Opposition schism drives progressive youths to turn away from Thaksin

Bangkok was once again a battleground this weekend. Pitched battles between security forces and angry, young protesters took place again at Din Daeng intersection in the capital.

But far away from the tear gas and baton charges in cyberspace another battle was taking place. This cyberwar, conducted by and between angry netizens, could have more far-reaching consequences than the physical battles taking place in the streets.

It seems that the once united opposition was now at loggerheads, divided between those still loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and those who support the Move Forward/Future Forward Party and the new progressive leaders.

The online debates took place after Thaksin publicly chided the leaders of the Move Forward Party for not playing the political game and for impatience in questioning the government. (Read more here)

Members of the Move Forward Party returned fire by calling out a possible backdoor agreement between Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party and the ruling party to not question a deputy prime minister during censure debates.

The online verbal war continued with younger supporters of Move Forward pointing out that no member of the Pheu Thai Party stood up during the budget debate to question budget earmarked for the palace bureau – something that Move Forward publicly brought up during the debate. Move Forward argued that now was now the time to spend millions on areas not needed to combat the pandemic.

Simmering Tension

The schism, fueled by Thaksin’s public criticism, is the first time that the rift between the country’s two largest opposition party has spilled into the public.

Before, sources would leak certain information about infighting but the opposition seemed united in opposition the military-backed regime of Prayut Chan-ocha and the government’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, sources within the Move Forward camp tell Thai Enquirer that anger at Pheu Thai had been simmering under the surface for months.

Much of the resentment was due to Pheu Thai joining with the ruling party to reinstate a two-ballot voting system which could severely affect the number of MPs that Move Forward get in the next election. Under the two-ballot system, constituent MPs are more represented at the expense of national ‘list-ballot.’ Thus most small parties and parties like Move Forward who do not have as much reach in local elections stand to suffer the most.

“Pheu Thai are right, we do not play politics as well as them. That is because we would not join with the ruling party in such an obviously cynical move,” said one Move Forward insider who asked to not be named.

Divided Loyalties

The rift between the two opposition parties comes at a particularly bad time for the country. With case numbers rising and the number of fatalities mounting, the government is seeing popular sentiment turning quickly against them.

“Now is the time for a united opposition to really press home the point that this government is responsible for this widespread destruction,” said political analyst Arun Saronchai. “But instead, in true Thai political fashion, the opposition are fighting among themselves.”

Many younger Thais have chosen to shun the Pheu Thai Party and have stuck with Move Forward. For many younger voters who have known nothing but the rule of Prayut Chan-ocha, the entrenched conservative elements of Thai society including age-old institutions are a non-negotiating point.

“The younger Thais see that Pheu Thai are not going after Prawit [Wongsuwan], that they are cowering away from talking about the palace bureau,” said Arun. “They see this and they are put off by this old party that they are beginning to view as part of the problem.”

“The headache for Pheu Thai to solve going into the next election is how can they appeal to younger voters or do they write them off completely.

“The assumption that their ground game would see them win local elections again might also be premature given the amount of money the ruling party is putting into local constituencies.”

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