”For Pheu Thai, don’t betray the people.” Angry Thais gathered at the Pheu Thai headquarters building in Bangkok to protest against the party’s contact with the party that supported the coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The protesters’ props included a drink called Peppermint Cocoa. As one of the prime ministerial candidates of the Pheu Thai Party and the youngest daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in exile, Beton Dan, mint cocoa has become a “hot item” in the general election year and a symbol of the Pheu Thai Party.
As the winner of the general election in May, Pita, the prime minister candidate nominated by the reformist far-reaching party, failed to pass the parliamentary vote, and his allies took over for the Pheu Thai Party to form a cabinet. In order to gain wider support, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Chun Nan, recently met with senior conservatives such as the Thai Pride Party, the Brave National Development Party, and the Thai United Nations Party. Photos of them talking and laughing, toasting and drinking mint cocoa drinks caused an uproar in Thailand.
While Pheu Pheu has previously pledged not to cooperate with parties that support a military coup, speculation is rife that Pheu Pheu may ditch Far Progress in exchange for conservative parties and the military as pressure mounts to resolve the political impasse. support from the party-controlled House of Lords. On social media and in street protests, mint cocoa has become synonymous with betrayal of allies and people, and several cafes have announced that they will stop selling the drink.
Peeta had previously tasted mint cocoa and orange black coffee for Pheu Thai headquarters. The latter drink has become a symbol of the party because it echoes the orange design of the party. Peeta said at the time that although the two drinks taste completely different, they blend well together when tasted together. However, this time the cabinet formation process went in the opposite direction.
Thailand’s National Assembly plans to hold a meeting on August 4, at which time it may vote again to elect the prime minister. Why is it difficult for a coalition of parties with 62% of the elected seats in Congress to form a government? Is there no way for the Pheu Thai Party to go except abandoning its allies and shaking hands with the old enemies of the coup? Some analysts predict that, in view of conservatives’ resistance to the Far Progressive Party joining the government, whether Thailand can produce a new prime minister will still be a question mark.
general election winner with an early exit
”I think Thailand has changed dramatically since May 14. The people have now won half the battle,” Peeta said in his farewell speech to Parliament on July 19.
On the same day, the Constitutional Court announced the suspension of Pita, a member of the lower house of parliament, until the ruling on his alleged illegal holding of media shares was released. After his speech, Peeta took off his member’s ID, raised his fist, and walked out of the chamber amid applause and tears from his allies. A few hours later, Congress voted 394 to 312 to reject Peeta’s motion to renominate him as prime minister. Opponents reasoned that, according to parliamentary regulations, failed motions cannot be resubmitted in the same session of parliament.
In sharp contrast to this scene was the victory night more than two months ago. The Far Progress Party led by Peeta unexpectedly swept 151 seats in the general election of the House of Commons on May 14, becoming the largest party in Congress. The complacent Peeta quickly issued a victory declaration, saying that he is “ready to be the prime minister who serves everyone.”
Peeta was born in 1980 and graduated from Harvard University. He is quite business-minded and eloquent. At 25, he took over the debt-laden family business after his father’s death and successfully built it into one of Asia’s largest rice bran oil makers. At 38, Peeta entered politics. At that time, he joined the New Future Party, the predecessor party of the Far Progress Party, and was responsible for formulating the party’s agricultural policy. In the 2019 general election, the New Future Party took advantage of the anti-establishment sentiment of the younger generation to become the third largest party in Congress, and Peeta was also elected to the House of Commons. In 2020, the New Future Party was disbanded by the court for allegedly accepting “illegal” loans, and its core executives were banned from politics. About 50 remaining members of the party re-formed the Far Progress Party and elected Peeta as the party leader.
Peeta and the Far Progressive Party promised to amend the “offence against the monarch”, reform the army, decentralize power, break up industry monopoly, and impose heavy taxes on the rich. These policies have made Pita and the Far Progress Party popular with young voters, but they have also encountered fierce resistance because they pose a threat to the military, royalists and Bangkok elites who have long dominated Thai politics.
The policy that has attracted the most flak for the Far Progressive Party has been the reform of the “offence against the majesty”, Section 112 of the 1956 Penal Code. This law stipulates that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir or regent shall be punished with imprisonment for 3 to 15 years.” The rights are restricted to authorized representatives of the Royal Household Office to prevent abuse of power.
