Saturday, December 29, 2007

Haggling to form government has begun


WHO is bluffing? People Power Party (PPP) secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee who said three parties have agreed to join the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party in forming a coalition government or Democrat Party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban who says he does not believe the PPP has already recruited several allies to form a government.

Worapol Promigabutr, Thammasat University associate professor of sociology and anthropology, believes Suthep is the one bluffing.

“People like Surapong would not call a bluff in public. His statement is real,” said the 50-year-old sociologist, adding “in Thai politics, Suthep is known to bluff”.

In post-election Thailand, bluffing is the name of the game as the two main political parties – PPP (with 233 MPs in the 480-seat parliament) and Democrat Party (165) – woo Chart Thai Party (37), Puea Pandin (24), Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana (nine), Matchima Thipataya (seven) and Prachaj (five) to a multi-partner marriage.

So far, depending on who is not bluffing, the three smaller parties – Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Matchima Thipataya and Prachaj – have accepted the PPP’s proposal.

However, there are several potential landmines ahead of the Samak Sundaravej-led PPP as his party steps to the altar.

Will the junta, who ousted Thaksin 15 months ago, intervene? How many PPP MP-elect will the Election Commission (EC) disqualify? Will there be chaos in the form of massive anti-Thaksin rallies against the birth of a PPP-led coalition government?

These questions are valid to Worapol.

There is a faction in the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that is itching to launch another mass movement against Thaksin. Behind the scenes, there are powerful people who are lobbying the EC to drastically reduce the number of seats the PPP won. There are elements in the military that are uneasy with the election result.

But the academician contends that there is a consensus among non-political powers such as the military, business circle and NGOs to allow the PPP to form the next coalition government.

“This current equation (233 seats) will give the PPP the government. But also crucial is consensus from these groups,” he explained.

The military is on neutral gear as it is divided into two factions – the coup leaders and commanders who have evaluated the situation and have decided to remain impartial.

“Two days after the election results were announced, we have not observed any extraordinary movement from the army,” said Worapol.

Most factions in the Thai business circle will not oppose a PPP-led coalition government although some businessmen had convinced the army to launch last year’s Sept 19 coup.

“After 15 months of a military-installed government, the private sector has come to a conclusion that coup leaders such as General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin have limited experience in a globalised world,” said the sociologist.

As for the predicted post-election chaos, there was none as anti-Thaksin groups were unable to mobilise their supporters. The financial support from the business circle is not flowing into these groups.

As for the pre-election concerns that the PPP will be banned, Worapol said that scenario is “now near impossible to happen”.

“The EC has announced that in general the election has been free and fair,” he said, adding “the announcement signals that there is some kind of agreement behind the scenes”.

The academician does not see any drastic disqualification of PPP candidates. So far the EC has announced three “yellow cards” to disqualify three of the party’s MP-elects in Nakhon Ratchasima allegedly for vote buying.

“They will win the seats again,” he predicts, “as their seats are located in the Thaksin heartland in the northeast.”

(According to EC regulations, elected candidates given yellow cards could re-contest in a by-election scheduled on Jan 13.)

On Jan 4, a day after the EC finalises its investigations on electoral fraud, the PPP will provide details on its coalition government. And Worapol won’t be surprised if the coalition government included Chart Thai Party or Puea Pandin.

Nevertheless, the academician said that it was too early to conclude that the Democrat Party will be the sole opposition party.

Certain powerful elements will want either Chart Thai Party or Puea Pandin to join the Democrat Party to balance the power of a PPP-led coalition government.

(Published in The Star on Dec 29, 2007)