After the Pheu Thai Party failed to win the most seats, beaten by the new kid on the pro-democratic bloc, the Move Forward Party, it vowed to “rebrand” the party. Two months and a half on and we are seeing Pheu Thai shifting towards the conservative pole of the political spectrum.
As the traditional conservative royalist political party, the Democrat Party, continues to suffer heavy electoral losses, Friday saw the two main Pheu Thai PM candidates, Srettha Thavisin and Paetongtarn Shinawatra, very visible waiting in line to greet the royal vehicle of Their Majesties the King and Queen at the Grand Palace on the occasion of the King’s 71 birthday.
Srettha tweeted and wished HM a happy birthday and wrote the King’s full name, which was rarely used, taking up more than half the space on his particular tweet.
Meanwhile, key party cheerleaders like Kham Phaka and Peemai Sirikul basically claiming redshirt pro-Pheu Thai supporters are and have always been royalists. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the past decade and a half of the existence of the redshirt movement, they have been at odd with the army, which staged two military coups to oust their political leaders, Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and subsequently what was left of the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2014 – the coup makers partly cited the need to protect the monarchy institution from being undermined.
Members of redshirts have been prosecuted and imprisoned under the lese majeste law. Think of Ekachai Hongkangwan, who was sentenced to over two years in prison for peddling unauthorized DVD copies of a critical biography of the current king produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who was then the heir apparent, at a redshirt gathering before the 2014 coup.
Some redshirts fled into exile such as Fai Yen music band members, who composed anti-monarchy songs and played at redshirt rallies prior to the 2014 coup, or were abducted and presumed killed such as Surachai Sae Dan, who fled to Laos after 2014, and more.
Now, with ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin, the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party, vowing to return to Thailand after a decade, the Pheu Thai Party is rebranding itself as a conservative royalist party as they cannot afford to be seen as a threat to the establishment and will need to elicit support from pro-junta parties and the junta-appointed senators in order to secure the PM seat and form the new government.
(Senior Thai Sang Thai Party member Sita Tiwari recently claims it was Pheu Thai Party which insisted in adding a sentence on upholding the “democratic system with the King as Head of state” in the eight-party MOU.)
Equally important, however, is there is now a far bigger perceived threat to the establishment in the form of Move Forward Party, which is the only major political party pledging to reform the controversial lese majeste law and stop short of saying they want to reform the monarchy institution itself. (The party was the only major party which conspicuously posted no HBD message on the King’s birthday on Friday)
Move Forward also vows to break down the energy sector’s oligarchy to make it more affordable for people to consume electricity and other energies, to decentralize and introduce elected governors instead, thus undermining the power and vested interest of the Interior Ministry.
Military reform, including ending compulsory military conscription and reducing the bloated number of generals, breaking the quasi monopoly of the alcohol industry and more. It is not hard to see why the Move Forward Party is now the new and chief enemy of the status quo which is making the Pheu Thai Party look conservative by comparison.
Now, the conservative elites under the current and relatively new reign of Rama X need the Pheu Thai Party to be on its side in an attempt to isolate and stop the rise of Move Forward, which is hugely popular among young Thais. It is a classic divide and rule tactic although this time, Pheu Thai leaders and their diehard supporters believe it is time to shift towards the right in politics as they could no longer compete with Move Forward Party’s left-leaning politics.
The choice of former real estate tycoon and political moderate Srettha as presumptive PM candidate, who received Thaksin’s blessing, is just one of the many indications Pheu Thai may be rebranding itself to become Thailand’s new preeminent conservative party to replace the Democrat Party in its glorious days.
Thaksin meanwhile can try to become part of the establishment if he is not eventually stabbed in the back and betrayed by the established elites.