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Too many cooks a recipe for political disaster in Thailand

Who will be the next Thai prime minister? That is the immediate question. The next issue, possibly more pressing and relevant, is how he or she will govern a Thailand divided by increasingly fragmented politics and vacillating rule of law.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at a Palang Pracharath Party's campaign rally in central Bangkok in March.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at a Palang Pracharath Party's campaign rally in central Bangkok in March.

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Who will be the next Thai prime minister? That is the immediate question. The next issue, possibly more pressing and relevant, is how he or she will govern a Thailand divided by increasingly fragmented politics and vacillating rule of law.

The race to Government House is now entering the final straight with parliament is scheduled to convene for the first time later this month.

Although many people have come to the foregone conclusion that the incumbent General Prayuth Chan-ocha will return due to the support of the 250 senators appointed by his military regime, the emergence of alternative candidates indicates there may be more to the game than immediate power grabbing.

It's true most of what we are seeing is part of the process of negotiations, with even harder bargaining and trading going on behind the scenes.

At this point, there should be no question the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is determined to form a government at all costs.

The problem is that since the pro-regime party failed to win a majority of seats, even though it enjoyed quite a few advantages over other parties, its negotiating power has been weakened.

Indeed, the PPRP did not even win enough seats to claim the legitimate right to lead a coalition. However, it has remained in the game, relying on the military regime's predominant power to shore up its decidedly lame claim that it won the popular vote.

The coalition it is likely to propose will almost certainly only enjoy a super-slim majority, if it even has one at all.

Yet, the PPRP has no choice but to soldier on to "die another day". And the costs of going against the grain are stacking up quickly.

Not only will the PPRP-led coalition have to consist of more than 20 parties, which is a headache in itself, but the grand plan is also not possible without support from the Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties.

Kingmaker is a sweet role to play. Even more so considering the PPRP-led coalition desperately needs shoring up.

With only about 255 MPs in hand, including those from Bhumjaithai and the Democrats, the PPRP bloc may prevail with its choice of prime minister, but it will definitely run into difficulties when it comes to major votes as the government.

Lobbying will be hard and its performance is unlikely to be sterling. Too many cooks usually spoil the broth. Too many parties in a coalition make for fierce competition and conflict.

Every party has its own agenda. Who can make sure they will work together and produce tangible results that meet the public's needs?

In short, this is a shaky coalition. Naturally, it will take a lot to entice the precious swing blocs to join a presumably unstable coalition with many small partners and possibly a short lifespan.

The PPRP may believe it can make an offer that coalition partners can't refuse. But the reality is staring at its coalition partners too.

How far should the target parties go to please the PPRP and military regime when it has become clear from the election results that the ultraconservative bloc does not enjoy hegemonic power? What if the new government is short-lived and another election must be called? Will the hard-line Gen Prayuth still appeal to voters by that time?

News that a "third" alliance, in addition to the two existing ones led by PPRP and Pheu Thai, is being brokered, with Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul as an alternative candidate to become the next PM, suggest that the negotiations may not play out in favour of the PPRP.

Truth be told, this so-called third alliance, with Mr Anutin stealing the premiership, is still a long shot. The news could very well be just another ploy to push the PPRP to yield even more to potential coalition partners who are merrily playing the field.

And all this is without even mentioning the role of the Democrats, whose former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva made a public stance of not supporting Gen Prayuth to be the next prime minister.

If the country's oldest party has to do an about-turn, will it break the party apart? What will be the Democrats' long-term viability and political platform if they are accused of supporting a military dictatorship, or helping it to stay on in power, under a semi-democratic cloak?

As these negotiations rumble on, the main point of discussion is inevitably which portfolio will go to which party.

Beyond the power squabbling, however, are issues that concern the public, that dictate why we need a democratic government from the start.

What will the new PM do to make Thailand more inclusive? What will the next government do to help an increasingly diversified country realise its potential?

We Thais deserve to know that much. BANGKOK POST

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Atiya Achakulwisut is a political columnist at Bangkok Post. She joined the Post in 1991 and was previously its deputy editor.

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Thai politics Thailand Prayuth

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