This divorce could get messy

This divorce could get messy

ABOUT POLITICS: Pheu Thai's move to dump the MFP from its coalition may well have turned its one time ally into its future nemesis v Infighting among the Democrats could see the country's oldest party miss out on the chance of joining a new government

Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew, centre, deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai, left, and party secretary-general Prasert Chanthararuangthong announce they are withdrawing from the Move Forward Party's coalition on Wednesday. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew, centre, deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai, left, and party secretary-general Prasert Chanthararuangthong announce they are withdrawing from the Move Forward Party's coalition on Wednesday. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The split between the two largest parties, Pheu Thai and the Move Forward Party (MFP), may prove irreconcilable, with Pheu Thai possibly on its way to getting a taste of its own medicine, according to a political expert.

While some pilloried Pheu Thai for dumping the MFP in favour of securing a coalition deal with parties in the previous government, others reckoned their political marriage was never meant to be from the outset.

The now-futile attempt to bring the two almost equal-sized parties into the same coalition was a mistake to begin with, according to the expert who insisted it was neither realistic nor wise to house these two tigers in the same cave and expect both not to fight, as the Thai saying goes.

Pheu Thai has torn up the memorandum of understanding, initiated by the MFP, that committed them and six other parties to agreements as well as terms and conditions associated with establishing a government together.

The expert said it had been predicted the MoU would be highly instrumental in a grand scheme that would ultimately work to the optimum advantage of the Pheu Thai Party while leaving the MFP, the MoU's architect, out of the equation.

All the parties under the MoU were divided into two distinct blocs in terms of size.

On one side were the MFP, the biggest party with 151 MPs, and the second largest was Pheu Thai, with 141. On the other side were the small and micro parties; Prachachart, Thai Sang Thai, Seri Ruam Thai, Fair, Palang Sangkhom Mai and Pheu Thai Ruam Phalang.

There were no medium-size parties -- those with between 25 MPs and 70 MPs -- to speak of, which would have made the bloc more resilient to collapse. The alliance was susceptible to crumbling the moment one of the two major parties pulled out.

All the medium-sized parties -- Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, the United Thai Nation and the Democrats -- were in the former government.

Jatuporn: MFP 'alien to old school'

Described by Jatuporn Prompan, the former red-shirt leader and co-leader of Kana Lomruam Prachachon (Melting Pot Group), as being "alien" among the old-school political "species", the MFP had very few friends among parties elected in the May 14 polls.

Pheu Thai, meanwhile, waited patiently for the opportunity to go for the kill, which came on July 13 when MFP leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, failed to muster enough support in a joint-sitting to clinch the premiership.

The MFP may have blundered in putting forth only one prime ministerial candidate. When the party's bid to re-nominate Mr Pita six days later was rejected by parliament, the MFP's fate was virtually sealed. It had no other candidates to further the cause of leading the next government and keeping the political momentum in its favour.

Pheu Thai stepped in to claim the right to lead government formation when it was clear the MFP's bid to secure the post of prime minister was over.

Pheu Thai hinted at the possibility of adding more parties, presumably from the previous government, to the revised coalition line-up. Two such parties, Chartthaipattana and the Democrats, have admitted to being approached.

It was reported the two parties had insisted on a "non-negotiable" condition for joining, which was that the government being assembled must never pursue an amendment to the ultra-sensitive Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the lese majeste law.

The MFP, meanwhile, has set its sights on winning a landslide in the next general election in four years, assuming the current government lasts that long.

Some MFP insiders are looking to settle scores with Pheu Thai for allegedly being a backstabber. If the MFP takes the next polls by storm and clinches a clear majority -- at least 251 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives -- it would be able to establish a single-party government, and by then, the Senate, who either voted against or declined to support the MFP in the July 13 prime ministerial selection, will have been replaced. The new intake of senators, under the constitution, will not be able to co-elect a prime minister.

But the expert said Pheu Thai is not likely to sit around and watch the MFP expand and drive it out at the next general election.

