Is the animosity an act?
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Is the animosity an act?

ABOUT POLITICS: Recent developments between the MFP and Pheu Thai have some wondering if the antagonism between them was staged v Caretaker senator Somchai Swangkarn believes provincial Senate vote will confirm if there are bids to fix the election race

Chaithawat: No Pheu Thai team-up
Chaithawat: No Pheu Thai team-up

It has been noted that the main opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) has taken an empathetic approach to the ruling Pheu Thai Party of late, leading to accusations the antagonism between them may have been staged.

Two developments were observed in recent weeks, which suggest the two largest parties may have already kissed and made up after Pheu Thai was criticised by MFP for reneging on their post-election promise to form a government together.

Pheu Thai instead hooked up with the conservative camp when it invited the Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation parties to join the coalition, leaving MFP out in the cold.

The MFP had had the chance of nominating its then leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, to become premier with the support of Pheu Thai. Mr Pita's bid was rejected outright by the Senate.

As the dust was settling over the coalition formation, an alleged meeting took place in Hong Kong between powerful political actors labelled as the real movers behind Pheu Thai and the MFP.

What went on behind closed doors is anyone's guess, although it was reported the meeting brought up the possibility of the MFP one day replacing the conservative bloc in the coalition line-up if and when the latter was to be ditched.

Critics were initially sceptical about the existence of the "Hong Kong deal" until they began to detect the MFP adopting a slap-on-the-wrist approach to monitoring and reining in the Pheu Thai-led coalition's performance.

In the last few weeks, scepticism has been heightened by the MFP's last-minute about-face by pulling out of the provincial administrative organisation (PAO) chairman race in Pathum Thani, leaving the Pheu Thai's potential candidate the likely winner.

The MFP's move not to field a candidate bewildered its supporters and political observers alike. After all, Pathum Thani has been a solid bastion where the party secured a clean sweep in last year's general election. If the party had put up a candidate, it would have stood a very good chance of clinching the PAO chairmanship.

On May 16, the MFP's press team reportedly notified reporters that party leader Chaithawat Tulathon was planning to visit Pathum Thani to meet the party's potential candidate. However, this was abruptly cancelled, and the details of the meeting were removed from the Line chatroom used to communicate information to reporters. No explanation for the last-minute cancellation was provided.

The following day, the press team announced the party executives had reached a decision not to contest the PAO election and not to support a candidate from another party.

The party said it was pressed for time to find a suitable candidate.

A source familiar with the matter said the MFP was heavily embroiled in an internal conflict over the selection of a candidate. However, any such conflict could have been reconciled, which could have prevented it from pulling out of the election, which has now given Pheu Thai the upper hand in the PAO race.

Then, on May 23, another development occurred, which made critics think the MFP was cosying up to Pheu Thai.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, an MFP list MP, bemoaned the time the country has wasted on military coups in a tweet on his X page.

"It's a pity that the people of the current generation are finding their ageing serves no useful purpose. Their time has been lost because of the coups," he said.

Specifically, he said a segment of the population had been preoccupied and driven to expel a certain person from the country in 2006.

"That person has now returned only to see the country still mired in double standards," Mr Wiroj said, referring to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled before he was convicted of abuse of power over the Ratchadaphisek land deal in 2008.

Thaksin received a royal pardon after returning home last year, which saw his jail term cut from eight years to one year. He is now on parole.

Mr Wiroj was also referring to the 2006 anti-Thaksin mass protest by a group called the People's Alliance for Democracy, which culminated in the coup d'etat engineered by then army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin who later directed the Council for National Security (CNS).

Mr Wiroj's X message instantly drew flak for offering words that appeared sympathetic to Thaksin, who is believed to still wield considerable influence over Pheu Thai.

His remark, along with the MFP ducking the Pathum Thani PAO poll, has lent credence to speculation that MFP and Pheu Thai may be on course to patch up their differences and form a new coalition, with Pheu Thai staying on as the ruling party.

If that were true, it would mean the conservative camp being ejected from the government.