Until 2020, the monarchy had been a taboo topic in Thai politics. Massive street protests have erupted in Thailand after the New Future Party was disbanded on controversial legal grounds. The demonstrators’ claims have evolved from initially calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to an unprecedented questioning of the monarchy’s privileges. Over the past three years, at least 250 people have been prosecuted for “lese majesty”, but it has also made reforming the royal family an important political consideration.
Polls before the general election in May generally believe that the Pheu Thai Party, which holds the same anti-Prayut stance as the Far Progress Party, will continue to be the largest party. The political influence of the Wa family. The reality is that Pheu Pheu Thai not only failed to achieve the goal of a “landslide victory” to form a one-party government, but also its 22-year electoral undefeated record was broken, 10 seats behind the Far Progressive Party.
In this general election, the “iron ticket” that originally belonged to the Pheu Thai Party went to the Far Progressive Party. In Chiang Mai, the stronghold of the Thai party, the Far Progressive Party won seven of the 10 seats, including Thaksin and Yingluck’s hometown of San Kamphaeng. In the Bangkok area, the Pheu Thai Party used to control about half of the seats, but this time it only retained one seat, and the remaining 32 seats were taken by the Far Progressive Party.
The Far Progressive Party also captured the votes of the conservative camp. Thailand’s general election adopts a double-vote system, with one vote for a political party and one vote for a member of parliament. In the traditionally conservative southern region, the Far Progressive Party won nearly half of the “party seats” votes. The ruling People’s National Power Party and the Thai United Nations Party, two military proxy parties, won 40 and 36 seats respectively, ranking fourth and fifth. The Thai Pride Party, which promotes the legalization of marijuana and swings on the political spectrum, has become another dark horse, promoted to the third largest party in Congress with 71 seats.
”The Far Progressive Party has opened a completely different new chapter in Thailand…In the past, Thai politics was dominated by the struggle between the royalist party and the conservative establishment and Thaksin’s forces. Now, the reform of the army and the monarchy has become a new front in Thai politics.” Zhu Professor of International Relations at Lalongkorn University and senior researcher at the Institute of Security and International Studies Titinan Ponsudi Lak pointed out to China News Weekly.
After the election, Peeta built a pro-democracy coalition of eight parties that controlled 312 of the 500-seat lower house. Although the eight-party coalition is the undisputed majority party in the House of Commons, its actual governance still faces many obstacles. The problem is that the prime minister was elected under the 2017 constitution, which is dominated by the military. The constitution stipulates that 250 senators appointed by the former military government have the right to vote in the election of the prime minister. This means that a candidate needs to win 376 votes from the 750-member House of Representatives to be elected prime minister. This revision of the constitution has made the military-controlled House of Lords a “spoiler”.
In the first round of voting for prime minister on July 13, Peeta received only 324 votes. Most of the House of Lords voted against or abstained, and only 13 voted for Peeta. On July 19, Congress voted to reject Peeta’s nomination after seven hours of debate. So far, Peeta has completely missed the position of the new prime minister.
In addition to using the “shield” of the House of Lords to prevent Peeta from becoming prime minister, conservative forces also took up “judicial weapons” in an attempt to keep Peeta and his party out of parliament.
The Constitutional Court took up two cases against Peeta and the Far Progress Party on the eve of the first round of voting. One of the complaints, filed by the Election Commission, accused Peeta of allegedly holding a stake in media company iTV, calling for his dismissal as a member of Congress. Another accuses the Far Progressive Party of attempting to overthrow Thailand’s constitutional government by amending the “crime lese majeste”.
Thailand’s Election Commission and Constitutional Court are considered tools of conservative elites and have repeatedly handed down judgments in the past against liberal politicians and parties who might challenge the military or the monarchy’s power. If the Constitutional Court finds Peeta and the Far Progress Party guilty, the party may eventually be disbanded, and Peeta may be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a 20-year ban from politics.
The iTV company that got Peeta caught up in the legal battle directly reflected the political disputes in Thailand over the past two decades.
In 1992, after the “May Incident” in which the military government suppressed the democratic movement broke out, Thailand resumed democratic elections and civilian rule, and the regulatory scale of media reports was greatly relaxed. iTV Company was born under this background, stipulating that each shareholder shall not hold more than 10% of the shares, and became the only wireless TV station not controlled by the government or the military at that time. The “i” in its name stands for “independence”.
