12 August 2023

Pheu Thai:
“We won’t betray the people...”

Multiple Thai news organisations are reporting today that Pheu Thai has invited one or even both of the political wings of the military junta—the Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation parties—into its coalition government. After withdrawing from election-winner Move Forward’s anti-military bloc, Pheu Thai first formed a partnership with Bhumjaithai, which was later joined by seven smaller parties, though with only 238 seats they have so far been unable to form a majority government.

Joining Pheu Thai’s coalition is, on one level, a humiliation for the military, which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, the party’s de facto leader, in the 2006 coup. But this is outweighed by the extraordinary staying power of the military parties: despite coming a distant fourth and fifth in the election, they are able to remain in government, propped up by Pheu Thai, an ostensibly pro-democracy party. Exactly how much leverage the military has, and how much Pheu Thai is prepared to sacrifice to secure Thaksin’s return from self-imposed exile, will only be apparent once the new cabinet is announced.

The reputational damage caused by the coalition is far worse for Pheu Thai, whose executives had repeatedly and categorically denied persistent rumours of a deal with the military parties. At a press conference on 29th May, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew claimed: “There’s no such deal... Pheu Thai doesn’t make such a deal”. He also promised, in a phrase that has come back to haunt him: “We won’t betray the people”. The party’s about-turn will indeed be seen as a betrayal by many of their grassroots supporters, whose endorsement of Pheu Thai was a protest vote against the military’s involvement in politics.

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