Pheu Thai rudderless as poll looms
Pundits say future of the party remains bleak as graft scandal re-emerges, writes Aekarach Sattaburuth
News of Thaksin Shinawatra predicting the Pheu Thai Party will win at the next election might shore up the sagging spirit of supporters. But despite the upbeat news, the future of the Pheu Thai Party remains bleak, according to pundits.
The downturn started early this year after news that many would defect to join the pro-military government. It has been reported that at least 50 members would leave the party.
But the major blow for the party will be a graft investigation that might lead to scores of party members being banished from politics for five years.
A National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) inquiry panel is probing at least two legal cases in which a number of Pheu Thai key figures are suspects.
Supporters of the party and pundits have perceived the graft investigation as a tool to wipe out the party and thwart its ambition to return to power after the general election.
First is the probe against 40 of Pheu Thai’s ex-lawmakers who are accused of abuse of authority.
Five years ago, these ex-MPS endorsed the amnesty bill and put it forward for deliberation by the House of Representatives during the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
The bill was criticised for its alleged implicit aim of benefiting Thaksin as it set out to nullify corruption cases from 2006.
The second case is about the 1.9 billion baht compensation which the Yingluck administration paid to victims of violence during political protests.
Those who were eligible to the fund were protesters or their relatives affected by the state crackdown on political protests from 2005-2010.
Despite the fund being approved for all afflicted protesters, critics said those receiving windfalls are red-shirt protesters that support the party.
The NACC, however, will look into claims that compensation was not paid out in line with the 1959 Budget Procedures Act, causing more than 1.9 billion baht in damage to state coffers.
The probe implicates Yingluck, who has fled the country, and 33 former cabinet ministers in her government for failing to comply with the law.
They are known among the party as “the cream of the crop” — key party figures and future political assets such as Kittiratt NaRanong and former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt.
It is unclear when the NACC will decide on the case of the 40 ex-lawmakers.
But for the second case, NACC member Supa Piyajitti, who is heading the inquiry panel investigating the compensation case, has confirmed they will come to a final verdict and forward it to NACC’s main board next month.
If the NACC agrees that the compensation payment violated the law, it will forward the case to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political-Office Holders.
If 34 members are found guilty by the supreme court, they will be banned for five years.
Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said the NACC ruling on the case would send ripples through the party.
“Those implicated in the 1.9 billion baht compensation case are the cream of the party’s crop,” he said, adding that the NACC’s probe into compensation could be a move to wipe out the whole party,” he said.
He said among 33 members, Mr Chadchart is a valuable asset to ensure the party’s existence.
In 2006, the same party yet under the name of Thai Rak Thai, had been dissolved and its 111 executives banned from politics for five years in 2007, the party reincarnated itself as the People Power in 2008, and Pheu Thai in 2011.
Despite the political ban, Thaksin is believed to retain a strong influence within the Pheu Thai Party, and is able to push his “nominees” the late Samak Sundaravej and his brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat, and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra to the prime minister’s seat.
However, for now, the future of the party looks bleak as these new proxies may not be up to the task.
Another factor that will hold back the party, are the new political party regulations, he said.
The new law involving the elections of MPs tends to favour small and mediumsized parties, giving them more bargaining power in forming a coalition government.
As a result, Mr Yutthaporn said he did not think Pheu Thai would win enough seats to become part of the core of a coalition a government after the next election.
Their downfall also stems from within the party itself, Mr Yutthaporn said.
Currently, Pheu Thai remains without a leader capable of rallying the party to an election victory, he said.
Those implicated in the 1.9 billion baht compensation case are the cream of the party’s crop.