BANGKOK — Hopping off the fence that divides the electorate, Democrat Party chairman Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday he will not support junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha’s bid for another term in office.
The announcement marked the first time Abhisit, whose party has garnered the second largest placed second in recent elections – unequivocally opposed Gen. Prayuth’s attempt to hold onto power. His pledge was immediately met with praise, skepticism and even outrage from former allies.
“I’ll speak it clearly: I definitely will not support Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the next prime minister,” Abhisit said in the video announcement. As if anticipating skepticism, a video title then asks “Is that clear enough?” before replaying his message.
Explaining his decision, which may greatly imperil Prayuth’s chances of another term, Abhisit accused the junta leader of trying to maintain a grip on power, which he said runs against his party’s principles of upholding democratic norms.
He repeated the same stance during a Sunday debate.
“I won’t let him hold on to his power and bring in an undemocratic regime,” Abhisit said during the debate organized by online news site The Standard. His archrival, Pheu Thai Party candidate Sudarat Keyuraphan, could be seen smiling upon hearing Abhisit’s remark.
But Abhisit added that while he wouldn’t back the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party’s nominee, he also wouldn’t join hands with Pheu Thai or any party allied with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra either.
“We will refuse both the prime minister candidates from the Pheu Thai and Phalang Pracharat parties,” said the 54-year-old politician, who served as PM from 2008 to 2011.
Up until yesterday, the Democrat Party had refused to commit to a stance on Prayuth’s candidacy. Many Democrat supporters, who supported street protests five years ago which led to the coup, remain loyal to Prayuth, who they believe is a necessary ally against Thaksin’s influence.
Though 76 parties are competing for votes on March 24, the election is by and large a mandate on the military’s rule. Abhisit’s declaration now aligns the Democrats with parties like Pheu Thai, Future Forward and Seri Ruam Thai who opposed Prayuth’s bid for another term.
However, when Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit challenged Abhisit to clarify whether he might still join a coalition with Phalang Pracharat, the Democrat leader refused to dismiss the possibility.
The Democrats will consider many factors to decide who to ally with in the parliament, Abhisit said.
His dubious answer led Chadchart Sittipunt, another Pheu Thai PM candidate, to urge Abhisit to make clear whether he’s still willing to work with Phalang Pracharat.
“I think the heart of the issue here isn’t Gen. Prayuth, but it’s about principles,” Chadchart told reporters while campaigning today in Bangkok. “In truth, is Abhisit siding with Phalang Pracharat or not? It’s not about any individual. It’s about what the party’s principles really are.”
Some Democrats support Abhisit’s pledge and believe he’s doing the right thing by forging his own way.
“If Khun Abhisit and the Democrat Party are independent and walk the right path, there is still hope in this country,” user Boyd Suphakit wrote in reply to Abhisit’s video. “I believe many people want to give him a chance. In fact, Khun Abhisit could be a world-class leader if he is independent and faithful to democracy.”
“If Democrats join hands with Pheu Thai, Future Forward and Seri Ruam Thai, and then help develop the country together without engaging in corruption, it will bring true reconciliation,” Thanawat Chaiprasert wrote. “Phalang Pracharat and Uncle Tuu can rot away.”
Others chastised Abhisit for turning his back on the junta chairman.
“I have been supporting Democrats all my life. I have never voted for anyone else,” Waiyaporn Sanpa-ngern wrote. “But today I have to make my own decision because you will cooperate with those who are ‘Scum of the Earth.’”
“All my family has been voting for Democrats, but now we have made a decision: We will certainly vote for Phalang Pracharat,” Sutthapong Nopsri wrote. “Because Mark is too weak. I don’t want the Redshirts to burn down my country again!”
But the harshest criticism felt by Abhisit seemed to come from his former deputy and longtime ally, Suthep Thaugsuban, who now campaigns on behalf of another pro-junta party.
Speaking at an Action Coalition for Thailand Party rally in Phang Nga province yesterday, Suthep said Abhisit owed him gratitude for securing the premiership in 2008.
“If it weren’t because of me, I don’t know if he would have ever become prime minister, even in his next life!” Suthep, who joined the Democrats nearly 40 years ago, thundered in the southern dialect to a crowd of several hundred.
He also accused Abhisit of the worst crime imaginable to many Democrat supporters: conspiring with archnemesis Thaksin.
“Is he now fully standing on the same side with Thaksin?” Suthep said. “If Thaksin’s faction offers votes for Abhisit to become the prime minister, will he accept them immediately?”