Declaring he won’t support junta leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister after the election was probably Abhisit Vejjajiva’s final major political gambit.
The declaration made last Sunday, less than two weeks before the elections, was followed Monday by his insistence that the Democrat Party he leads could still join a coalition with the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party which nominated Prayuth to be PM, however. The condition for joining such a coalition was that the Phalang Pracharat must not seek to extend the power of the junta post-elections. At the same time, Abhisit also added that his party is willing to also join a coalition with pro-Thaksin anti-junta Pheu Thai Party if it emerges from the shadows of a few dominating figures. This was an indirect reference to ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
This political contortion is mercurial, as it’s hard to pin down how Phalang Pracharat could avoid prolonging the power of the junta when the party itself is a direct product of the military regime, with top leaders drawn from the military cabinet. If Phalang Pracharat wins much fewer seats than anticipated, it may need Abhisit and may have to unceremoniously ditch Prayuth, however.
At the same time, one may ask how it could be proven beyond a doubt that Pheu Thai is no longer under the sway of Thaksin. Who knows, a desperate Pheu Thai Party may need the Democrat Party in order to prevent a return of Prayuth, however.
What’s clear from the rather expedient stance laid out by Abhisit is that the Democrat Party leader wants to project himself and the party as a third-choice alternative to ending the prolonged political quagmire.
Abhisit seeks to leverage his party as the one to decide which side will form a government. He seeks to gain votes from people who are fed up with the divisive figures of Prayuth, Thaksin and ultra-royalist, anti-Thaksin Suthep Thuagsuban’s Action Coalition for Thailand Party.
The problem is, Abhisit himself has become a divisive figure as well, at least since the May 2010 bloody crackdown on anti-government Redshirt protesters. Those protests ended with the combined death of 99 people on all sides, but mostly pro-Thaksin Redshirts, and no one has ever been held responsible.
Back then, Abhisit was the prime minister. After the crackdown, he refused to resign or call for snap elections. The bloody May 2010 crackdown was something the Oxford-educated former PM doesn’t really want to dwell on, but it has permanently tainted him and made him a divisive political figure as well. One either sees Abhisit as a well-educated potential second-time prime minister or a man who should be held responsible for the deaths on the street.
Also, when Prayuth staged the coup in 2014, Abhisit and his party did nothing to visibly denounce or oppose it. The only Democrat Party MP who publicly opposed the coup was Thankhun Jitissara, who was detained without charge by the National Council for Peace and Order in the aftermath of the coup while the rest of the Democrat Party simply laid low.
In fact, as pointed out Wednesday by deputy prime minister of the military cabinet Somkid Jatusripitak, Abhisit and the Democrat Party boycotted the February 2014 general elections. “Thais easily forget. This time he is not boycotting elections but boycotting PM [Prayuth],” Somkid said.
The boycott succeeded in helping scuttle that election and led to the May 2014 coup.
How can Abhisit start afresh as an alternative to the ongoing political mess is anyone’s guess. His latest gambit will probably be his last major gamble, however.
He has vowed that if his party fails to secure 100 seats in the elections next week, he would resign.
This may be an unfortunate end to the political career of a man once so promising who could have become a universally respected statesman.
Abhisit is trying to reinvent himself but the past is haunting him, just like Thaksin, Suthep and Prayuth, who cannot convince those who hate them to ever support them.