Ten Recommendations for the Pheu Thai Party to Secured a Landslide Electoral Victory in 454 Days

Pheu Thai Party From: Thai PBS

Pheu Thai Party.
From: Thai PBS

On May 30, the chieftain of the recently formed Thai military junta, General Prayuth Chan-ocha delievered a televised speech stating that elections would not be held until a year and three months later, a development that constituted another heavy blow to the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party and its associated mass organization, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, commonly known as Red Shirts). Representing an old guard institution with enormous amount of rancor towards Pheu Thai’s populist politics, General Prayuth’s speech had made it very clear that the military is plotting to use all means possible to prevent a Pheu Thai return to power. In the next 454 days, the party must prepare for a fierce struggle to recapture its former powers lost to the military on the coup d’état of May 22. Supported by the populous north and northeastern provinces, Pheu Thai would likely score a decisive victory in the upcoming the general election, given it would be free and fair. Nevertheless, Pheu Thai must quickly mold into shape a comprehensive strategy to consolidate and expand its clout over the Thai voters. The following ten recommendations represent my personal view of how Pheu Thai should ready itself, as well as its allies to overcome the obstacles ahead and secure a landslide electoral victory in 2015.

Recommendations on political positioning:

  • Do not attempt to play the role of the Great Conciliator. Focus the limited resources on party construction and electoral objectives. History has repeatedly shown the enduring difficulties in closing the social barriers created by economic disparity in a deeply polarized nation. For the latest example of a failed “bipartisan peacemaker”, Google “Barack Obama”.
  • Transform policies and principles associated with Thaksin into a coherent ideology. The enterprising statesman’s unique approach in confronting challenges endemic to Thaialnd is without a doubt widely respected by voters across all strata of Thai society. In other words, the time is ripe to formulate an -ism that would cement Thaksin’s towering place in Thai politics for generations to come. Moreover, a 10-points or 5-points party program for the future of Thailand based upon Thaksinism would be more than helpful in channeling the party’s vision to Thai voters and the global audience.

Recommendations on party construction:

  • Expand the Red Shirt Village movement to areas beyond the Thai countryside. While securing the loyalty of rural Thailand is fundamental to Pheu Thai’s existence, the party must simultaneously ensure firm urban support for its ideals. The Red Shirt Village movement should be further augmented into major Thai cities, one urban unit at a time. However, do make sure to tone down on the ostentatious ceremonial aspects because urban centers are very diverse in terms of political surroundings. Initially, the cities of the north and northeast would be great experimental plots for such strategy.
  • Establish auxiliary organizations, mainly youth organizations. Getting the youth involved in the country’s politics is pivotal. Like in Western countries, political discussion clubs may be formed to educate the future leaders of the nation on their share of the task.
  • Restrain firebrands in both Pheu Thai and UDD. If the upcoming election is free and fair, a Pheu Thai electoral victory is ineluctable. For this reason, any recklessness from the Young Turks of the party and UDD would jeopardize the party’s chances and play directly into the hands of the junta. The ensanguined crackdown on Red Shirt demonstrators during April 2010 had made clear that the Thai military has no qualms in mowing down peaceful protesters. So instead of throwing human flesh against fusillades of live rounds, taking power via the ballot box is the most cost-effective method.
  • Prepare immediately for the formation of a new party. The military junta, led by the hostile General Prayuth Chan-ocha is likely going to attempt to dislodge and destroy the Pheu Thai Party by any means necessary. A cause célèbre harkening back to the 2007 court dissolution of the pro-Thaksin Thai Rak Thai Party is much closer to reality than one could imagine. Therefore, while seeking to consolidate and expand the party’s power, Pheu Thai must bite-the-bullet prepare for this imminent danger by grooming next-generation party leaders and organize all other necessities needed for a new party.

Recommendations on forging alliance:

  • Construct a united front with responsive elements of society. Every time the Thai military conducts a coup d’état it looses the support of some sections of society. Pheu Thai and associated organizations need to make overtures to these disgruntled groups, and win them over in the next election. Though anti-coup individuals might not be amenable to all of Pheu Thai’s ideals, their resolute stance in preserving and safeguarding the democratic process more than complement Pheu Thai’s political aspirations.
  • Win over central, southern, and eastern voters. This could be quite difficult due to the stratification of Thai society along socio-economic and regional lines. But the inclusion of more politicians with central, southern, and eastern background could be a starting point. Besides enhancing the party’s mass appeal, they may serve as barometers of their home region’s popular sentiments vis-à-vis Pheu Thai. Either way, an initiative should be made to puncture the regional divide for the future success of Pheu Thai as a genuinely national party.