The expert said Pheu Thai needs to produce plenty of concrete achievements as the ruling party to keep its existing supporters, win over new ones and win back those who had switched their support to the MFP.

At the same time, Pheu Thai's plan to modernise itself to better compete with the much younger MFP could hit a snag. The party is factional, with many of its stalwarts familiar with the business of working on the ground to win votes in the constituency election system. They are thought to be less embracing of modernisation.

The expert said Pheu Thai might opt to set up a branch party run by new faces who can easily connect with young and working-age voters.

Hurting their own prospects

The Democrat Party has been caught up in infighting that has several political observers believing it could be left out of a coalition government being formed by Pheu Thai.

Phumtham: Explains absence of Democrats

The disunity was brought into the open last month when the Democrats failed to elect a new leader to succeed Jurin Laksanawisit and a new executive board at a special assembly due to a lack of quorum.

Two camps are vying for the party leadership. One is said to back former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva's return, while the other, reportedly supported by acting party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on, prefers a younger member taking charge.

The collapse of the meeting was a tactic to delay the party leadership contest when one side could not persuade the gathering to revise the rules and give their candidate a fair chance. Seeing their side would lose the race, several party members left early, causing the quorum problem.

Another attempt at electing a new leader is scheduled for tomorrow, which could be too late for them to join the Pheu Thai-led coalition, according to observers.

The leadership issue was the very reason why the Democrat Party was not invited by Pheu Thai for talks on July 22-23 when the latter met separately with key figures of five parties to discuss how to end the government formation stalemate.

Pheu Thai sent the invites to the Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath (PPRP), United Thai Nation (UTN), Chartthaipattana and Chartpattanakla parties to figure out what it would take to get parliament to endorse its own prime minister candidate. No one from the Democrat Party was there.

According to deputy Pheu Thai leader Phumtham Wechayachai, the Democrats had no leader or secretary-general who could speak for the party, so it was not invited.

However, despite the Democrat Party being left out of the much-publicised talks, its chances of joining Pheu Thai's coalition are not over, according to a source.

Pheu Thai has two conditions to meet to get its candidate elected prime minister, and the Democrats being willing to step up and forge a coalition partnership would be highly appreciated, according to the source.

The first condition, coming from the military-appointed Senate, required Pheu Thai to exclude the MFP from the new coalition while the other, reportedly laid down by the MFP, indicates it will support Pheu Thai if it keeps the two "uncle" parties out of its coalition.

The uncles refer to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was a prime ministerial candidate of the UTN and PPRP leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

According to the source, securing support for Pheu Thai's candidate will be a walk in the park if the PPRP is brought in. The party commands 40 House seats, and its leader is believed to wield considerable influence over around 80 of the 250 senators.

But no matter how badly Pheu Thai wants to include the PPRP in the coalition, it can ill-afford to do so as the move will upset its supporters and trigger street protests.

To make up for the shortage of House seats, Pheu Thai needs the Democrat Party, which has 25 MPs. However, due to the rift within the Democrat ranks, Pheu Thai can hope to get support from about 19 Democrat MPs at most, with the six others in favour of being in the opposition.

The six are said to be three senior list-MPs, Chuan Leekpai, Banyat Bantadtan, Jurin Laksanawisit and three constituency MPs who are close to acting deputy leader Nipon Boonyamanee. These individuals are unlikely to change their minds.

According to the source, some Pheu Thai heavyweights do not like this option and would rather have all the Democrat MPs on board. At the same time, they also realise that they do not have many choices either.

It is believed some Pheu Thai figures are concerned that the internal disharmony in the Democrat Party could become a problem for the coalition once in power.

"We'll take what is brought to us. Their party has internal rifts, so it could turn out like this. But it means a lot to us," said a Pheu Thai source.

According to the source, Pheu Thai is also taking a chance with the MFP over the prime ministerial vote. The MFP does not have to rally behind a Pheu Thai candidate now that the memorandum of understanding is torn up and the MFP is being pushed into the opposition.

"But if the MFP does not vote for us, the Pheu Thai Party will be left with no choice but to bring the PPRP and the UTN on board," the source said.

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