Reconciliation by accident
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Reconciliation by accident

ABOUT POLITICS: Has the rapid rise of the Move Forward Party seen long-time colour-coded antagonists unite against a new enemy? v Pheu Thai is in the government formation driving seat, but trust and which way to turn are proving its biggest problems

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the election-winning Move Forward Party and its prime minister candidate, greets supporters during a rally at CentralWorld in Bangkok on July 9, 2023. (Photo: Wichan  Charoenkiatpakul)
Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the election-winning Move Forward Party and its prime minister candidate, greets supporters during a rally at CentralWorld in Bangkok on July 9, 2023. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The Move Forward Party (MFP) must have realised by now that emerging on top at a general election does not guarantee holding the reins of power.

The party has also witnessed its closest ally, the Pheu Thai Party, turn against it under the cloak of a "neo-conservative" foe.

The MFP, according to analysts, pulled off one of the most surprising results in politics when it took the country by storm in the May 14 polls and won 151 House seats out of 500 up for grabs.

Sooner after the unofficial results were released by the Election Commission (EC), party leader Pita Limjaroenrat bestowed upon himself the title of presumptive prime minister, much to the delight of supporters and, at the same time to the chagrin of some MFP admirers who thought it was premature to do so.

The MFP had rushed to consolidate eight parties in the so-called "pro-democracy" bloc who had stuck with it during their years in opposition against the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration.

The MFP took an unprecedented step to draft a memorandum of understanding outlining policies the eight parties would pursue in a coalition government. The MFP hoped the document, despite not being legally binding, would tie the parties together in spirit.

A source said the MFP-led alliance's prospects did not look bright from the outset. Two almost equally large parties do not typically find the incentive to do business with each other as coalition partners since one, thinking it wields sizeable bargaining power, would tend not to yield to the other over the execution of policies.

With 151 MPs, the MFP has 10 more than Pheu Thai.

Pita: Premature PM announcement

However, Pheu Thai was in a far better position to form a government, given its longstanding connections with other parties, even those in the opposing camp, such as Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath.

The source agreed the Pheu Thai-MFP relationship was tenuous, and it would have been sooner rather than later that they split. Their separation was also destined to be a less-than-amicable affair.

As the Pheu Thai Party edges closer to leading the next government, war with the MFP looms large on the horizon.

The source said the MFP deserves credit for having succeeded in under four months since the May 14 election, what the Prayut administration had failed to do in nine years of running the country.

The MFP's election triumph has forced traditionalist parties such as the once-powerful Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and its breakaway, the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party, to not only swallow defeat but also search for allies still formidable enough to fight off what they consider is an MFP threat to their political and ideological conservatism.

That is where Pheu Thai comes in, according to the source.

Since the frictions, both visible and behind closed doors, between the MFP and Pheu Thai have intensified, signs have emerged of longstanding colour-coded conflict between the red and yellow shirts easing.

The red shirts are loyal supporters of Pheu Thai while the yellow shirts align themselves with parties that uphold traditional values and are staunch defenders of the crown.

For years, the two sides had been embroiled in a bitter conflict which came to a head in May 2014 when the yellow shirts led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee held protracted mass protests and demanded the ouster of the Pheu Thai-led government, accusing it of gross corruption chiefly over its flagship rice-pledging scheme.

Pheu Thai was eventually toppled in a coup engineered by the National Council for Peace and Order headed by Gen Prayut, who subsequently became prime minister and installed his close ally, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, as deputy prime minister in charge of national security.

Gen Prayut became a patriarchic figure and a prime ministerial candidate of the UTN, whereas Gen Prawit has served as the PPRP leader.

But the two parties' recent election defeat -- where they hugely underperformed with the PPRP garnering 41 MPs and the UTN 36 -- has left the conservative establishment with no one among them to defend its cause and stand up to the MFP.

