Stepping out of shadows
Ex-FFP MPs face an uphill challenge as they shift to Move Forward Party - Internal strife comes to light after Democrats threaten to pull out of coalition - Pheu Thai vows to keep up pressure on Prayut despite poor showing at no-confidence motion
published : 14 Mar 2020 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
The Kao Klai Party emerged from obscurity this week when it became the new home for at least 50 MPs who were attached to the now-dissolved Future Forward Party.
These new "tenants" decided to call it the Move Forward Party (MFP), though its Thai name translates to "leaping far", which leaves observers wondering how far it will go to prove it can function as a political entity.
This is not a newly formed party. It has been registered with the Election Commission (EC) for a while now, as confirmed by EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma.
The EC said last Saturday that the little-known political party with no MPs registered as the Phueng Luang Party, before it was renamed Kao Klai. This party was expected to remain dormant until the former FFP MPs decided to move in. They said that they will apply to become MFP members next week.
The MPs, led by the luminary Pita Limjaroenrat, announced last Sunday that they had found a new roof over their heads.
However, critics have been asking how much of the FFP's legacy the MPs can bring with them to the MFP.
Mr Pita, who is poised to lead the MFP, was clear last week that the ex-FFP MPs are committed to their former party's ideology.
"Rest assured, our new home has the same heart," Mr Pita said, adding that the MFP will carry the FFP's pledge to oppose all policies of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
"The new party's ideology remains unchanged. Also, we have been working together for one or two years," Mr Pita said.
However, Mr Pita did admit that though the MFP will be inheriting the FFP's ideological legacy, it has a mind of its own.
"We are independent [of the dissolved FFP] in terms of our policies, journey and decision-making," he added.
Critics, however, say they may have reason to doubt the MFP's ability to maintain its independence. The FFP's triumvirate -- its former leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and spokeswoman Pannika Wanich -- may be gone but they have certainly not been forgotten by supporters who have shifted their allegiance to the MFP.
These three are among the former FFP executives barred from politics for 10 years as a result of the party's dissolution. They are also prohibited from engaging in any political activity, covertly or overtly, for 10 years.
However, critics say there's no stopping the three former FFP execs from wielding considerable influence over supporters who are likely to be "responsive" to them.
Since the party was dissolved, the former executives have been posting messages on social media, which are shared regularly by supporters.
Political experts say it remains to be seen whether Mr Pita will have any success in stepping out of Mr Thanathorn's shadow. After all, they say, it was Mr Thanathorn who built the support base of 6 million voters who cast their ballots for the FFP in last year's election.
Anupong: Blames dissident MPs
Sowing the seeds of distrust
At a time when face masks are most needed, a close aide of embattled Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow was found hoarding them -- a controversy that has further fanned flames that were already blazing.
Capt Thamanat is not popular in the cabinet and his performance in the recent censure debate left a lot to be desired, especially in the eyes of some Democrat MPs.
Hours after the scandal surfaced, leaked text messages in the Democrat Party's Line group began circulating.
The messages were suggestions that the party should consider pulling out of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP)-led coalition, otherwise, it would be like "paddling a boat that is carrying 'thieves'".
Some political observers saw this move as stepping up pressure on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to remove Capt Thamanat from his cabinet.
The premier, however, ruled out any immediate cabinet reshuffle in the wake of the censure date, which all six targeted ministers including Gen Prayut survived, though Capt Thamanat won the fewest votes.
As for the hoarding of face masks, Capt Thamanat denied any links and has refused step down.
The Democrats, meanwhile, reportedly set a condition when they were first deciding to join the PPRP-led government that they would withdraw from the coalition if corrupt practices were exposed.
According to several Democrat members and MPs, the hoarding scandal should be enough to consider leaving the coalition.
Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, however, reacted quite strongly to this suggestion from "dissident Democrat MPs".
"Was it even proper to talk about a reshuffle of coalition partners? If they want a reshuffle, they should talk to the prime minister. I doubt if this is the opinion of the entire party," he was quoted as saying.
However, Gen Prayut stepped in to contain the possibility of a war of words, and make amends after initially shrugging off calls for a reshuffle and telling the Democrats that they were free to leave.
Hours after making the biting remarks, the PM came out to apologise for his "quick mouth" and insisted that the coalition continues working together.
Democrat Party spokesman Ramet Rattanachaweng also came out to clear the air, saying the call did not reflect the party's stance and that it was still part of the coalition until the party decides otherwise.
Political observers say the Democrats' move does not come as a surprise, as this is the type of politics the party usually plays.
The observers cited the no-confidence vote, saying that even though Democrat MPs voted for Capt Thamanat, several of them later told a press briefing that they only voted for the minister because they had to comply with party wishes.
This action, they said, does not just violate political etiquette but also sows the seeds of distrust within the coalition. After all, with 51 seats, the Democrat Party is aware that if it pulls out, it will weaken the Prayut administration.
"That's possibly why Gen Prayut came up with an apology so quickly," said one observer.
Anudit: PM has 'breached charter'
Post-censure fallout continues
The main opposition Pheu Thai Party is struggling to restore its credibility after its performance during the recent no-confidence debate against the government failed to impress the public.
Pheu Thai stands accused of attempting to spare Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon from censure, which pitted it against MPs of the dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP).
The FFP MPs complained that they were "cheated" out of their chance to speak during the debate, which spared Gen Prawit from an intense grilling.
FFP MPs led by Pita Limjaroenrat lambasted Pheu Thai for hogging most of the debate time which left some FFP members without any chance at all to question the targeted ministers.
However, Pheu Thai denied it took more time than it was allocated to ensure the FFP had no time to go after Gen Prawit.
He was one of the six targeted cabinet members, a list which also included Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. All six targets survived the no-confidence motion.
Nevertheless, the two opposition camps have vowed to continue working together despite this falling out.
In order to show that Pheu Thai is still relentless in its desire to keep the government in check, party secretary-general Anudit Nakhonthap submitted a request via House Speaker Chuan Leekpai to seek a Constitutional Court ruling against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Mr Anudit alleged that although Gen Prayut retired as army chief more than five years ago, he still lives in a military house, which could be a breach of the constitution.
If the court rules against Gen Prayut, this could make him ineligible from carrying on as prime minister, Mr Anudit said.
Pheu Thai has also asked the National Anti-Corruption Commission to look into the government's alleged interference with state agencies to favour tobacco company Philip Morris (Thailand) Ltd -- an issue which was also raised during the debate.
However, a source with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) called Pheu Thai's latest efforts to scrutinise the government "a face-saving exercise".
Pheu Thai still has a lot to learn about scrutinising a government and the Democrat Party, which was formerly in the opposition and had exposed the rice-pledging scheme scandal under the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, should serve as a model, the source said.
Pheu Thai must also look at how it can better manage its time and share it fairly with "friends" who have set out on a common mission to point out flaws or irregularities in the government, according to the source.
Therefore, the source added, it is not surprising that the PPRP has not been worried by Pheu Thai's vigorous campaign against the government in the wake of its unimpressive performance during the censure debate.