Patience can be advantageous

Patience can be advantageous

ABOUT POLITICS: If Pita Limjaroenrat fails in PM quest this time, his party can easily become stronger if it bides its time, expert says v High-profile elections are expected soon in parliament but don't forget the country's oldest party is about to pick a new or old leader

Pita: Senate support thin on the ground
Pita: Senate support thin on the ground

The Move Forward Party (MFP) has every reason to feel jittery as its moment of truth is fast approaching.

However, it would not be a lost cause even if party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, were to miss out on the premiership in the parliamentary vote due in about two weeks' time, according to a political expert.

In fact, a defeat in a battle could propel the party to victory in a future war.

The expert said the country without the MFP leader as prime minister over the next four years could see the biggest party enlarge its political reach and widen its support base further.

But that scenario is firmly based on the premise that the party is willing to relegate itself to the opposition bench and let Pheu Thai, the first runner-up in the general election, take the prime ministerial prize.

Under that premise, the MFP would have to part company with Pheu Thai, assuming that MPs and senators fail to produce a new prime minister.

Specifically, a deadline may be unavoidable if Mr Pita is unable to clinch the support of at least 376 MPs, or both MPs and senators, after many ballot rounds in parliament.

Many senators have not struck a chord with the MFP over what they consider to be its extreme policies, on top of which is the party's unrelenting drive to have Section 112 of the Criminal Code -- the lese majeste law -- amended.

The MFP was on the receiving end of its own hardline supporters who slammed the party for softening its stance by opting to fine-tune rather than tear up Section 112.

Scrapping the law was what the party advocated so hard for and was a foundation upon which the MFP was established, according to supporters.

For Mr Pita, getting Senate support and getting over the finishing line to become prime minister will be arduously tough. A simple calculation shows he needs the backing of at least 63 of 250 senators to be the country's 30th prime minister.

So far, it is reported the MFP's lobbying of senators has not been fruitful. The party is believed to have zeroed in on progressive, left-leaning senators who, although hand-picked by the coup-engineer, the National Council for Peace and Order, have subscribed to a non-conservative ideology and could be counted on as MFP sympathisers.

However, progressive-minded senators are small in number.

A source close to the matter said if Mr Pita's bid for prime minister falls short in the parliamentary vote twice, Pheu Thai might step forward, as the second-biggest party, to nominate one of its candidates.

If that happens, it is expected Srettha Thavisin, the property tycoon and adviser to Pheu Thai Family head, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, would be the contender.

Mr Srettha stands a much better chance than Mr Pita of gaining the trust of senators as Pheu Thai is known to tread cautiously over the Section 112 issue and is openly against abolishing it.

Should Pheu Thai be handed the premiership, the MFP would arrive at a crucial crossroads where it must decide whether to stick with Pheu Thai and be part of the government or switch to the opposition.

The expert said staying put with Pheu Thai risks being portrayed negatively. In the process, the MFP would also lose tremendous bargaining power to push for its own political agenda around which a great deal of hype was whipped up during the election campaign.

Among the policies, apart from the amendment of Section 112, are marriage equality legislation and the overhaul of the justice system.

The MFP is not likely to succeed in getting these policies off the ground if it does not control both the legislative and executive branches -- having both the prime minister and House speaker positions, in other words.

In the event of the MFP playing partner in a Pheu Thai-led coalition, it will face a backlash for any policy mismanagement or scandal caused by other coalition parties, as the entire government will suffer as a result.

The expert said the MFP stands to lose more than it would gain playing second fiddle.

However, there is always the option of playing a waiting game, according to the expert.

The MFP can afford to bide its time and give the prime minister post a miss for now, a move which might pay dividends later.

As an opposition party, the MFP will be able to keep the government in check and further consolidate its support while maintaining an unblemished track record.

A surge in popularity in the next four years, provided the new government remains in office that long, could bring an even bigger poll win for the MFP than the recent election.

The party might also achieve an outright majority by raking in more than 250 seats. Such a decisive victory would hand it the power to implement its policies without relying on other parties for support.

