BANGKOK — A new group formed by former figures of several anti-government political parties was met with a mixed emotion, from excitement to lukewarm reception and bemusement.
Under a mouthful name of Creative, Action, Revival and People Empowerment, or CARE, the group unveiled its leaders and platforms on Wednesday. They wanted nothing less than a resignation of the entire Cabinet after the coronavirus pandemic is resolved, and pledged to engage with all sectors to tackle the country’s ills.
The group says it has over 40 members including former executives of Thai Rak Thai and Pheu Thai Party, the two parties allied to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. They are led by Phumtham Wechayachai, former secretary general of the Pheu Thai Party.
Other politicians include Prommin Lertsuridej and Surapong Suebwongless, both former Thai Rak Thai executives banned from politics when the party was dissolved in 2007 for electoral fraud but now able to engage in politics after the ban expired in 2017.
The heavy load of ‘old face’ politicians led political scientist Uchaen Chiangsaen to react to CARE with a dose of cynicism. Uchaen, who teaches at Walailak University, questioned why those politicians did not come out earlier in support of the student-led protests against the government.
“We can think the students are juvenile and not mature like CARE but the issues pushed forward by the students are far ahead,” Uchaen said. “We want to see courage from these adults rather than for them to act like an educated group.”
Student activist Bunkueabun “Francis” Paothong said he was left perplexed by the group’s formation, since none of its leaders explicitly expressed a wish to run in next elections. The Mahidol student urged the new faction to be clear about their raison d ‘etre.
“I am confused as to what they want,” Bunkueabun said. “Do they want to be a think tank or something else? I don’t know how to describe the group. No one is saying clearly as to how they are going to push their political agenda forward, and what they will do from now on.”
Bunkueabun’s doubt was due in part to the fact the CARE also counts academics and thinkers as its founding members, like architect Duangrit Boonnag, political commentator Lakkana Punwichai, and Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of the board of Phatra Securities.
“They should make it clear as to who they are. Some of them may be former Pheu Thai politicians but for now, I am still confused as to what they stand for,” the student activist said. “I don’t even know whether they are progressive, or liberal.”
When a reporter asked the group during the introductory symposium on Wednesday whether CARE would compete in the elections, co-founder Prommin evaded the question and said the group is not yet considered as a political party.
He also said members have yet to discuss the possibilities of forming a political party.
But Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science dean Titipol Phakdeewanich said the group was being deliberately ambiguous as it was likely waiting to see reactions from the public before taking further action.
“This may be another strategy of the Pheu Thai Party or Thaksin Shinawatra. It may be an alternative to deal with future political risks,” Titipol said, referring to the fugitive exile former premier who is widely believed to be the biggest influence behind the Pheu Thai Party. “In the future, it’s likely to compete in electoral politics.”
He also pointed to the group’s apparent inability to present any conservative politician in its ranks as a potential obstacle to becoming a truly representative organization.
“Actually there may be a need to embrace this group. I allow conservatives to join and become part of the movement,” Titipol said.
The political scientist added that CARE will find it challenging to insist to voters from different camps of politics that it was truly outside Thaksin’s control; even the location chosen for the group’s first news conference was a TV station owned by Thaksin’s son, Panthongtae Shinawatra.
The question of Thaksin’s influence also came up during Wednesday’s presser. Responding to a reporter’s query, Prommin said there is nothing better than actions that would prove to the public where his group stands.
“Anyone with good intentions is welcomed,” Prommin added cryptically.