The two parties have no choice but to turn to Pheu Thai and lend their full support for it to become the next ruling party. Pheu Thai has also struck a chord with the PPRP and the UTN by keeping clear of amending Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the lese majeste law, something the MFP has vehemently refused to do.

The source said that Pheu Thai, if it heads the new government, will need all the support it can muster to counter and even emasculate the MFP, which looks increasingly likely to end up an opposition party. By gaining support from traditionalist parties, Pheu Thai may find itself inching ever closer towards becoming the guardian of conservative values.

So who do you put your faith in?

With the Move Forward Party (MFP) now dumped and no "uncle" parties included yet in a political alliance being formed by Pheu Thai, the next prime ministerial vote will see if the MFP and senators are true to their word, according to observers.

Srettha: Pheu Thai's likely PM nominee

After tearing up an agreement it signed with the MFP and six small parties to give itself a chance of forming a coalition government and return to power, Pheu Thai has forged a new alliance with Bhumjaithai, the third-largest party, following the general election in May.

Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai, with a combined 212 House seats, have lured six small parties -- Prachachat, Chartpattanakla, Seri Ruam Thai, Plung Sungkom Mai, Thongthee Thai and Pheu Thai Ruam Palang -- into a new coalition bid with 28 seats.

The alliance is growing further with the inclusion of the Chartthaipattana Party.

However, it is still short of a majority in the 500-seat House of Representatives by a dozen seats.

Pheu Thai has a few choices -- turn to its arch-rival, the Democrat Party, the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party or the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), according to observers.

The UTN and the PPRP are referred to as "uncle" parties because of their association with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former UTN chief strategist, and Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, the PPRP leader.

Because Pheu Thai made a campaign promise not to work with parties that are a legacy of the coup-makers that toppled the government it led back in 2014, the Democrat Party is deemed a safer choice, according to observers.

Several Democrat MPs have reportedly agreed to support Pheu Thai's prime ministerial candidate. Democrat support will be enough for Pheu Thai to eliminate the need to approach the UTN or PPRP to join the coalition.

"We don't really have a choice but to join hands with the Democrat Party. The party is rocked with internal strife, but its 'true' leader has given us a list of 21 MPs who will vote for our party's [prime ministerial] candidate," said a highly-placed Pheu Thai source.

Pheu Thai is poised to nominate property tycoon Srettha Thavisin in the next prime ministerial selection round in parliament, which is yet to be scheduled.

In the lead-up to the crucial vote, the Pheu Thai-led alliance may lure more small parties into its bloc and bring the total number of House seats over the majority threshold to 269. If this is the case, its coalition will be made up of all parties except the MFP, UTN, PPRP and four Democrats who do not see eye to eye with the rest of the MPs in their party.

According to the Pheu Thai source, the party has taken this path, hoping that the MFP and the military-appointed Senate will keep their promise in the prime minister vote.

The Senate has reportedly agreed to back the Pheu Thai candidate if the MFP, which faces strong resistance due to its policy to amend the lese majeste law, is dropped from the coalition, while the MFP has promised to support the party as long as no "uncle" parties are in the equation.

"We're trying to meet the Senate's conditions so that they will vote for us now that the MFP is out of the coalition line-up.

"We hope that they will honour their word," said the source.

According to the source, Pheu Thai will avoid, at all costs, inviting the UTN or the PRRP to join its coalition.

"It would be our last option. We'll opt for it if it's totally necessary," said the source.

However, because of outrage from many pro-democracy supporters, including some of its own voters who feel betrayed by the party's decision to desert the MFP, observers say Pheu Thai has very little to celebrate even if it succeeds in forming a coalition.

According to observers, the UTN, which has 36 seats largely due to Gen Prayut's popularity, is politically doomed if it does not become part of the incoming government now that Gen Prayut has announced he has stepped away from the party and is leaving politics.

As for the PPRP, the party may endure because its MPs are veteran politicians with solid support bases in their respective constituencies, while Gen Prawit is expected to fade away if he is not awarded a cabinet post in the new government.

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