Wednesday 17th May, 2023
The worst that can happen to a democracy is for its serving generals to savour political power, which is as addictive as heroin. They go to any lengths to keep their hold thereon. Hence the need to ensure that the military keeps away from politics so that generals do not develop a taste for power. The countries that failed to do so are in serious trouble. Pakistan has been struggling to extricate itself from the clutches of a heavily-politicised military, which recently plunged that country into utter chaos by engineering the arrest and detention of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Thankfully, the Pakistani Supreme Court has moved to bring the situation under control by having Imran released.
Thailand is another nation plagued by greedy generals’ political ambitions. The meddlesome Thai military and its political puppets have suffered a massive setback at the recently-concluded general election; reformist parties have trounced incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s United Thai Nation party, which could obtain only 36 seats, despite military backing. Harvard-educated Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, has led his newly-formed Move Forward Party (MFP) to victory by winning 152 seats, and proved pollsters wrong. Pre-polls surveys placed the Phue Thai Party (PTP) led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in pole position, but it came second with only 141 seats. The Shinawatra family, however, has retained its support base in rural areas, but urban Thailand swung for the MFP overwhelmingly.
Impressive as the MFP’s electoral win is, Pita does not have the required numbers to secure the premiership under his own steam. The MFP needs about 100 more seats to muster a working majority in the 500-member lower house. Luckily for Pita, the PTP has expressed its willingness to close ranks with him to form a government, and it is said that they together with some other parties will be able to secure more than 300 seats. The coming together of the two main Opposition parties must have gladdened the hearts of those who are seeking a system overhaul in Thailand and want the military brought down a peg or two, but there is no guarantee that Pita will be able to become the Prime Minister even with the help of like-minded allies because Senators numbering 250 are nominees of the military and have a say in electing the PM under the junta-era Constitution. Having undertaken to write a new Constitution, amend the draconian lese-majeste laws and curtail the powers of the overbearing military, Pita has his work cut out to muster the support of the pro-military Senators.
If Pita chooses to dilute his policies to thrash out a compromise formula, which has become necessary, he will alienate the youth, who have fully backed his party and are demanding a radical departure from the existing political culture. Thus, he has had to perform a political high-wire act, and the harsh reality is bound to have a mellowing effect on his idealism. In coalition politics, expediency takes precedence over principles, and it will be interesting to see how Pita clears the first hurdle in his path and ‘moves forward’.
Thailand is one of the countries that are no strangers to military coups, and how the Thai political generals will react to the humiliating electoral blow they have just suffered remains to be seen. Fear is being expressed in some quarters that there might be an attempt to abolish the election results and/or form a minority government. Pita has sought to discount the possibility of such a course of action, and gone on record as saying that the people of Thailand will not allow that to happen. One can only hope that the MFP leader’s wishes will come true, and what is playing out in the Land of Smiles will not be a false dawn.