Due to declining ratings, iTV fell into financial crisis in the late 1990s, and the 10% shareholding limit was lifted. In 2000, Thaksin Group acquired most of the shares of iTV and became a tool for Thaksin to promote and build momentum. The Thai government took over the company after Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006. In 2007, iTV went off the air. That same year, a clause banning media owners and stockholders from running for office was written into Thailand’s constitution, aimed at preventing media tycoons from manipulating elections. It was also this year that Peeta inherited 42,000 shares of iTV from his deceased father, accounting for approximately 0.0035% of the shares.
After 16 years of being off the air, today’s iTV is no longer a media that can influence the public. The “Bangkok Post” commented, “Even a child knows that Peeta cannot benefit from iTV’s shares.” Before the general election in May this year, members of the military’s proxy political party, the People’s National Power Party, complained to the Election Commission. Demand that Peeta be banned from running. The Election Commission dismissed that complaint. After the Far Progressive Party won the election, the pro-military camp once again filed a complaint with the Election Commission. This time, the Election Commission announced that it would investigate.
Supporters of the Far Progress party took to the streets after Pita suffered a double blow from the Constitutional Court and Congress. Demonstrators lit coffins next to the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on July 19, protesting that conservative senators and judges undermined the consensus reached in May’s general election. “This is using the same script and performing the same drama.” A protester pointed out to the media. In 2019, Thanaton, the then leader of the New Future Party, was found guilty by the Constitutional Court for holding media shares and revoked his membership. In 2020, the New Future Party was disbanded by the court because it was unconstitutional to accept a Thanaton loan when establishing the party.
Why didn’t the Far Progress Party take a pre-emptive strategy, such as selling Peeta’s iTV stake before the general election, or registering multiple candidates for prime minister? “Nikkei Asian Review” pointed out that the defense capability of the Far Progressive Party is very weak, indicating that the party is not yet ready to take over the government. After all, “the amazing victory in the general election even surprised the Far Progressive Party itself.”
In contrast, the Pheu Thai Party, which has repeatedly encountered “judicial coups”, came prepared. In the general election in May, it nominated the leader of the Pheu Thai family, Beton Dan, the real estate tycoon Seta, and the strategic chairman of the Pheu Thai Party. The party’s prime minister candidate became the only political party that registered three prime minister candidates.
Over the past two decades, Thaksin’s faction has seen three prime ministers and three political parties step down or disband after legal attacks. One of them occurred in 2008, when Thaksin’s political ally and then Prime Minister Sharma Sharma was accused of hosting a TV cooking show for a fee while in public office, allegedly violating the terms that prevent cabinet members from being employed by private companies. In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled that Sharma was unconstitutional and ended his 8-month prime ministerial career.
Former senator Langklai Lijiwata was dubbed a “giant catcher” by the Thai media for overthrowing Sharma. Since 2008, he has repeatedly jumped between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin camps. This time, it was he who challenged Peeta legally.
Unsustainable “arranged marriages”
”I still can’t believe that my father will arrive at Don Mueang Airport on August 10.” On July 26, Thaksin’s 74th birthday, Betondan announced on social media that Thaksin is about to end his 15-year exile and return to Thailand.
This is not the first time that Thaksin has said that he will return to China, but this is the first time that he has a very clear return date. In 2008, Thaksin was convicted of corruption and chose to go into exile overseas to avoid prison. Without a parliamentary amnesty, he faces up to 10 years in prison upon his return to Thailand.
Mathis Rohat Panon, a political analyst in Thailand, pointed out to China News Weekly that if Thaksin really returns, it means that “he has full confidence in governing for the Pheu Thai Party, and it seems that this can only be achieved through an agreement with the Conservative Party Agreement is possible.” This also means that the Far Progress Party is likely to be rejected by the new government and become an opposition party.
After Peeta, who will be the nominee for the next prime minister of Thailand is still unknown. Congress’ decision to ban double nominations limits the options available to political parties, and any nominee has only one chance to run and must win in one shot. Analysts pointed out that there are currently four possibilities for forming a cabinet in Thailand.
