Best of friends or enemies?
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Best of friends or enemies?

ABOUT POLITICS: Move Forward and Pheu Thai appear to be putting on a united front but in reality 'daggers are waiting to be drawn' - The Democrats need to think carefully about which direction to take if they want to survive and turn their fortunes around

Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew shakes hands with Move Forward Leader Pita Limjaroenrat after a meeting of the eight coalition parties at the MFP headquarters in Bangkok on July 2. (Photo: Varuth  Hirunyatheb)
Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew shakes hands with Move Forward Leader Pita Limjaroenrat after a meeting of the eight coalition parties at the MFP headquarters in Bangkok on July 2. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

The Pheu Thai and the Move Forward parties will have an adversarial relationship right through to the next election and beyond, according to a political analyst.

Both parties have a knife behind their back, ready to stab one another.

It is thought the Pheu Thai Party has been suspicious of the Move Forward (MFP), its closest ally, since before the general election, the analyst said.

On the surface, Pheu Thai and the MFP have positioned themselves as like-minded, pro-democratic entities who went through more than eight years of Prayut Chan-o-cha-led governments.

Under the surface, however, Pheu Thai may have a reason not to trust the MFP.

A political source is convinced the MFP knew from the outset that it would end up in the opposition.

The hurdles have multiplied, which dimmed the MFP's prospects of successfully forming a coalition government, as the days drew closer to the electing of the new House speaker and prime minister in parliament.

Soon after the May 14 general election, MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat was the subject of a petition by Ruangkrai Leekitwatthana, a former Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath Party politician, over his iTV shareholding controversy.

He was alleged to have knowingly owned 42,000 shares in iTV despite a law which bars anyone with stocks in a media firm becoming an MP.

However, Mr Pita hit back, insisting he held the shares which had been bequeathed by his father to him and his sibling in his capacity as executor of his father's will.

Pita: Faces slew of challenges

The Election Commission (EC) has admitted the case for deliberation and will rule whether or not it has grounds for referring Mr Pita to the Criminal Court.

This week, the EC inquiry panel looking into Mr Pita's alleged ineligibility wrapped up its investigation and forwarded the findings to the EC's main committee.

From the iTV saga also comes other equally worrying legal disputes that could put Mr Pita before the Constitutional Court whose ruling could wipe out his political future and his shot at the premiership.

If the share row does not bring Mr Pita down, a far heavier criminal charge which is being sought against the party might.

The FAIR Party, a member of the proposed eight-party coalition led by the MFP, recently landed itself in hot water after a senior party figure, Hakim Pongtigor, spoke at a seminar on the right to self-determination and the advocation of a separate "Patani" state.

Also due to participate in the forum was an MFP politician whose no-show came at the last minute. The forum concluded with a mock questionnaire distributed to participants, reportedly asking them if they agreed whether people should have the right to hold a referendum on the deep South separating from the rest of the country.

Political activist Srisuwan Janya earlier petitioned the EC to investigate whether FAIR, the MFP and Prachachart Party were complicit in the alleged separatist push.

Security authorities are moving to arrest anyone actively connected to the forum on charges of violating the security law and trampling on the constitution's stipulation that the nation is indivisible.

Then, a sift through his asset declaration records by the investigative Isra News Agency revealed what critics termed as suspicious intent behind Mr Pita's sale of prime land in Prachuap Khiri Khan at a heavily discounted price.

The 14-rai plot with convenient access to a road and natural resources in Pran Buri district was estimated to be worth at least 18 million baht. However, Mr Pita put it on the market for six million baht, and the land was finally purchased at a heavy discount, which critics thought might have been a way to evade paying high taxes.

Mr Ruangkrai said he sent a letter to the MFP leader to provide more information about the transaction to fulfil a constitutional requirement for a minister.

He said the MFP leader is seeking to become prime minister and so should prove he has the qualifications listed in Section 160(4) of the charter, which says a minister must have an honest track record.

Amongst the information Mr Ruangkrai asked from Mr Pita was the land sale contract, the receipt, the estimated price, payment of land transfer fees, personal income tax, and a copy of the land ownership paper.

The PPRP member also wanted to know if Mr Pita had paid brokerage fees for the transaction and authorised anyone to carry out the transaction on his behalf.

Mr Ruangkrai also questioned whether the land was sold at the stated price.

The Pheu Thai source said that given the slew of legal challenges against both the MFP and Mr Pita, the MFP must have banked on itself transferring to the opposition bench.