Recommendations on conducting international work:

  • Initiate massive global public relations campaigns to garner international support for Pheu Thai’s cause. Mobilizing international public opinion would be an influential factor in shaping domestic preferences in the upcoming election. In addition to publicity drives through multimedia mediums, significant figures of Pheu Thai, or perhaps UDD should travel abroad on speaking tours with the mission of emphasizing the importance of the world’s support to Pheu Thai’s struggle for the indigent population of Thailand.
  • Invite international observers to ensure the next general election is free and fair. Already planning to rewrite the constitution, the military and its political cronies are most likely going to tweak the election by quasi-legal or worse, illegal means to make the results favorable for Pheu Thai’s nemesis, the Democrat Party. Thus, the invitation of international observers may function as a stricture on the military’s furtive designs to impede Pheu Thai’s march towards a total electoral victory.

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

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The Two Thailands: Thailand’s Path Forward after the Coup of 2014

Scene of Thai protest 2013-2014.  Copyright: AFP/Getty Images/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Scene of Thai protest 2013-2014.
Copyright: AFP/Getty Images/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Six months of paralyzing street protests in the Thai capitol Bangkok met an abrupt end when the Commander of the Royal Thai Army, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced a coup d’état on May 22, 2014. The dropping of the sword of Damocles, surprisingly, did not generate a massive outpour of negative reactions from the capitol’s general population. Besides the fear of reprisal from state security forces, it seems as if the people of Bangkok has had enough of the chaos and instability and are ready to move on with their daily lives. Four days later, under the auspices of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, the political helm of the country was officially transferred into the hands of the newly formed military junta led by General Prayuth, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Although the generals secured a legal basis for the coup, they nevertheless face a daunting task. Lying in front of them is a Thailand in agonizing pain, injured by deepening fault lines developed over the past decades. How to move Thailand forward without risking an all out civil war is the million-dollar question still anticipating a definitive answer.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and company appear before a news conference.  Copyright: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and company appear before a news conference.
Copyright: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

At present, two distinct Thailands exist on multifarious levels. On one hand there are the well-to-do Thais and royalist elites, mostly concentrated in Bangkok and around central Thailand. Their members identify themselves as the Yellow Shirts. Well-connected, their intimate ties with the Thai establishment (the monarchy, military and existing bureaucracy) gives them enormous power in overturning the democratic process, if it contradicts their interests. On the other hand, there is the toiling population of urban and rural Thailand that benefited tremendously from the populist policies of former prime ministers Thaksin and protégé Yingluck Shinawatra. Collectively known as the Red Shirts, the majority of them resides in Thailand’s north and northeast, two regions culturally disparate from central Thailand, and has a history of uneasy relationship with the ruling elites of Bangkok.

The leader of the Red Shirt Village movement, Arnon Sannan. The movement is a political initiative started by Thaksin's followers to consolidate rural support for pro-Thaksin parties. Copyright: AFP

The leader of the Red Shirt Village movement, Arnon Sannan. The movement is a political initiative started by Thaksin’s followers to consolidate rural support for pro-Thaksin parties.
Copyright: AFP

The gap that exists between the Reds and Yellows are steep and multitudinous. The increasing animosity between the two Thailands are not merely borne out of class or regional dissimilarity, it is a combination of political, social, economic, cultural as well as regional factors that presents a head-scratching equation to Thailand’s incipient military government. The failure of the current quasi-democratic political system to adequately address the centrifugal forces in society culminated in the 2006 and 2014 coup that ended with the illegal removal of prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and subsequently Niwatthamrong Boosongpaisan (a close ally of Thaksin that succeeded Yingluck as prime minister following the latter’s dismissal from office by the Thai constitutional court on May 7). In retrospect, the coup of 2006 had a minimal impact upon curing Thailand’s socio-economic and political ills, if anything, it only served to further polarized the two Thailands.

