The latest statement by hardline politician Piyabutr Saengkanokkul provides the clearest evidence that one of Thailand’s newest political parties, which thrives on unorthodoxy and drastic reforms that border on extremism, has reached a soul-searching point probably in record time.
The early-arriving dilemma is about what to do with itself. Softening its stance could increase its chance of being in the next government, thus perhaps ensuring survival in a largely-orthodox political environment, but maintaining the radicalness would mean the past few years were not wasted and the “new force” image will not be tainted.
The situation is further complicated by unclear signs from voters and the public in general. Elections at rural levels appeared to show declining support for politicians associated with the party or its offshoot, the Progressive Movement, yet the camp did well in last year’s Bangkok City Assembly poll. It’s also hard to tell how much the party benefited from the dissolution of the Thai RaksaChart Party, formed as part of the Pheu Thai Party’s satellite strategy, and the one-ballot system that gave Move Forward a lot of party-list seats.
Even last year’s Bangkok polls sent mixed signals. While Move Forward’s City Assembly runners performed well, its gubernatorial candidate did not get as much support from voters, and it was debatable what could have been had the government been represented by just one competitor.
From his Facebook comment, Piyabutr, now with the Progressive Movement, seemed to tilt a little toward keeping the radical, pro-reform image. Move Forward apparently has decided to do just like that, as seen in the party’s election posters vowing to cleanse politics of military influences and put an end to military conscription. A well-known Move Forward MP, AmaratChokepamitkul, also shared a video compilation of Thaksin Shinawatra’s“false” promises to the red shirts during their uprising in 2010.
It’s a two-pronged war whose prospects are not good in the short term when Move Forward is concerned. Extreme reform would serve to galvanise the Senate, which holds the provisional power of joining the House of Representatives in selecting the next prime minister. Also, extremism along with attacking Pheu Thai would just nudge the biggest party closer to PalangPracharath.
In an unlikely and outrageous scenario of a Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharathmarriage, Move Forward could end up in the opposition bloc. Piyabutr did not mention that dreaded possibility directly, but he almost certainly made the whole comment with that in mind, and his other fear had been expressed in an earlier Facebook post, that Move Forward could even shrink in size after the next election.
There is one key thing to consider. A Pheu Thai-Palang Pracharath coalitioncould blunt Move Forward’s reformist push. Over the past few years, Move Forward managed to make loud noises about Article 112, charter amendmentand etc because it had Pheu Thai on its side and Prayut Chan-o-cha on the other. Fighting on the opposite side of Pheu Thai and on the same side as Prayut (in case Ruam Thai Sang Chart, too, settles in the opposition) will be a whole new ball game.
One significant thing in the above scenario is that Prayut will be “no longer there”. He has been in Move Forward’s rallying cry over the past few years, but what will be left for the party to fight against? Absurd as it sounds, in order to stay relevant, Move Forward needs the likes of “opportunistic” Prayut who is neither an MP nor political party member to be in a powerful political position after the election. Prayut in the opposition bloc will not help Move Forward play a good role.
What about Article 112? Thaksin Shinawatra has made it all but clear that a Pheu Thai government would not touch the law. In a very recent online post, he said enforcement, not the law, is the problem. This goes against several things Move Forward says about the law, and will pose a problem whether it is a government partner or an opposition party.
If Piyabutr sounded ambivalent regarding what path Move Forward should take, he was clear-cut in saying that the party did not have that much time. “With little over three months remaining before the next election, the Move Forward Party needs to consider and choose the best way for itself and for Thai society,” he said.
The party’s dilemma also has to do with its “market”. Move Forward’s fans like the party’s radical policies, so a compromise could lead to a lose-lose situation: Those who dislike the policies would still dislike Move Forward anyway, whereas some supporters could become doubters.
Piyabutr talked about long-term and short-term. It would be easier to sit on the fence and join the next government, he said. But that would also make the party’s platform shakier, he suggested.
Yet even he seemed to admit that the most important thing for Move Forward is to stay alive. Which path is better in that regard _ for a political force that was born just before the last general election _ is difficult to tell.