In the blue corner, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat. In the red corner, Chaturon Chaisang, Pheu Thai. At this political moment, they have everything in common. (File photos)
Concerns are rife whether the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will abide by the roadmap to election this year after it issued an order requiring party members to confirm their membership and pay fees by May.
Critics say this opens the door for some party members to jump ship to emerging parties.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Pheu Thai key figure Chaturon Chaisang share those concerns.
First, the interview with Mr Abhisit. Below that is the interview with Mr Chaturon.
Abhisit: Regime ‘abusing its power’ Do you think the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) order which amended the organic law on political parties risks undermining the credibility of the NCPO?
It is weird that they (the regime) said they would like to step in for reforms, but more than three years have passed, and people still have no idea what direction the reforms are moving in. They said they would not frequently use their absolute power but would only do so for major issues. But what they have done does not meet these criteria.
For example, the NCPO’s order shows they used power in this case without understanding what the so-called five rivers of power (the NCPO, the cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly or NLA, the Constitution Drafting Committee or CDC, and the National Reform Steering Assembly, or NRSA) brought into law.
1. CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan wanted the organic laws on the Election Commission (EC) and political parties to be enforced quickly so the organic laws on the MP election and the selection of senators, which are about to come out, could be brought into force.
However, they have managed to make the two matters collide. They use power without understanding how to use it.
2. The use of their absolute power raises questions. For example, between April 1-30, party members nationwide must write in to confirm their membership.
We asked how our party, which has about three million members, would deal with it. They said we should prepare in advance. Our question is that if they do not lift the ban on political activities, how can we accomplish that?
3. I put it to the regime: You do not have clarity in enforcing the law, so you have to devise the order to amend the law despite the fact that the organic law on political parties, which you are amending, was rolled out by yourselves.
What is the NCPO’s purpose for “setting zero” on party members the way they are doing? Would this mean they want parties that back him (Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha) as the next premier to have a political advantage over others?
I found it senseless that all parties need to restart on a level playing field. I would like to ask them whether they intend doing this every year. If someone wants to set up a new party next year, would there be a need to reset all parties?
If you see the new parties at a disadvantage compared with the old parties, you should deal with the matter.
How would I “lock” members into my party? If they think that a new party which emerges is better and they want to quit, I can do nothing about it anyway. Why would you cause trouble?
Is a severe conflict likely in the next year?
The rules they have drawn up will frustrate people. Some people may not disagree with the charter, but they surrendered as the constitution passed at the referendum.
You allow 250 senators to jointly vote for the prime minister despite the fact people will cast a ballot at the election. People have expressed their wish, but you would use 250 people to overturn the consensus in the way you want. This is dangerous for you.
Today, even for the Lower House, you chose to make the situation advantageous or disadvantageous by using your power.
This is not a basic principle that could foster security and peace, but would be a condition that could spark conflicts. If you have good reasons, you should spell them out. If you want to set up a party, speak out. If you want to postpone the election, you should say so.
You should be brave. Good governance is what everyone is calling for as a goal for reforms. If you are unscrupulous, lack transparency, use power for your own interests, either for political or business gains, this would conflict with good governance.
You should not believe that people who rise up against wrongdoings only want to see new faces (newcomers such as soldiers) doing your job. If they (the regime) carry on the same way as politicians did, do not you think people would also rail against that?
If the election happens, would it be possible for the big parties to join hands to stop the regime from clinging on to power?
I have insisted that if you want to see the country stay peaceful and move forward, senators must respect the people’s will.
Joining hands works if parties’ ideals are the same. I stressed that a threat to democracy on the one hand comes from a military dictatorship and coup, while another arises from an effective dictatorship resulting from the electoral process. The Democrat Party says no to these two options.
I think there is still no need to cooperate. Right now, people should express their wish clearly.
What would you think about calls by former Democrat leader Bhichai Rattakul, who wants the two major parties to join hands? He also disagrees with moves allowing whichever party emerges as a power-broker in a potential coalition to have its candidate chosen as prime minister.
Mr Bhichai does not want any outsiders to interfere. But we must be careful here. As the parties join hands, they may not be willing to preserve democracy but will try to pursue their own benefits.
As for the small parties having their leader serve as prime minister, in the parliamentary system, those who gain a majority of MPs would form government. This is similar to the way things work in the New Zealand electoral system.