The speculation, however, has been dismissed by Mr Chaithawat, who ruled out a Pheu Thai-MFP coalition. He insisted the two parties are, by nature, direct competitors and, therefore, cannot mix.

Should a political "mishap" occur, such as the Constitutional Court ruling against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his appointment of Pichit Chuenban as PM's Office minister, the MFP will re-nominate Mr Pita as the party's prime ministerial candidate.

The MFP has every reason to play hard to get, according to a political observer.

The latest survey conducted by King Prajadhipok's Institute confirmed Pheu Thai's worst fear that the MFP is increasing its popularity lead over the ruling party and is predicted to grab more than 200 seats in the next election, or at least 100 seats more than Pheu Thai.

Voting shenanigans

The June 9 district-level voting in the Senate election concluded without any technical hiccup, although political observers anticipated complications due to a low candidate turnout.

Somchai: Crying foul

A total of 23,645 candidates are now through to the provincial round of voting scheduled to take place tomorrow in which their number in 20 profession groups will be whittled down to 3,080 across 77 provinces.

Several high-profile candidates came through the first round despite having no organised support, but things can change tomorrow, according to political observers.

It is widely believed that a large number of the 46,206 candidates who took part in the June 9 vote were not genuine contenders wanting to apply their respective expertise to law-making.

Known as "hired" candidates, these people did not join the race to win but to fix the vote, according to the observers.

They reckon these candidates were the proxies of political parties, pressure groups or business interests seeking to manipulate the outcome of the Senate election.

These candidates could easily be separated from the genuine applicants; they received zero scores because they were told to cast their votes for someone else and not themselves.

In caretaker senator Somchai Swangkarn's view, attempts were made to fix the Senate race. He argued any real candidate must have got at least one vote -- from themselves.

He even went on to say the result of the provincial-level vote would confirm his claims about concerted attempts to fix the poll, and he blamed the Election Commission (EC) for failing to conduct proper qualification checks to weed out unqualified applicants.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, told the Bangkok Post that as well as the "hired" candidates, "designated senators" are hidden among the 23,645 winners of the June 9 vote.

"They are among those who pulled through, but it's impossible to know who they are. What we can be certain of at this stage is that certain candidates have organised support for them," he said.

In some districts where there are a few high-profile candidates, the "hired" applicants might have progressed to compete in tomorrow's election and even stand a chance of qualifying for the national voting round, according to the analyst.

The Senate election, the first of its kind involving intra- and inter-professional groups, is a three-step process in which candidates choose among themselves both within the same group and across professional groups at the district, provincial, and national levels.

Tomorrow's vote will produce 3,080 candidates across the country who will compete for the 200 Senate seats at the national level on June 26. The election results are expected to be announced on July 2.

Mr Stithorn said the number of well-known candidates in tomorrow's round is estimated to be around 80 at best.

For the general public, these candidates are favourites, but in reality, they are not, without their own organised support.

"These high-profile candidates with actual experience and solid backgrounds can fall too in tomorrow's voting," said Mr Stithorn.

He also believed many of the shortlisted candidates were pro-conservative and would work for the old power clique if they became senators. These candidates are not politicians, and they are mostly unheard of.

"Political or business groups that back them don't compete with each other. It's decided where these people should contest. These groups are believed to have a final list containing at least 150 people who should get into the Senate," he said.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University in Chon Buri province, said surprisingly, several candidates from civil networks sailed through in the June 9 vote, but it is hard to say whether they will make it to parliament.

"After the provincial level, we'll see the picture more clearly... if the candidates have affiliations with the old guard or political parties.

"But I'm certain that the new Senate will not be short of members eager to protect the interests of the old power groups," he said.

The new batch of 200 senators will replace the junta-appointed 250-member Senate, which is currently in caretaker roles after its five-year term expired on May 10.

The election process is marred not only by claims about vote-rigging but also a legal controversy to be settled by the Constitutional Court on Tuesday.

The legal challenge involves the legality of four provisions in the organic law governing the Senate election. But the EC decided to proceed, saying it found no reason to justify halting the election.

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