PM ouster was a warning to Thaksin
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PM ouster was a warning to Thaksin

Threat of Pheu Thai Party dissolution should 'de facto leader' overstep the mark

Thaksin Shinawatra is greeted by supporters after arriving by private jet at the airport in Chalerm Phrakiat district of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday. (Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)
Thaksin Shinawatra is greeted by supporters after arriving by private jet at the airport in Chalerm Phrakiat district of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday. (Photo: Prasit Tangprasert)

Academics are certain the latest move by a group of 40 senators asking the Constitutional Court to accept their petition to begin an ethics probe against the prime minister over his appointment of a cabinet member was just a warning to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra not to exercise his power.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, told the Bangkok Post the group of 40 senators who did not vote to support Srettha Thavisin as prime minister, led by Somchai Sawaengkarn, Jadet Insawang and Tawin Pleansri, were signalling to Thaksin, believed to be the de facto leader of Pheu Thai, that they still have enough influence to cause trouble for him.

"This group of senators wants to send a message to Thaksin that if the situation escalates to the point where the court finds Mr Srettha guilty of appointing Pichit Chuenban as the PM office's minister despite knowing about his questionable qualifications, it can implicate Thaksin for interference with Mr Srettha and the [Pheu Thai] Party," said Mr Stithorn.

"This could lead to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party due to the claims of the 40 senators that Mr Srettha met Thaksin three times in the lead up to the appointment of Mr Pichit."

However, Mr Stithorn said the situation may not escalate to the point of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party as conservatives still do not have a viable alternative with whom to replace Mr Srettha.

So, the Election Commission (EC) might not submit a petition to dissolve the party, and Mr Srettha can continue in his role for the time being.

Stithorn: Senators were sending a message

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University in Chon Buri province, said this is a last-ditch effort of the 40 senators to shake up the old power groups that still hold sway in Thai politics.

However, the powers within the coalition are not united due to conflicts over various policies, such as the Bhumjaithai Party's decriminalisation of marijuana.

"All 40 senators share common ground in opposing the Pheu Thai Party. However, they cannot topple the ruling party nor compel the EC to file a petition for dissolution of the party," said Mr Olarn.

"Thaksin may negotiate with several parties with old power groups to use Pheu Thai as a tool against the Move Forward Party [MFP]."

Thaksin is also aware of his leverage in this situation. Despite the court's decision to accept the petition, Thaksin may still continue to assert his power to control the party, Mr Olarn said.

"He even tried to invite Suwat Liptapanlop, advisory chairman of Chart Pattana Party, to join the [Pheu Thai] Party," he said.

Mr Olarn was referring to an incident in Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday where Thaksin attended the cremation of Wichai Changlek, his 73-year-old personal driver.

At a welcoming event at restaurant in the northeastern province, Thaksin met Mr Suwat.

He said on stage that his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who is the Pheu Thai Party leader, dared not invite Mr Suwat to join Pheu Thai, which is why he had to speak to him instead of her.

Olarn: Thaksin knows he has leverage

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a lecturer from National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), said the situation suggested Mr Srettha is unlikely to be ousted as PM as the old powers still want to use Pheu Thai to compete against the MFP.

"Groups that strongly dislike Pheu Thai, like the 40 senators, may feel overwhelmed by Thaksin which leads to attempts to prevent him from going too far," said Mr Phichai.

"Meanwhile, Thaksin continues to maintain his bargaining power for his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to return home without receiving jail time," he added.

Meanwhile, Anusorn Eiamsaard, a Pheu Thai Party-list MP, labelled the court review of Mr Srettha's premiership as a cooperative venture between the senate group and two old factions.

"When I saw the list of 40 senators, there was nothing unexpected about their goal. I believe the premier can clarify the matter," he said.

"Thailand has missed many opportunities. There should be no efforts from any group to create obstacles or hindrances that would slow down the government's work," he added.

Phichai: Srettha unlikely to go any time soon

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