Falling under the radar

Between the much-anticipated House speaker selection and the prime minister vote this month is the Democrat Party leadership race to find the successor of Jurin Laksanawisit, who stepped down to take responsibility for the party's poor poll performance on May 14.

The acting Democrat leader, who vowed to vacate the post if the party captured less than 25 seats, announced his resignation long before the election result was confirmed. The Election Commission eventually confirmed the Democrats won 25 seats in total from the constituency and party-list system. Still, the tally was considerably lower than the 53 seats it won in the 2019 polls.

The party leadership contest is scheduled for July 9, when the party will also elect new executives because its board was automatically terminated with Mr Jurin's resignation.

Several names, both veteran politicians and young aspirants, have come up in recent weeks as potential candidates for the leadership. But it is now widely believed the contest will be a two-horse race between two prominent figures.

The first is acting deputy leader and Songkhla MP Dech-it Khaothong, who is known to have the solid backing of acting party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on.

Mr Dech-it's political clout has reportedly grown since he comfortably defeated veteran politician Chinnaworn Boonyakiat to become deputy leader in November 2021 in a special meeting to fill the post left vacant by Nipit Intarasombat.

Abhisit: Seen as Democrat saviour by some

The other potential leader is Abhisit Vejjajiva, who led the Democrats from March 6, 2005, to March 24, 2019. He is said to have support from Democrat patriarch Chuan Leekpai, Mr Jurin and former party leader Banyat Bantadtan, who reportedly agree it is time for Mr Abhisit to return and restore the 77-year-old party to its former glory.

Mr Abhisit has been absent from the political scene since he stepped down as party leader after the 2019 polls. He decided not to stand in the May 14 election but helped candidates campaign for votes.

Mr Dech-it is the bookmakers' favourite to win the race due to the weighted vote rule, which says current MPs account for 70% of the total vote while the others who are eligible to vote make up the remaining 30%.

The Songkhla MP is likely to gain support from most of the current MPs, while those who are tipped to choose Mr Abhisit are former MPs and former party executives.

Under the rules, the candidate who secures the majority of votes from incumbent MPs has a good chance of being elected party leader.

According to a Democrat source, Mr Chalermchai commands respect from 22 party MPs, most of whom are also his close aides, and the upcoming leadership race will put his clout to the test.

Despite indicating an intention to step aside following the general election, Mr Chalermchai is likely to help lobby for Mr Dech-it. He is said to have positioned himself as a khru yai, a towering behind-the-scenes figure -- a role Newin Chidchob assumed in the Bhumjaithai Party.

Mr Newin has no executive post in Bhumjaithai and holds no cabinet seat, yet he is thought to be the most powerful figure in the party.

The Democrat contest, meanwhile, is being closely watched by observers who wonder which path the party will now take after a second crushing election defeat in less than five years. There seems to be an overwhelming mood within the party for an overhaul, and questions are being asked about who is best suited to lead the party.

According to the source, Mr Chalermchai is said to have taken an interest in three potential candidates, but two of them were quickly dropped because they are not qualified.

Watanya Bunnag, head of the party's working group on political innovations, and Suchatvee Suwansawat, head of the party's policy committee, did not win in the polls -- a requirement for those vying for the top party job.

The other is Issara Sereewatthanawut, a former list-MP and the ex-secretary of Mr Chuan when the latter served as House speaker. Mr Issara is perceived as a young blood who has good connections with Mr Chuan and Mr Chalermchai and could be a wildcard in the upcoming contest.

According to the source, reports that former finance minister and former Democrat deputy leader, Korn Chatikavanij, would return to contest the leadership are mere speculation since he is currently an outsider.

Mr Korn recently stepped down as leader of the Chartpattanakla Party, triggering rumours about a possible return to the Democrats, who he left in January 2020 to set up the Kla Party.

The veteran then jumped ship before the general election to join the Chartpattana Party, which was then renamed Chartpattanakla. Before he left the Democrats, Mr Korn lost the leadership contest to Mr Jurin.

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