%) and Pheu Thai Party leader Paetongtarn, daughter of Thaksin (10.5%).

Needless to say, what Thaksin and Mr Srettha are facing has something to do with "lawfare" or judicialisation.

Under such a situation, the former has effectively become a "political hostage".

Although the OAG is supposed to be politically neutral, in reality there are a few political cases that suggest otherwise.

This explains why the agency is playing a tough game with Thaksin, a seemingly unlikely scenario given the fact that Pheu Thai Party is in power.

Several analysts say that Thaksin's indictment suggests the deal Pheu Thai wrangled with the old power groups shortly before the May 14 poll has gone awry.

Some pointed out that quite a few are uneasy with Thaksin's privileged status while incarcerated -- having spent the time in a relatively luxurious hospital room -- not to mention his reckless attempts to re-connect with political factions, which seemed to contradict his claims of being seriously ill, in a bid to ensure Pheu Thai can make a bigger comeback in the next polls.

Thaksin's bids for a solution to the ongoing Myanmar conflict -- which involved some meetings with the leaders of ethnic groups while he visited his home province of Chiang Mai in the North in March -- followed by a talk with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim over issues in the deep South, are also seen as a step out of line, and this has made some state agencies feel uncomfortable.

On top of that is Thaksin's announcement, issued at least twice, about there being a plan in motion to pave the way for runaway ex-premier Yingluck's return, either at the end of this year or early next year.

Yingluck, Thaksin's sister, escaped a five-year prison term relating to her administration's controversial rice-pledging scheme. In order to facilitate her comeback, a compromise deal that would involve bending the rule of law -- as in the case of Thaksin -- would seem to be unavoidable.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Srettha's future remains uncertain even if the charter court has decided not to immediately suspend him from work.

While statistics show that 80% of politicians who were spared such a suspension managed to survive the legal axe, Mr Srettha cannot afford to be too confident, so he has approached former deputy prime minister and legal guru Wissanu Krea-ngam for help in the hope the latter could help clear up issues with the old power groups.

While declining the offer to serve as deputy prime minister, Mr Wissanu eventually agreed to become a legal adviser for the embattled prime minister.

Perhaps the right-wing groups aim to teach Mr Srettha a lesson.

If he manages to survive this crisis, he must remember that he might stumble and fall at any time.

But if not, it means the conservatives want to push Ms Paetongtarn, who is apparently being groomed as prime minister, to the nation's top position ahead of time.

In that case, Thaksin's youngest daughter would fall into the position of being a "political hostage'', meaning she would be closely scrutinised by the old power elements that have infiltrated some important independent agencies.

The conservatives may think that it is easier to handle Ms Paetongtarn, who is by any standards a political novice.

This month, things will become clearer.

Mr Srettha, Thaksin and Pheu Thai, as well as its arch-rival, the MFP, will learn of their respective fates, which now lie in the hands of the judiciary.

What is also clear is that the conservatives continue to maintain a tight grip on Thai politics through judicialisation.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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