The result of May 14 general election was widely seen as voters sending a message that they want change after nine years of national administration led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.
As soon as Pheu Thai broke its alliance with the Move Forward Party (MFP) to forge a partnership with parties linked to military leaders involved in the 2014 coup, especially the Palang Pracharath Party led by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and the United Thai Nation Party of which Gen Prayut was then prime ministerial candidate, it came under heavy criticism for reneging on its word.
Pheu Thai has lost respect, trust and credibility among voters, according to observers.
In its defence, the Pheu Thai Party claimed the party could not go it alone without the others after parliament rejected MFP’s choice of prime minister candidate in a vote. After the coalition’s formation was completed, Cholnan Srikaew resigned as party leader over its decision to form the government with the coup-linked parties.
Pheu Thai’s move, harshly criticised by so-called pro-democracy supporters as an act of betrayal, has raised questions about its trust and integrity and what ethical standards politicians can be held to.
Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, told the Bangkok Post that Pheu Thai faces a trust issue, but it still can restore its image and reputation through its policies.
Pheu Thai has floated policies to revive the economy, chief among them the 10,000-baht digital wallet aimed at spurring economic activity and driving GDP growth to 5%.
“The only way to salvage its image is for the party to implement the digital wallet scheme and ensure it works. For instance, if the scheme requires 500 billion baht, it must generate activity worth a trillion baht. If it fails, the party can expect worse,” he said.
He said Pheu Thai came under fire for abandoning the MFP to join forces with its political rivals, but few people honestly expected the MFP-Pheu Thai alliance to succeed after weeks of stalemate.
“People in the provinces think differently from MFP supporters. They simply want Pheu Thai to be the government and they are even happier if the prime minister is Mr Srettha [Thavisin] or Ms Paethongtarn [Shinawatra]. They don’t care about the rest,” he said.
He also said voters could be roughly divided into two groups: one that votes for the MFP and thus for a political ideology and the other that votes for the other parties and looks forward to a working coalition despite some differences.
Mr Stithorn said the Srettha administration is expected to last as long as the ruling party can keeps its coalition partners from the so-called conservative camp happy because the alliance would not have happened without compromise.
Unless supporters of the conservative camp take to the streets, protests by the MFP’s supporters will now be powerful enough to oust the Pheu Thai-led government, he added.
Mana: ‘We’re prepared to tackle corruption’
Checks and balances
Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, said criticism of the government is a political issue.
He said politicians are understood to be the main cause of the country’s corruption and whether corruption takes place depends on the government’s political goals and how serious the prime minister is about preventing graft under his watch.
“The cabinet ministers should also keep each other in check. However, no matter who comes to power, we’re prepared to deal with corruption and we have new tools to help people examine how the government uses its power and spends money,” he said.
Mr Mana said state agencies are transitioning to an era of digital government but they need to do more ensure transparency and accountability. It is important for people to gain access to information necessary for examination.
When asked about ethical standards of Thai politicians compared to those in other countries, he said he still holds out hope for local politicians and that the outcome of the May 14 polls indicates strong public participation in politics.
Political activist and serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya told the Bangkok Post that most politicians do not keep their promises because they know that most voters do not care so much about them (election promises).
Most voters voted for candidates they liked even though they have never done anything they promised.
Mr Srisuwan said he wants people to speak out against politicians who do not keep their promises. They can use social media to let the public know.
“We need to create a powerful movement against those who don’t keep their promises. Keeping promises should be a new norm for politicians. They should have more respect for the people’s voice and forging trust with voters,” he said.
He also urged the people’s sector to probe the government’s policies for any irregularities.
Srisuwan: ‘Create powerful movement’
There’s a price to pay
Commenting on the alliance between Pheu Thai and its political opponents, Rosana Tositrakul, a former Bangkok senator, said Pheu Thai has hit rock bottom and it did what it could to get back to power including giving up key economic posts to coalition partners.
She said she believed the party would not be able to implement its economic and social welfare policies effectively and the party’s popularity would slide further. Ms Rosana said many politicians represent the interests of their financial supporters, so they have no freedom to pursue the people’s agenda.
It is important to raise people’s political awareness and encourage them to engage in examining state agencies and office-holders, she said, adding food and medicine products are inspected for safety, so politicians must be too.
She said Thailand has diverse natural resources which can boost development and providing welfare benefits to the people if everything is corruption-free.
Prof Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political science scholar with Chulalongkorn University, said public independent agencies should be truly independent so they can carry out their jobs impartially.
Prof Siripan said she expects the first cabinet reshuffle in three to six months to put the right people in the right jobs, as she saw the current proposed line-up as nothing but a pay-off to loyalists.
She also said the coalition government will try its best stay together because they do not want early elections which could see the MFP score a landslide victory. “With Mr Srettha at the helm of the finance ministry, if the economy improves and people get benefits, Pheu Thai stands a chance to restore its image and popularity.”
Rosana: Pheu Thai popularity may decline
Siripan: Calls for govt agency independence