Updated: Sep 1
The Pheu Thai Party (PTP) appears poised to solidify its coalition. With 238 MPs already on side and an additional 40 from the Palang Pracharat Party (PPP) - courtesy of Pai Lig - its 279-strong bloc now overshadows any prior government attempt to form a minority administration. The next challenge? Securing senatorial votes to pass the 376 threshold. Building on these political developments, we'll craft a long-term assessment of Thai politics, aiming to decipher the trajectory of Thailand's political future.
On an early Friday morning, Phumtham Wechayachai, deputy chief of PTP, made a pointed announcement. He urged the caretaker government under Prayut Chan-O-Cha to refrain from senior public officer appointments and reshuffles, citing the limited power of a caretaker administration. This move, he insinuated, should be left to the incoming government – hinting at a PTP-led future. This isn't merely a discreet nod to PTP's intent to forge a new coalition and pave the way for their PM nominee, Sretta Thavisin, to assume the 30th Premiership. It also aims to rally coalition parties around the PTP flag, prompting them to finalize cabinet portfolios ahead of, or just after, the national assembly's PM election. Beyond the politics, this speaks to PTP's keen understanding of the crucial role public officers play in bolstering their ambitious reforms and economic stimulus strategies, such as their proposal for a digital wallet that comes preloaded with THB 10,000 (USD 284.33) for every citizen.
In a stark contrast to the rigid ideological stance of the Move Forward Party (MFP), which currently holds 149 seats (excluding Pita Limcharoenrat, the MFP's head, who's been barred from MP duties by the constitutional court, and another MP who resigned over a contentious issue), the party has firmly declared it won't align with the so-called "uncle" parties. By this, they mean the PPP and the United Thai Nation Party (UTNP), both of whose leaders are, in MFP's eyes, tainted by involvement in a coup d'état. On the other hand, the PTP, despite its vehement opposition to Prayut, the de facto junta leader and the PM nominee presented by UTNP, has showcased greater adaptability. They appear more open to forming a coalition with both parties. The reasoning? Prayut has reportedly stepped back from Thai politics, while Prawit Wongsuwan, head of PPP, wasn't directly implicated in the coup.
While much media attention has centered on Thaksin Shinawatra — founder of PTP's precursor, the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) — who still exerts considerable influence over the PTP, the formation of the new government coalition led by PTP seems meticulously orchestrated. The negotiation team, comprising Phumham, Chonlanan Srikaew (PTP's head), and Prasert Chantara-ruangthong (PTP's secretary-general), set the stage. They began by securing the Bhumjaithai Party (BJT), effectively anchoring a combined 212 seats (141 from PTP and 71 from BJT). The strategy unfolded as they subsequently rallied support from a series of smaller parties: 1) National Party (NP: 9 seats), 2) Pheu Thai Ruamphalang Party (PTR: 2 seats), 3) Thai Liberal Party (TLP: 1 seat), 4) Palung Sungkom Mai party (PSM: 1 seat), 5) The Party of Thai Counties Party (PTC: 1 seat), 6) Chart Pattana Kla Party (CPKP: 2 seats), and finally, 7) Chartthaipattana Party (CPP: 10 seats). This collective force dims the prospects of any alternative push for Prawit to assume the prime ministership.
Last Thursday delivered a curveball when Pai Lig, an MP from PPP, announced his party's unequivocal support for PTP's prime ministerial nomination, without strings attached. For now, joining the coalition isn't on the table, with Pai Lig highlighting the nation's urgency to form a government and deeming delays unacceptable. Intriguingly, Pai had been spotted in the company of Thamanat Prompow (PPP's secretary-general) and Santi Promphat (PPP's deputy leader) during discussions about the political landscape with other erstwhile coalition parties. It's an open secret that Pai is Thamanat's right-hand man. With Thamanat having clashed notably with Prayut, whispers abound about covert dealings between Thamanat and PTP, aiming to undercut Prayut. Furthermore, there's chatter that Prawit has reconsidered his previously rigid stance in negotiations with PTP, recognizing the substantial influence he and Prayut hold among senators. Close advisors to Prawit include figures like General Nat Indracharoen and General Witch Tephasadin Na Ayuddhaya. It appears Prawit is leaning on Thamanat to recalibrate strategy, aligning with the evolving political milieu and the possibility of forming a government alongside PTP.