Though a dyed-in-the-wool royalist staunchly opposed to Thaksin and Yingluck’s brand of populism, General Prayuth is closely emulating Thaksin’s statecraft characterized as the “iron fist and velvet glove”. In Thaksin’s own words: “in social service role you use velvet glove, if you do the law enforcement role you use the iron fist”.[1]

“Iron fist” policies were immediately applied after the military captured power. The junta quickly detained a number of influential figures in the Thai capitol. On the local level, Thaksin’s allies fell one after another in a swift purge orchestrated by the junta.[2] Moreover, security forces raided facilities belonging to Red Shirt groups and seized firearms and explosives, evidence used to substantiate the necessity of martial law.[3]

Particular kinds of “velvet glove” policies were adopted to calm the frustrated Thai population. The junta promised additional reforms before calling the next election, but its moves so far seems more tactical than genuinely reformist. The rural rice farmers that make up the core of Thaksin and Yingluck’s supporters are the junta’s primary targets. Under the rice-pledging scheme of Yingluck’s administration, the government would purchase rice from Thai farmers at a price above the market value. However, due to six months of political deadlock the government was unable to secure a budget to pay the rice farmers. Once in power, the junta quickly allocated 2 billion Thai baht as late payment to the Shinawatra’s core supporters, a crafty stratagem that not only ameliorated the vitriolic situation in the Thai countryside, but also secured for the time being the goodwill of Thai rice farmers.[4]

Yet despite the “iron fist and velvet glove” way of governance, the junta still has a long way to go before bringing Thailand back to normalcy, if that’s even possible. The use of heavy-handed tactics to restore order, and financial means to appease the agitated rice farmers may very well treat the symptom, but it does not cure the root causes of the rural and urban poor’s frustrations against the established Thai polity’s inability to address their long-term aspirations.

After tossing out both Thaksin and Yingluck, it is easy to imagine the anger and sense of betrayal felt by their loyal supporters. Well organized, financially competent and much better informed than eight years ago, the underprivileged population of Thailand wants active reforms championed by an artful man like Thaksin who creatively conjures up new ideas to the benefit of their interests rather than passive reforms under his opponents.[5] Since the Red Shirts are unlikely to take up an armed struggle for power – a development that would totally delegitimize their ticket to winning a landslide electoral victory – the junta would be facing once again a quandary as it ponders its next move.

2011 Thai election results, when the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party won a sweeping victory.  Copyright: The Nation

2011 Thai election results, when the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party won a sweeping victory (click image for higher resolution). Note the regional divide. 
Copyright: The Nation

Presumably, the junta, under the command of General Prayuth would pull all strings possible to appoint a balanced candidate to represent the interests of the royalists without inflaming the caustic sensitivities of the Red Shirts. But the chance of that candidate winning a general election would be slim given the Red Shirts’ overpowering numerical advantage among other factors. The most fearful aspect in the coming years would be the occurrence of another coup that overthrows a government legally elected by majority vote, an event that will most certainly engender radical factions of the Red Shirt movement and drive Thailand farther down the road of potential civil war. The esteemed King Bhumibol, already 86 years old, seems to be the only determinant keeping Thailand from falling apart. The Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, notorious for his decadent lifestyle, largely lacks his father’s enchanting clout over the Thais. If appropriate measures are not implemented by the incoming administration to address the aspirations of Thailand’s majority before the current King’s imminent passing in the next decade, long held grievances of the two Thailands may possibly unravel and bring a dreadful civil war upon the dreamy land of smiles.

 

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] 杨澜访谈录泰国Thailand领导人他信Thaksin Shinawatra专访, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9uoISzBZOo&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[2] Manop Thip-Osod, “Police Shake-up Cuts Ties to Thaksin,” Bangkok Post, accessed May 29, 2014, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/412363/police-shake-up-cuts-ties-to-thaksin.

[3] Wassana Nanuam and Aekarach Sattaburuth, “Fears of Red Shirt Uprising after Weapons Seizure,” Bangkok Post, accessed May 27, 2014, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/411608/fears-of-red-shirt-uprising-after-weapons-seizure.

[4] “Rice Farmers Overjoyed as Payments Begin,” The Nation, accessed May 27, 2014, http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Rice-farmers-overjoyed-as-payments-begin-30234699.html.

[5] For more information on Thaksin’s populist policies, see Patana Tangpianpant’s article titled Thaksin Populism and Beyond: A Study of Thaksin’s Pro-Poor Populist Policies in Thailand

http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1527&context=etd_hon_theses