A fortune-telling frenzy

A fortune-telling frenzy

ABOUT POLITICS: Recent developments, looming events have many people trying to guess what the future holds for key political players v Instead of being a Pheu Thai offshoot, Khunying Sudarat and her Thai Sang Thai Party look like becoming major rivals

Anutin: Strong PM contender
Anutin: Strong PM contender

Even though no general election has been called, the air is thick with premonitions about what the future holds for some big and upcoming parties striving to not only survive but thrive when it does come.

How the political landscape shapes up in the next few months lies inextricably with the fate of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha now serving a suspension pending the charter court's ruling on his eight-year tenure.

The court could hand down its decision before the month is out, but in the meantime, the country remains in suspense and Gen Prayut is increasingly on edge.

If the statements Gen Prayut presented to the court are able to convince the majority of judges that he has not yet completed his maximum two, four-year terms, the ball would be in the court of the opposition and government opponents who are predicted to protest against such a ruling by taking to the streets.

But if the court finds Gen Prayut's first term as prime minister began when he was installed by the coup-maker, the National Council for Peace and Order, Gen Prayut will have to pack his bags and vacate Government House as his tenure would have already expired on Aug 24.

Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwon, would then remain acting premier until parliament elects a new PM from among candidates on the very same list that included Gen Prayut after the 2019 general election.

But a prime minister picked from the old list would, without a shadow of a doubt, be one of the most short-lived in the country's history as parliament's term is due to end in March next year, followed by an election.

It is also heavily speculated this prime minister will come from the current coalition, with Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul possibly emerging as the stronger contender, eclipsing former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva from the Democrat Party.

A political source said Mr Abhisit could be in the running as a short-term replacement for Gen Prayut even though quite a few views he has expressed are thought to have irked the government.

Mr Abhisit is an outspoken critic of coups d'etat and what they represent and his latest prediction of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party returning to power after the next election was more than some government politicians could stomach.

Mr Anutin, on the other hand, has been consistently and unquestionably loyal to Gen Prayut while his Bhumjaithai Party has stuck with the government through thick and thin despite occasional rifts with fellow coalition partner, the Democrats, and the Palang Pracharath Party.

His prospects of securing the role were subject to a flurry of speculation when he sat down for talks with Gen Prayut recently. The Bhumjaithai leader said he had Gen Prayut's best interests at heart but declined to reveal what they discussed.

The source said, however, that many politicians are looking beyond the short period left for this parliament and getting a head-start on early poll preparations.

The formative step of these preparations is to put parties in order. Last week, Korn Chatikavanij, leader of the Kla Party, appeared alongside Suwat Liptapanlop, chairman of the Chart Pattana Party, at a press briefing to say he would join Chart Pattana's economic team.

However, he poured cold water on speculation that Kla and Chart Pattana would merge. He was also tight-lipped about whether he would step down as Kla leader before joining Chart Pattana.

Mr Korn's explanation at the briefing confused many Kla supporters who also experienced mixed emotions -- being unsure and disillusioned about Mr Korn's commitment to the party and whether he will stick with it.

A source close to the matter saw the press briefing as a covert affirmation of a partnership to be forged between the two parties, which will most probably develop into a merger.

However, a merger of two or more parties where at least one of them has one or more MPs is prohibited by law for the duration of a parliamentary term. That rule applies to the Kla-Chart Pattana "courtship".

Also, neither Mr Korn, a former finance minister, nor Mr Suwat could say outright whether their parties were merging as it would break the law which bars one party from coming under the influence of another or influencing another party.

Another source said it is only a matter of time before the two parties do merge and are named "Kla Pattana Chart" (Brave to Develop the Nation) to reflect the coming together of their political identities and ideals.

Old friends become new foes

When Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan left the Pheu Thai Party in late 2020, some observers couldn't help thinking she and the party were playing the long game and that her exit could be a tactic to help the party win more seats in the next election.

Sudarat: Playing the long game?

The observers' suspicions had very much to do with the country's dual-ballot voting system that was seen to be in favour of small parties when it came to winning party-list seats.

Khunying Sudarat's new party, the Thai Sang Thai (TST), was therefore viewed by some analysts as a possible offshoot of the main opposition party to capture party-list seats and the former Pheu Thai chief strategist would eventually reunite with her old party after the next general election.

However, as months passed, it became apparent that Pheu Thai and Khunying Sudarat's TST were separate entities and could clash head-on when the election arrives.

It was the Bangkok gubernatorial contest and city council elections on May 22 that gave Khunying Sudarat a chance to raise the profile of the TST and change the perceptions about her new party and where she stands.

The TST fielded Sqn Ldr Sita Divari, Khunying Sudarat's close aide, as the party's gubernatorial candidate and a team of candidates to vie for the 50 seats up for grabs in the council election.

While Sqn Ldr Sita was no match for independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt and was left far behind in the race, the TST won two seats on the city council. Its candidates in all 50 districts pulled in 240,000 votes, or about 10% of those who cast ballots.

Observers reckoned that the TST candidates vying for the council seats directly undermined the Pheu Thai candidates' chances of winning. The main opposition party would have won 35 seats out of 50 if the TST had not joined the race, according to experts.

Out of the 50 seats up for grabs, Pheu Thai won 20 while the Move Forward Party (MFP) took 14. The Democrat Party bagged nine seats and the remaining seven seats were shared by Rak Krung Thep group (three seats) and the ruling Palang Pracharath Party and the TST (two seats each).

"Don't be surprised when the Thai Sang Thai Party comes under attack from the Pheu Thai Party. Our party has undermined their candidates and cost them a lot of seats," she was quoted as saying.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post to mark the first anniversary of the TST, Khunying Sudarat insisted the party has established its own identity and that she left Pheu Thai to pursue her own dreams.

Khunying Sudarat insisted the TST was not a lackey to anyone. In fact, she planned to turn the TST into a political institution.

"I'm not building this party to serve as a vehicle to be the prime minister or secure cabinet seats. I'm taking what voters will give," she said.

The party was approached to merge with others to consolidate their political base and secure a big win following the electoral change from one ballot to two ballots, but she had no interest in being a faction in a large party.

"I don't think we'll merge with another party because we have a purpose to serve and are determined to do what we set out to do," she said.

Khunying Sudarat, a veteran politician in Bangkok, is known to command a strong following in the capital, but she has been gradually picking up support in the Northeast in recent years.

In the latest E-Saan poll, carried out by the E-Saan Centre for Business and Economic Research (ECBER) of Khon Kaen University, Khunying Sudarat was the top choice for prime minister with 25.8%.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and head of Pheu Thai's inclusion and innovation advisory committee, came second with 21.1%.

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat came third with 20.2% while Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, temporarily suspended as prime minister pending a Constitutional Court ruling on his tenure, trailed with 12.5%.

Almost two years after launching the TST, Khunying Sudarat was elected the party leader at a general assembly on Nov 9 last year and announced her prime ministerial ambitions.

TST heavyweights included Supant Mongkolsuthree, former chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries; Prawat Uttamote, former deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives; and Torphong Chaiyasan, former deputy minister of public health.

Sqn Ldr Sita Divari was elected as secretary-general.

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