Thailand's long term political landscape trajectory
It's hardly a surprise to witness the intellectual middle class and MFP backers castigating the PTP for forsaking their original 8-party alliance to align with the erstwhile coalition government parties—parties that MFP's supporters have labeled as embodiments of 'dictatorship'. Yet, let's be clear: this isn't a straightforward tale of betrayal. While we unequivocally disapprove of the 2014 coup, as well as its 2006 predecessor, the long arc of Thai politics offers a different perspective. These coups can be seen as a reaction to a political imbalance, particularly magnified by the demise of King Bhumipol in 2016. This shift sent Thailand oscillating from a liberal stance to a more autocratic position—a recalibration in response to nearly two decades of intense political polarization. And while Prayut sought to extend his leadership into a third term, the global specter of COVID-19, which has upended governments (Trump's administration being a notable example), stymied his ambitions. This isn't even mentioning the constitutional court's ruling that curtailed his bid for premiership to just two years, as opposed to the typical four. An examination of Prayut's long-term popularity reveals a sharp decline, exacerbated by the pandemic's fallout.
Recent figures from the Democracy Index suggest that the 2006 coup was an attempt to recalibrate Thai democracy, aspiring to quell political polarization. This effort, however, fell short; political strains persisted through the tenures of both Samak and Abhisit. The PTP's resurgence under Yingluck's leadership was significant, but allegations around the rice pledging scheme and the controversial amnesty bill incited significant protests led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), setting the stage for another coup. One cannot help but ponder if the impetus for the coup was driven not merely by political paralysis, but also by the declining health and subsequent passing of King Bhumipol in 2016.
It's worth noting that Thai democracy, at a mere 91 years since the Siamese revolution in 1932, is embryonic compared to its Western counterparts. Significant portions of this period were consumed by the tumult of World War II and the Cold War, truncating the nation's democratic experiment. Thailand, in its essence, doesn't root deeply in liberal thought. Instead, its ethos revolves around Hindu divinity, a partially secularized interpretation of Theravada Buddhism legitimizing the monarchy, and remnants of radical ideologies—Marxism, Leninism, Maoism—championed by the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). These ideologies still resonate among leftist intellectuals, student movements, and NGOs.
Historically, transitional periods between monarchs, such as from King Rama VII to King Rama VIII and from King Rama VIII to King Rama IX, have often been marked by significant governmental changes. For instance, the ousting of Pridi during King Rama VIII's passing bears testimony. This underscores a poignant reality: in times of crisis (or perceived crisis) in Thailand, there's a tendency to lean on authoritarian structures, albeit temporarily, over full-fledged democratic systems.
It's an oversimplification to suggest that Thaksin's TRT ascended the Thai political arena wielding populist policies, such as the THB 30 (USD 0.85) universal health care, the village fund, the OTOP program or other subsidy initiatives, purely for popularity. Instead, Thaksin and his advisory team proposed a more profound vision: restructuring the Thai economy to lessen its dependence on the unpredictable tides of globalization, especially in light of intermittent global economic crises stemming from major economies. The objective was clear: cultivate a robust domestic economy to operate in tandem with international trade.
Under this vision, the TRT earmarked grassroots economic efforts and SMEs as the primary engines driving sustainable economic growth. This approach was rooted in a profound belief in the entrepreneurial spirit: the tenacity and innovation born from navigating the pressures of poverty, ultimately pulling both individuals and the collective economy out of stagnation. Evidence of this strategy's efficacy isn't scarce, especially when considering the emphasis on supply-side economic endeavors like infrastructure projects. This foresight was evident during Yingluck's tenure, with initiatives such as the Thailand-China High-Speed Rail (HSR) project and the ambitious water management scheme.
Thaksin's capacity to bring such projects to fruition was undeniable, as demonstrated by his push to finalize the then-stagnating Suvarnabhumi airport.
