Democrats caught between two devils

Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanavisit, second from left, presides over a party meeting in late March, before being elected top the top job. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

The Democrat party has arrived at a three-way junction where it has to choose which direction it wants to go. Unfortunately though, all the three ways are strewn with pitfalls which will render inevitable casualties.

Newly-elected Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanavisit, the party's new executive committee and MPs have been asked to make the crucial decision -- which is not an easy one.

Well, it can be an easy decision if they do not think much and do not care for the consequences which may result. If they like they can toss a coin to choose one of the first two ways, between joining the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP)-led coalition alliance or embracing the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party-led coalition alliance.

Forget about the third alternative camp which is just hot air dreamed up by some desperate politicians in the Pheu Thai-led camp impatient with the lack of progress in the group's bid to form the so-called pro-democracy coalition, because their attempt to court the two kingmakers, the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties which together command 103 seats in the House, has met an empty response.

The choice between the Pheu Thai-led and PPRP-led coalition alliances is widely touted as a selection between pro-democracy and pro-dictatorship camps. If this is the case, it should not be difficult for Mr Jurin and his team to make the decision.

But the truth is that it is not. Rather, it is a choice between two devils. One is the junta's devil that is addicted to power after five years in the office and wants to carry on, perhaps for another 15 years to fulfill its 20-year national strategy.

The other devil is former fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who still pulls the strings behind the Pheu Thai Party as clearly manifested in the pre-election strategy of splitting Pheu Thai into different parties, including the now-disbanded Thai Raksa Chart Party, and the failed attempt to nominate Princess Ubolratana as the prime ministerial candidate of that party.

For the Democrats to collaborate with Pheu Thai to prevent Gen Prayut's political comeback would provoke an uproar among many of the party's supporters who are known to be hostile to Thaksin. Many core party members, too, despise the fugitive ex-premier for his allegedly ill-gotten wealth. This option is simply impossible even if Pheu Thai is willing to offer the prime minister's post to the Democrats.

Joining forces with the PPRP may please many of the party's older-generation followers, but may alienate young people who are increasingly opposed to dictatorship. The Democrat Party's devastating election defeat in Bangkok to the extent that it did not win a single seat stands as testimony that the party has lost touch with the city's electorate, many of them first-time voters.

There are merits in joining the PPRP camp, though. At least, the Democrat Party can implement some of its policies.

But given the possibility the coalition government will be unstable, problematic and short-lived, it appears that the demerits of being in the government will outweigh the advantages.

That leaves the third option which is not to take sides -- that is to assume the unprecedented role of an independent opposition and face the possible consequences of further fragmentation in the party as there are quite a few members and supporters who want the party to join the PPRP-led alliance.

Despite the negative consequences associated with the three options, a decision must be made.

Or perhaps the Democrats can just follow the wise men's advice: Choose the lesser of the two devils. And negotiate hard for favourable terms.

We can only wait and see how Mr Jurin and his new team will solve this high-stakes political dilemma.

But no matter which camp wins the ticket to Government House, political stability will be the first casualty and this saga may drag on, with one short-lived government after another until the biased election rules and biased constitution are corrected and the biased election officials replaced.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

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