Next govt tipped to be short-lived

Next govt tipped to be short-lived

Parliamentary minority would only lead to bickering, disunity and instability

Protesters on Sunday gathered at the skywalk near Victory Monument BTS station to demand that the election be held on Feb 24 as previously scheduled. A second mass protest is due on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)
Protesters on Sunday gathered at the skywalk near Victory Monument BTS station to demand that the election be held on Feb 24 as previously scheduled. A second mass protest is due on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)

The next government could be a very short-lived one given the possibility of it emerging with a parliamentary minority, politicians are warning.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said there are three potential post-election scenarios: a party winning more than half of the 500 MP seats at stake and governing solo; parties huddling together to form a government with a House majority; and parties left locked in disagreement while a few of them attempt to set up a minority coalition administration.

Mr Abhisit said a government with a parliamentary minority is not totally out of the question, but it would suffer from enormous internal instability.

Leading figures with the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) also agree that a post-election government may not last for very long as the administration might be made up of several medium-sized parties prone to bickering and disunity.

Meanwhile, a possible protest wave began Sunday, as citizens gathered for a mass rally to demand elections be held on the original Feb 24 schedule. They promised a second protest on Tuesday if their demands are not instantly accepted by the government.

A three-horse race

Analysts believe three major parties will compete to put together the next government. As a former ruling party with extensive nationwide support, the Pheu Thai Party might stand the best chance, followed by the Democrats and the PPRP.

Pheu Thai is out to capture votes by establishing itself in the anti-regime camp which counts the Thai Raksa Chart, Prachachat and Future Forward parties among its members.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are dusting off policies they argue were effective during their time as the ruling party in past governments. These include the rice price guarantee scheme.

The Democrats also set themselves apart in terms of political ideology from Pheu Thai and the PPRP, although they assert they are not in conflict with either.

The PPRP, meanwhile, has been touted as the most prepared party to compete in the next poll with four cabinet members now running it while refusing to take off their ministerial hats.

The PPRP has been chided for directing state resources to its advantage and the "unprincipled" recruitment of defectors from other parties, reportedly with the help of the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group headed by veteran politicians.

The party has admitted it is looking to approach Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to be on its prime minister candidacy list to lead the next government. If Gen Prayut agrees, the party will be able to capitalise on the premier's best asset -- his ability to keep the country peaceful and stable -- which would be heavily advertised in the PPRP's election manifesto.

The race between the three major parties is on now that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has lifted the ban on political activities it imposed after the May 2014 coup.

Although Gen Prayut is a strong contender for the post-election premiership, Mr Abhisit insists nothing is certain in politics.

"Should the PPRP manage to muster only 40 to 50 MPs, its right to lead the government's formation efforts will definitely be called into question," he said.

Gen Prayut might also be waiting for an opportune time to respond to the PPRP's request to be on its prime minister candidacy list. And if he accepts such an offer, he will forfeit the opportunity to be nominated as an outsider prime minister by other parties, according to Mr Abhisit.

Bhumjaithai and Thaksin badge

The political analysts say that Bhumjaithai is also a party to keep an eye on. The medium-sized party is known to be endowed with financial clout that outstrips the Democrats and matches both Pheu Thai and the PPRP.

Bhumjaithai, led by Anutin Charnvirakul, has announced that it is fielding MP candidates in all 500 constituencies across the country. It is tapping into the strongholds of its rivals, including those in the South traditionally held by the Democrats, the analysts said.

Many southern voters have made it known at previous polls that they do not favour MP candidates linked to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. However, Bhumjaithai is not seen as wearing the "Thaksin badge", so it stands to reap electoral support in that region.

The same cannot be said for the Prachachat Party headed by former House speaker Wan Muhammad Nor Matha who served as interior minister during the Thaksin administration from October 2002 to March 2004. He was a member of the now-defunct People Power Party (PPP), which succeeded the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party founded by Thaksin. Both the TRT and the PPP were dissolved by the Constitutional Court for electoral fraud.

It won't be easy for Prachachat to shrug off links to Thaksin although it might capture some MP seats in the far South as its Muslim members have close ties to voters in the predominantly Muslim region, according to critics.

Mr Wan Nor told the Bangkok Post that the party's popularity in the three southernmost provinces -- Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala -- is increasing and by the time the polls take place, he is confident it can win at least seven seats out of the 11 constituencies up for grabs, where nearly 90% of the population are Muslim of Malay ethnicity.

Swing parties, the kingmaker

In the next election, which is expected to be a close race, the "swing parties" could be vital to forming a coalition government. These are the medium-sized Chartthaipattana and Chart Pattana parties that could hook up with either the Pheu Thai- or PPRP-led blocs.

Both parties are known for driving a hard bargain over the allocation of cabinet seats, said the analysts.

In the build-up to the election, the PPRP has been the first and, so far, the most dynamic of the parties in getting its poll preparations in order. According to a source close to the matter, the party started work seven months ago with the goal of becoming the ruling party after the election.

Originally, it targeted becoming the biggest party. To do that, though, would require making inroads into turf held by Pheu Thai and the Democrats, the country's two main parties. In fact, as the days wear on, the PPRP is realising that this may be unlikely, the analysts said.

But the analysts agree the election will be fiercely contested with no room for compromise among the three biggest parties.

Pheu Thai haunted by its past

On the other hand, Pheu Thai remains dogged by the memories of scandals during its last stint at the nation's helm, and this might bode ill for the party in the poll.

The rice-pledging scheme, which was the flagship project of the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, was riddled with corruption.

This led to Yingluck fleeing the country in August 2017, shortly before the Supreme Court handed down a ruling over the scheme in which she was indicted for dereliction of duty for her role in allowing graft to permeate the scheme at all levels.

Of late, her older sister, Yaowapa Wongsawat, is thought to have left the country after speculation grew she too might face charges in connection with the case.

Analysts have forecast that Pheu Thai and its allied parties might win less than 200 MPs between them while the PPRP expects to take about 70 constituency seats and 60 party-list seats.

If that is the case, Pheu Thai and the PPRP will look to the "swing" parties, which may include the Democrats, to join forces with to form a coalition government.

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