Chalerm re-emerges with usual outspoken rhetoric

Chalerm re-emerges with usual outspoken rhetoric

Former deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung has broken his long silence after holding his tongue since the May 22 coup. He has re-emerged not just to deny the rumour of his imminent death from an incurable disease but to demonstrate his capability to read the political pulse and predict the future in a private talk with select former Pheu Thai MPs last week.

The maverick veteran politician said that among a handful of beneficiaries from the putsch led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha are the Pheu Thai Party and fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, he said, appears to be the happiest of all because the coup-makers helped the ex-premier solve several problems for Pheu Thai — the red-shirt movement and the ousted Yingluck government, which had been beset by many problems.

For that helping hand from the generals, Mr Chalerm suggested Thaksin should return the favour by sending Prime Minister Prayut 12 packs of expensive Petrus wine.

While he thinks Thaksin and Pheu Thai have benefited the most from the coup, the former deputy prime minister believes the Democrat Party and the People's Democratic Reform Committee, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, suffered the most because they got almost nothing out of it.

He predicted Pheu Thai would stage a comeback in the next election because Thaksin's brand name is still saleable among the Isan electorate — and the party need not do anything except sit quietly in the corner and wait until the new constitution and new election laws are promulgated.

However, he warned the party might have to rethink its election strategy if the government succeeds in winning hearts and minds among the grassroots people in the Northeast.

Mr Chalerm said there are only two things that could ensure Pheu Thai loses the next election: Thaksin dies, or quits politics for good.

In typical outspoken style, Mr Chalerm served a clear warning to Prime Minister Prayut and his top legal experts about writing a new charter in a way that will render Pheu Thai dysfunctional.

He was quoted as saying that since Gen Prayut is smart and hopes to live a peaceful life and walk free on the streets after he steps down, he will not allow these legal experts to do such an outlandish thing.

Personally, I think it is premature for Mr Chalerm to be making predictions about Pheu Thai's political future.

There are still some unknown factors yet to emerge. For instance, the fate of the two former speakers, Nikhom Wairachpanich and Somsak Kiatsuranont, who are facing impeachment at the hands of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for their role in the past government's move to amend the constitution and change the make-up of the Senate.

There are other impeachment cases pending. For example, an impeachment bid against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for her alleged failure to protect the national interest in the rice pledging scheme. Also, there are impeachment moves against most Pheu Thai MPs and some senators for supporting the constitutional amendment.

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) last Friday voted to postpone the impeachment case against Mr Somsak and Mr Nikhom, claiming it required more time to read the NACC's case file, which is about 5,000 pages thick.

The decision is a letdown, but the NLA cannot postpone the case indefinitely and it will have to be reinstated for consideration. After all, they are paid to do a job, and that job is not to procrastinate on the impeachment case but to make a decision — two decisions to be exact. The first is to decide whether to accept the case. The second is to decide whether the duo should be impeached.

If the two are impeached, then the decision will have far-reaching implications for the Pheu Thai Party given the rest of the impeachment cases. This will be the third condition that Mr Chalerm appears to have overlooked.

Then there is the new constitution, which may pose another obstruction to Pheu Thai's return. Mr Chalerm should not dismiss lightly the vow by the coup-makers and their supporters that they will not let the putsch be wasted.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

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