BANGKOK — Treading a thin line after saying his party wouldn’t support the junta leader becoming prime minister after the election, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has found himself in hot water for walking back his comments.
Hours after announcing his opposition to Prayuth Chan-ocha’s bid to remain in power, Abhisit said Monday his party is willing to form a coalition with the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party if it doesn’t insist Prayuth be PM. He also opened the door to a coalition with archrival Pheu Thai under certain conditions.
“I have not spoken about this in the past because I thought my stance was already clear,” Abhisit said. “But many debate forums want the politicians to debate about their stances … so I had to announce my stance clearly, so we won’t waste any more time.”
The Democrat chairman also said he personally respects Prayuth’s contribution to the country during his tenure, but he believes the general should not serve another term.
“I cannot make decisions based on my personal relationship. I have to think of this country in a long term,” Abhisit said. “I insist that conflicts will certainly break out in the future if [Prayuth] holds on to his power. Gen. Prayuth would be at the center of the likeliest conflict to break out after the election.”
As for the Pheu Thai Party – which has bested the Democrats in every general election for nearly two decades – Abhisit said any partnership depended on it becoming free from the domination of a few people, an implicit reference to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Abhisit announced his party’s conditions at a Monday news conference after releasing a video saying he “definitely will not support Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the next prime minister.”
Seeking to refine that position, he told reporters the party wants to form a government after elections with other partners as long as they don’t extend junta rule or engage in corruption.
Reactions were swift. The de facto head of the pro-junta Action Coalition for Thailand Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, asked from a Phuket rally stage last night which side Abhisit was on. He declared his party would never join a coalition with Thaksin-aligned Pheu Thai and accused Thaksin of buying his way into office and corruption.
A former Democrat for 37 years himself, Suthep said he was saddened to hear Abhisit speak. He said the party which he left as secretary general to lead anti-government street protests, was like his home.
“It means Abhisit is willing to join hands with Thaksin’s side. The words that Abhisit uttered, that [the party] won’t support Gen. Prayuth to become prime minister to extend his power are the exact words used by the pro-Thaksin camp. If you won’t support Prayuth, then who will you support?” Suthep said.
Pheu Thai Party MP candidate Watana Muangsook also criticized Abhisit for saying the party is willing to form a coalition with Phalang Pracharat only hours after saying he wouldn’t support Prayuth, who is the party’s PM candidate, as prime minister.
“If he is not confused, then he must be acting in a political soap opera,” Watana wrote online Tuesday morning.
At yesterday’s news conference, Abhisit rejected allegations that he was trying to have things both ways. The Democrats will only join hands with Phalang Pracharat if the latter has no intention of serving as a proxy for Gen. Prayuth’s ongoing influence, he said.
“I’m surprised to see that after I give my answers like this, some [Pheu Thai] supporters still say I didn’t make myself clear,” Abhisit said. “What I’m trying to stress is that if Phalang Pracharat still tries to perpetuate [Prayuth’s] power, then the Democrats will not invite them to a coalition.”