Opinion: Prayuth Returns as Only Viable Anti-Thaksin Candidate

At left, Thaksin Shinawatra's campaign poster from 2004. At right, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in an image posted by the Army Cyber Center's Facebook in September.

Re•tention: Pravit Rojanaphruk

Former Princess Ubolratana Mahidol’s short-lived bid to become prime minister – which ended when a royal command opposing her candidacy was issued Feb. 8 – revived the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra camp.

Many who oppose the exiled former prime minister and supported the coup that ousted his sister’s Pheu Thai government in May 2014, have become disappointed at junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. But Ubolratana’s surprise nomination by Thai Raksa Chart party – a new pro-Thaksin party with some key Pheu Thai party members – has stoked fears that the ousted leader might again pull the strings of power from backstage in the March general elections.

The fact that the pro-Thaksin party has the support of an immediate member of the royal family frightened royalists who hate the fugitive former premier. Now – like never since the May 2014 coup – those opposing the ousted leader feel threatened and will likely support Prayuth and the pro-junta Palang Pracharat party in the upcoming poll, as the coupmaker is the only viable anti-Thaksin candidate.

Trying to frame what’s coming in a new light as a result of the Feb. 8 events, Palang Pracharat Party deputy leader Suvit Maesincee wrote on a Tuesday Facebook post that to support Prayuth and his party is to stop the Thaksin-proxy parties from regaining power.

Another pro-junta anti-Thaksin party – Action Coalition for Thailand – is also expected to gain more support for its rabid stance against the former premier and its ultra-royalist ideology. The party’s executive member Anek Laothamatas also posted Tuesday on Facebook questioning the framing of elections as being a showdown between pro-versus-anti-junta forces. Instead, Anek sees them as a showdown between pro- versus anti-monarchy forces.

Their rationale is that by bringing Ubolratana into politics, no matter how briefly, the former princess had taken a stance in support of the pro-Thaksin camp – regarded by self-styled ultra-royalists as being anti-monarchic. They see it as a way to sow division within the royal family. It’s a fact that Ubolratana’s candidacy – which lasted 14 hours before the royal command calling it “highly inappropriate” and unconstitutional was televised – led to both criticism and sympathy for her. Suddenly the public were made to decide whether they support Ubolratana’s candidacy – and one of the key determinants was whether they supported or opposed Thaksin.

Anti-Thaksin camps viewed the coup rumors which spread widely Sunday night – and a fake junta order firing leaders of the armed forces – as a psychological game by the fugitive premier’s supporters to confuse, instil societal chaos and divide the military and the military government.

For those subscribing to this narrative, March 24 will see another epic electoral showdown.
The junta seems to be enjoying the windfall now – combined with the unfair rules of the constitution its rubber-stamped parliament drafted, which enable Prayuth to select all the 250 upper house senators. Given that the upper house will also be allowed to vote the prime minister, pro-junta camps will only need 126 of 500 lower house MPs to reinstall Prayuth as the head of government.

On the other hand, the anti-junta camp is split. Future Forward Party is keeping its distance from pro-Thaksin camps and the Constitutional Court looks likely to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart party in the coming days for dragging the monarchy into politics through Ubolratana’s failed candidacy. This leaves the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai and Pheu Chart parties to pick up the pieces left by the past week’s political tsunami.