But before that, it might be in the MFP's best interests to play "victim" with Pheu Thai portrayed as the villain in the unfolding political drama, according to an observer.

The Pheu Thai Party has been attacked by MFP supporters for flip-flopping on its position over the House speaker role. The party vehemently insisted on claiming the role only to backtrack later and again soon after that.

Pheu Thai said earlier it was a matter of principle that the biggest party, being the MFP, should get both the speaker and prime minister posts. However, its supporters instantly vented their fury at what they said was Pheu Thai's lackey mentality toward the MFP.

The reaction prompted Pheu Thai to reassert its demand for the speaker position amid observers' comments that the party was trying to capture the speakership as a stepping stone for the premiership.

Victimhood could be the MFP's ticket to sympathy votes in the next election four years down the road. Being in the opposition would free it up to drum up enough support to win an outright majority in the next election.

At the same time, the Pheu Thai Party, as the ruling party, might be tempted to emasculate the MFP as part of a pre-emptive strike to prevent it becoming a formidable challenger in the next polls.

Abhisit: Thought to prefer opposition role

An old party at the crossroads

The Democrat Party is thought to be more divided than ever after the collapse of the July 9 meeting to select a new leader to succeed Jurin Laksanawisit, who stepped down following the party's poor election performance, according to observers.

It is no secret the Democrats have different views about which direction the party should take following the May 14 general election in which they won only 25 seats, half the total captured in the 2019 polls, and lost significant ground in their southern stronghold.

One camp reportedly wants to be part of a new government, preferably led by Pheu Thai, while the other wants to be in the opposition as a way of clawing back its reputation and political strength.

The first camp is said to be led by acting secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on, who backs Naraphat Kaewthong, a veteran politician from Phichit, to become leader. The opposing group, which is believed to have the support of party patriarch Chuan Leekpai, is rooting for former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to return to head the party.

The July 9 meeting to select a new executive board and party leader ahead of Thursday's crucial prime minister vote was supposed to decide which way the party would head.

However, it was brought to an abrupt end as a result of a lack of quorum. This happened as it appeared that the candidate backed by Mr Chalermchai's group may be on course to win the party leadership contest and control the party's fate.

When the meeting kicked off in the morning, there were attempts to undermine Mr Chalermchai's group by revising the weighted vote rule used in the selection of the party leader.

Under the rule, current MPs account for 70% of the total, while the other members make up the remaining 30%.

Mr Chalermchai's faction is believed to have 20 MPs and that number is enough to enable Mr Naraphat to win the leadership contest.

The motion was shot down, and so was an attempt by acting party deputy leader Ong-art Khlampaiboon to postpone the vote for 60 days. When these efforts failed, a lack of a quorum to postpone the leadership race became the last resort.

Without a new executive board, the Democrats could not pass a formal resolution on how MPs should vote in the joint sitting of MPs and senators to select the new prime minister.

A Democrat Party source said most MPs are unlikely to vote for Mr Abhisit because they want to be part of the next government. The former leader is believed to prefer being in the opposition.

Rumour has it that Mr Chalermchai has cut a deal with Pheu Thai and agreed to support the party if it takes over in leading the formation of a coalition government from the Move Forward Party. With 25 House seats, the Democrats can expect to be allocated three cabinet portfolios.

Analysts believe the Democrats will be "finished" if it chooses to join a coalition headed by Pheu Thai, which it has fought bitterly against. The party will be seen as abandoning its principles.

If the party wants to revive itself, there is no better place to start than working with the opposition.

Now that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided to leave politics for good, the Democrats might be able to capture the four million votes the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party had in the May 14 poll, said Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political scientist from Nida.

It is predicted the UTN, without Gen Prayut, who served as its chief adviser and central figure, will be weakened through defections to other parties, if not disintegrate.

But some pundits argue that it does not matter who takes charge of the Democrats, unless it undergoes a serious revamp and gives younger politicians bigger roles in running its affairs, the party will not be able to revive its fortunes.

According to Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat open university, the Democrat Party is fraught with structural problems and is bound by an ingrained organisational culture that does not support young politicians.

He cited the departure of several members of the "New Dems" group after the 2019 election defeat as a party failure to undertake an internal overhaul and tap into the potential of these young politicians.

One of the former New Dems, Parit Wacharasindhu, defected to the Move Forward Party where he was given a chance to prove himself, according to Mr Yuttaporn.

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