“Politicians” as a group tend to be relatively uncontroversial to bash. We may perhaps like individual politicians, and we support certain political parties. Venal, self-interested, and in Thailand’s case, bad people: a positive label is seldom attached when discussing the political class as a whole
Of course, the use of such labels, entirely lacking in nuance, is unproductive. Professional politicians don’t have to be loved, but their vilification scarcely endears a population perhaps already skeptical to democracy.
Yet it seems that right now, many of Thailand’s political parties are trying their level best to deliver a searing indictment on themselves.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Palang Pracharath. At a time when Thailand is slowly exiting the coronavirus pandemic, while still on guard against a second wave and mired in a lockdown-generated economic downturn, the core of the ruling coalition should be busy at work. Instead, it decided that it would rather indulge in the petty pleasures of backroom scheming.
On one level, perhaps all of this is justified; the target of this power struggle seems to be Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, an economic team that has unmistakably run out of steam. But that rationale is too charitable. It is not about policies or the people. This is about calming the warring factions of the party, disparate and disunited.
And to do so, the road has been paved to place Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as party leader, a figure even PPRP supporters tend to be lukewarm on at best. If there was ever a button to immediately depress enthusiasm for politics, the party decided to press it.
But even as PPRP has descended to airing an unseemly intra-party fight in public during a national crisis, none of Thailand’s other political parties have been able to capitalize on the ruling party’s weakness or presented themselves as strong alternatives.
The Democrats, for one, are now seeing the PPRP as a roadmap on how to throw out a party leader.
Many members of the Democrats, long dissatisfied with Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit’s leadership, are now whispering of rebellion or leaving. They complain that the leader has failed to address the party’s internal rifts or brain drain. Jurin, on the other hand, improbably dismisses the notion that there is dissent against his leadership.
The opposition parties are hardly doing themselves any favors either.
First Pheu Thai was forced to deny rumors that they were considering joining the government coalition. Completely unsubstantiated, they cried of these rumors; how could they ever join hands with a barely reconstructed military government?
A counter-question should probably be asked: who obstructed the no confidence debate in parliament a few months ago so that Prawit was let off the hook? Why would anyone ever think Pheu Thai does backroom deals?
Meanwhile, the party is also split by infighting: so split, in fact, that key members are now forming splinter groups. Key Pheu Thai stalwarts have formed the Care Group, which has yet to decide whether they will become a political party but has already prompted serious backlash from other Pheu Thai members. Chaturon Chaisang, on the other hand, has declared his intention to form a party completely independent of Pheu Thai.
Hopefully Move Forward would be immune from this infighting epidemic? Not to the same degree, but it is hardly without problems. As a successor party to Future Forward, it is a shadow of its former self, deprived of its most recognized leaders and significantly reduced in parliamentary strength. Now there are rumors that more members might defect to Pheu Thai, while its spokesperson is pleading with defectors to Bhumjaithai not to destroy their “first home.”
It is true that important work is still being done in parliament, as the opposition scrutinizes the government’s public health and economic response. But it is also hard to escape the conclusion that Thailand’s political class is currently consumed not by the nation’s problems but by their own.
Will any of this collective implosion lead to real political changes? Perhaps — the Palang Pracharath coalition could finally collapse under its own weight, or sensing vulnerability in the opposition, the prime minister may decide a new election would be helpful to him. Both are still rather far-fetched.
Here’s what is more likely to happen: all this infighting will simply drive even greater disillusionment with the status quo.