First, the eight-party coalition led by the Far Progressive Party remains unchanged, and the Pheu Thai Party’s prime minister candidate Seta or Betondan will be nominated for election. That would mean garnering 64 votes from the House of Lords or the Conservative coalition, most of whom have already said they would not support a ruling coalition with the Far Progressive Party. Therefore, this plan has little chance of passing through Congress.
Second, the current ruling party has renewed its leadership and formed a coalition of 188 seats, electing Anutin, the leader of the Thai Pride Party, the third largest party in Congress, or Thailand’s deputy prime minister and leader of the People’s National Power Party, Bhawi, as prime minister. While such a package is likely to be supported by all members of the House of Lords, it would also form the most unstable minority government, which is likely to be overthrown in a new budget vote and a vote of no confidence.
Third, the Pheu Thai Party cooperates with the outgoing ruling coalition parties, but excludes the Far Progressive Party and the “uncle” who launched a military coup in 2014, that is, the Thai United Nations Party and the “Uncle Tu” led by Prayuth, who calls himself “Uncle Tu”. The People’s National Power Party led by Uncle Pom” Bavi. The package would need the support of 122 senators, as members of the House of Commons, who are excluded from the governing coalition, are unlikely to support the arrangement.
Fourth, the eight-party alliance sacrificed the Far Progressive Party in exchange for the support of the conservative camp, forming a super-large ruling coalition with 14 political parties. The plan only needs the support of 35 senators to pass Congress.
”For the Pheu Thai Party, forming a coalition government with a pro-military party means having greater negotiating power in terms of cabinet seats and policy implementation. More importantly, the Pheu Thai Party will gain the support of the upper house.” Mahi Panchada Sirivenab, a professor of political science at the University of Silom, said.
Mathis pointed out that no matter how the Far Progress Party is abandoned, the credibility of the Pheu Thai Party will be damaged to varying degrees. The leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Chun Nan, made a clear promise before the election that he would not cooperate with parties that support the coup. “Breaking promises will lead to a huge credibility deficit, and the Pheu Thai Party may lose the trust of voters.” “The
Far Progress Party and the Pheu Thai Party have always been an unnatural cooperative relationship. The resulting arranged marriages are not really ideologically synergistic,” Mathis pointed out.
The rift between Far Progress and Pheu Thai was evident even before Peeta was out, when a public spat broke out between the two parties for the speakership of the lower house.
Both parties have valid reasons for being Speaker. The Far Progressive Party’s radical reform agenda will have a profound impact on Thailand’s politics and economy, and a speaker who is loyal to the Far Progressive Party’s cause is needed to facilitate the smooth implementation of the new law. The Pheu Thai Party, which has experience in managing the House of Commons in the past, hopes to set the rules of the game and curb rising stars. The Pheu Thai Party believes that there is only a difference of 10 seats between the two parties. Since Pita of the Far Progressive Party has been nominated as Prime Minister, it is reasonable for the Pheu Thai Party to win the post of speaker. After weeks of feuding, the 79-year-old leader of the National Party, Vanno, who previously served as deputy prime minister under Thaksin Shinawatra, won the speakership.
Putting aside the Prayut issue, the Pheu Pheu Thai Party and the Conservative Party have more in common than a political party with a clear ideology like the Far Progressive Party. Mathis pointed out that the Pheu Thai Party and the Civic Power Party have many commonalities in terms of political beliefs and personnel. On the one hand, many senior members of the Civic Power Party had previously served for the Pheu Thai Party; on the other hand, the electoral strategies of both parties mainly rely on political families and influential local candidates to win votes. While Pheu Thai and the conservative camp differ on some policies and personalities, they have enough in common to pause their two-decade-long conflict.
With the Pheu Thai Party taking over to form a cabinet, many conservatives who had blocked Thaksin’s return and opposed the Pheu Thai Party’s policies in the past have shown a more open attitude towards the combination of the two parties. They’ve started walking into Pheu Pheu Thai headquarters, drinking mint cocoa. The Far Progressive Party may achieve what neither Thaksin nor Prayuth could achieve: “surmount” political conflicts and “achieve” political reconciliation.
For the Far Progressive Party, returning to the opposition camp may not be the worst outcome. The terms of military-appointed members of the upper house will end in May 2024, at which point the power to elect the prime minister will return to the House of Commons. Panchada said that in the next general election, the Far Progress Party may return with a stronger strength and more votes.