A Pheua Thai win? But then what?

Thaksin Shinawatra has many failings. His errors and mis-steps are legion. But when it comes to winning elections Thai politics has never seen anything like the campaigning and politicking machine built, and then re-built, by the deposed former Prime Minister. We may all debate his legacy and his various policy contributions but there is little doubt that Thaksin, when in election mode, has proven Thailand’s best.

With his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, as the leader of the Pheua Thai party Thaksin is excited about prospects for the July 2011 poll. Talk of a return to Thailand later in the year must be predicated on a win for Pheua Thai and the Thaksinites. With his proxy candidate, described by Andrew Walker as “Thaksin in a frock”, he must also be confident that the old heartland will still throw its support behind the Thai Rak Thai 3.0 juggernaut.

While none of us ever know exactly what will happen when the Thais go to the polls we do know that a strong showing for Pheua Thai is almost guaranteed in at least some parts of the country.

Will that be enough for Thaksin and Yingluck to win a majority, or cobble together a coalition, to re-take power?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I think it is worth seriously considering what could happen if Pheua Thai wins.

Many analysts seem to expect that new campaigns of destabilisation — spearheaded by yellow shirt street protests and augmented by judicial, palace or military interventions — could be on the immediate agenda. Red cards for vote buying would surely follow any Pheua Thai victory. Recent history indicates that the party (the third reincarnation of Thaksin’s machine) could be promptly dissolved, especially if it wins the election outright. The Pheua Thai tacticians will need to be extra careful because even small miscalculations could prove disastrous.

With this in mind the question preoccupying me right now is:

Can those powerful forces that out-maneuvered Thaksin in 2006, destroyed former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and then swept aside the Somchai Wongsawat government really be expected to sit on their hands if Thaksin’s sister vaults to power?

The risks for the coup-brokers and other decision-makers are potentially overwhelming. Can they even contemplate those risks? Compromises and reconciliation are not impossible but everything we have learned since the coup of September 2006 suggests that Thaksin remains uniquely unpalatable to some of Thailand’s most powerful forces.

If the decision was made back in 2006 to keep Thaksin out of government for the time when the king dies (and thus when the palace transition occurs) then a Pheua Thai win is likely to be, at best, a short term success. So much treasure has been spent and blood has been spilled trying to ensure that Thaksin is not in-charge during that transition.

A Pheua Thai win, perhaps, but then what happens next?