Regime sets sights on axeing Pheu Thai

Regime sets sights on axeing Pheu Thai

ANALYSIS: Dissolution a risk if former PM is pulling the party's strings

Thaksin, Yingluck and Thaksin's son Panthongtae ('Oak'), pose for a photo, apparently taken last week in Singapore. (Photo via Instagram/oak_ptt)
Thaksin, Yingluck and Thaksin's son Panthongtae ('Oak'), pose for a photo, apparently taken last week in Singapore. (Photo via Instagram/oak_ptt)

The Pheu Thai Party faces the prospect of dissolution after it was accused of allowing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is widely believed to be its de facto leader, to control its internal affairs.

The former ruling party vehemently denies Thaksin is pulling the strings behind it, which would be considered a violation of the new constitution prohibiting a political party from being influenced or controlled by an outsider.

This rebuttal came after recent media reports quoted a security source as claiming a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) legal team is following up on recent meetings between party members, former executives and Thaksin in China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore during the Chinese New Year festival.

The NCPO wants to find out if the party is being influenced by Thaksin.

A Pheu Thai source said key party figures had discussed the issue, adding that it was obvious that Thaksin's recent appearances had significant political implications.

The former PM's appearances earlier this month were timed to steal the limelight without the need for him to release any kind of statement, the source said.

Thaksin was fully aware any move he made would be construed as a move by Pheu Thai, the source said.

Rumours suggest that during those meetings Thaksin gave former energy minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal his blessing to lead Pheu Thai, rather than Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who has also been tipped as a leading candidate for the role, added the source.

Phumtham Wechayachai, the party's secretary-general, issued a statement insisting that the meetings were social in nature and had nothing to do with the party's formal political affairs.

Any decisions made by Pheu Thai are always decided upon by its executives who listen to the opinions of the party's branches and supporters. It is impossible for anyone else to interfere with the party's decision-making process, Mr Phumtham said.

The Bangkok Post's Pheu Thai source said it would be quite a while before a new leader is chosen because it is now obvious that the general election will not take place this year.

The poll has likely been put back from this November to next February at the earliest due to the 90-day extension of the enforcement of the organic bill on the election of MPs.

For now, the best course of action is for the party to stay resilient and patient, and try to hold on to its former MPs during a time when defections may occur, the source said.

Pheu Thai speculated that the regime is playing for time as it not confident that a military-backed party can gain either the cooperation of rival former MPs or sufficient popular support for victory in a general election, said the source.

Political parties suspect a military-backed political party will be established and attempt to draw members of existing parties to back it and support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the regime staying in power after the election.

Yutthaporn Isarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, said that it was obvious that Thaksin's recent trips to Asia were a political move to prepare for the election.

Despite the repeated postponements, there has been a recent clamour for an election this year, as earlier promised by Gen Prayut. In light of this, Thaksin took advantage of the situation to make sure that the people do not forget him or the Pheu Thai Party, Mr Yutthaporn said.

Since political parties and politicians currently remain impotent due to the political restrictions imposed by the regime, Thaksin and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, also an ex-premier and fugitive, came forward to remind their supporters they were still alive and well, Mr Yutthaporn said.

He added that Pheu Thai is no stranger to party dissolutions. The party is a reincarnation of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai and People Power parties.

In light of this, Pheu Thai is likely to tread carefully to avoid the need for yet another rebirth, he said.

Meanwhile, Watana Muangsook, a key Pheu Thai figure, earlier posted on his Facebook page that he was among the people who visited Thaksin and Yingluck during the Chinese New Year. They did not discuss politics, he insisted.

Addressing the issue of a new party leader, Mr Watana said he would prefer someone who has been fighting side by side with them against the current "dictatorship" since the military coup toppled the Pheu Thai-led government in 2014.

As for the party's nomination for prime minister should it win an election, he said it may hold an opinion survey to gauge public views on the popularity of candidates.

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