The Emergence of Radical Political Tranformation Project
In the aftermath of two modern-era coups, the Future Forward Party (FFP) emerged to contest the 2019 Thai general election. A confluence of the single ballot system and the PTP's tactical error — concentrating on constituency MPs rather than party list MPs — set the stage for the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC) to make its ill-fated gambit. The TRC's invitation to King Rama X's elder sister, Ubol Ratana, as a PM nominee was swiftly repudiated by the monarch himself, leading to the TRC's dissolution. This series of events paved the way for the FFP's rise in Thai politics.
While the TRT/PTP emphasized economic programs, the FFP, now MFP, charted a different course: prioritizing social mobility and directly challenging the junta under Prayut. With deep-seated influences from former leftist ideologies, the FFP and its successor, the MFP, tend to perceive Thai politics as an enduring tug-of-war, dominated by a conservative elite, often referred to as the "deep state". Consequently, their policies differ starkly from the PTP, advocating more for structural reform and "political emancipation".
Borrowing from Gramsci's lexicon, the FFP sees its mission as a "war of position", aiming to reshape the prevailing cultural hegemony before embarking on a comprehensive overhaul of structures. The critical question remains: can the 'liberal' faction within the MFP amass sufficient political acumen to counterbalance its more radical elements and drive a more centrist agenda? Recent evidence suggests the jury is still out.
Emancipation and Economic Opportunity: A Multifaceted Exploration
The term "emancipation" weaves through socio-political landscapes, primarily adopting three distinct definitions. First, it symbolizes liberation from suppression, such as the emancipation of slaves. Second, it marks the legal transition when a minor attains independence from parental control. Thirdly, and perhaps most intriguingly, emancipation signifies the release of latent potential in marginalized communities, spurred by their economic or living circumstances.
Within this context, the idea that poverty is an invaluable treasury emerges. This paradoxical viewpoint asserts that beneath the often harsh veneer of economic hardship, there's a bubbling spring of potential. Challenging conditions, like walking barefoot over torn roses, can cultivate resilience, innovation, and self-discovery. History bears witness that adversity has often been the bedrock for groundbreaking change.
As societies grapple with these disparities, two major approaches emerge in economic reform policy: wealth redistribution and value creation. Wealth redistribution, a cornerstone of leftist ideologies, emphasizes the rebalancing of resources, ensuring that the marginalized aren't left behind. On the other hand, value creation is centered on recognizing and nurturing the intrinsic potential within communities.
Integral to this discourse are tools and strategies like universal healthcare, grassroots funds, specialized training schools for the BoP, and robust distribution channels. Universal healthcare, for instance, ensures that a society's health isn't a privilege of the few but a right of the many. It addresses the immediate needs of the populace, creating a foundational stability upon which economic growth can be built.
Institutions like grassroots banks, exemplified by the Grameen Bank, offer financial resources and empowerment to those traditionally excluded from conventional banking systems. They ignite entrepreneurial spirits and drive local economies.
An analysis of TRT/PTP's economic emancipation: Understanding its impact on multiple value chains interaction and the acceleration of money velocity
Training schools tailored for the BoP aren't just centers of education; they are hubs of innovation. They transform the BoP from mere consumers to informed participants in the economy. By equipping them with essential skills, these institutions lay the groundwork for sustainable economic expansion.
Moreover, the advent of logistics and e-commerce platforms tailored for the BoP and SMEs has revolutionized market access. These platforms level the playing field, allowing small entrepreneurs to tap into wider markets, increasing their reach, revenue, and potential.
Two noteworthy frameworks that resonate with these strategies are the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) theory and Fernand Braudel's "The Wheels of Commerce." The BoP theory postulates that businesses can achieve both social good and profit by catering to the vast, underserved population. On the other hand, Braudel's treatise gives historical insight into overlooked markets and potentials.
In essence, the quest for economic emancipation is layered and multifaceted. Be it through direct interventions like wealth redistribution or strategies aiming at value creation, the end goal converges on one point: unlocking the treasury latent within society.