What do people want to see from politicians this year?
The people await better living conditions. If you today still indulge yourself by supporting Gen Prayut, Thaksin (Shinawatra) or Abhisit (as all-powerful individuals), this does not respond to the people’s needs, which is an elected government, which can answer to the needs of the people and the country, work with integrity, move forward sustainably and gain respect.
What Gen Prayut and the NCPO will do from now on this year is to ensure there will be at least 250 MPs to support him.
Some of them must come from a new political party and others from existing parties. Currently, none of them exists, but the orders, rules and regulations [issued by the NCPO], and attempts to rope in people are a means to this end.
There is no knowing if other measures will be devised to destroy existing parties or make sure they cannot stick together so that those parties and their MPs will be drawn in to support Gen Prayut. Still, I don’t see any clear potential in these operations, which means they must try harder. A dilemma looms in Thailand.
Do you think Gen Prayut’s credibility will be harmed as a result of the NCPO issuing orders frequently to amend legislation?
His political credibility will suffer a dent very fast. And if the government proves inadequate to tackle the economic slump, its popularity will only plunge further. People now feel they want an election to take place quickly, but the NCPO is creating conditions to delay the poll.
If they fail to make timely preparations for Gen Prayut to return as prime minister, they will only have to keep delaying. This will be a dilemma.
Any further delay will only cause public dissatisfaction because things will boil down to abuse of power.
Do you think a conflict will erupt leading to an uprising against the NCPO?
I think Thais have experience in past events and from time to time they proved they were brave enough no matter how strong those in powers were. But one thing which stops them from mounting a challenge even if they are disgruntled is their worry about a repeat of social chaos which took place 4-5 years ago.
They don’t want any disorder or a state of lawlessnss to happen again, and this has become a strength of the NCPO over the past three years, allowing the NCPO to exercise its power as it wants.
But if people are becoming more displeased and come to realise that the disorder that happened in the past actually resulted from complicity among those in power and some of them are still wielding power today, this will weaken the NCPO’s power and may lead to its downfall.
People will become less patient, less fearful of future chaos and the need to depend on the armed forces to run the country should reduce this year.
Do you think the NCPO will expedite its political moves this year?
I think they are trying as hard as they can, though they are still making little progress. Particularly, the latest NCPO order seems like a leap. The order’s language is complicated, but when it is dissected, people can understand. Despite the rush, little progress has been made, little has been achieved.
The development of political parties, knowledge and understanding of the system of parties and elections have changed a lot. Right now, it is not easy to destroy parties because of their connections with their support base.
As for efforts to build new parties by drawing in old politicians such as when the Samakkhitham Party was formed, that’s impossible now because people already have parties to vote for. Existing parties already have a place in the hearts of more than 80% of people who vote for them.
Therefore, those who defect from their parties to new ones will stand little chance of getting elected.
So, they have to focus on destroying existing parties and one way to do this is a reset of party membership.
They got it wrong. They thought they would return as a government again after the election to retain their hold on power, but the rules which were laid down by them in the constitution and other organic laws will actually make it hard for them to succeed.
The country needs a proper government to run the country smoothly and respond to the needs of the people, not a government which wields the power of the armed forces without the knowledge or vision to rule.
Thailand may be backwards in terms of democracy, but people still do not want military leaders to continue to rule for the sake of peace and order.
Do you think there will be pressure coming from abroad?
I believe they are keeping a close watch. There are several conditions. In their latest statement, the European Union said it could talk about things like trade, but they will not sign any agreement with an unelected government.
But after the most recent Section 44 order on resetting political parties was issued, other countries have started to take more notice, and they now understand that things will not go the way they want. It may be difficult to expect any cooperation from them.
Cooperation will increase only after the election. However, instability will remain after the poll. Compared to other countries, Thailand will be at a disadvantage in terms of investment attractions. The country will miss out on opportunities.
Will the economy improve this year?
The economic figures may improve a bit. Thailand’s economy has problems relating to confidence which affects both foreign and domestic investment.
This hits the production system and a recovery will need time.
I believe the economy will continue to be plagued with problems in the long term. Foreign countries also have reservations about an unelected government.
Do you think Thai politics will move forward when parties are allowed to show their political stance in the coming year?
I think major parties will make their voices heard and they will try to oppose things that are not right and point out the problems that affect the majority of people in the country, rather than just their own problems.