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Wed, July 26, 2006 : Last updated 19:24 pm (Thai local time)

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The Nation

Home > Politics > Make or break time is looming

Make or break time is looming

Thaksin must decide whether to cling to power and risk facing street protests, while political parties must prepare for the prospect of a coalition government

Two tough decisions must be made before August 24 if the October 15 election is to resolve the country's political crisis.

Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will have to decide whether or not to step aside after the election, while political parties must choose allies with whom to form the next coalition government.

It may appear that decisions related to Thaksin's future as well as the form of a coalition government hinge on him alone, but the reality is more complex.

Chat Thai Party leader Banharn Silapa-archa and Somsak Thepsuthin, the leader of the Thai Rak Thai Party's Wang Nam Yom faction, have the ability to end the bitter political rift and usher in the next political chapter.

If Thaksin decides to cling to power, the new election will likely trigger a fresh dispute over his leadership. Street protests will resume and political uncertainty will persist.

Defending his boss, caretaker PM's Office Minister Suranand Vejjajiva described Thaksin as a sensible man who would not go down in history as a leader chased out of office by the people.

Thaksin said on Sunday that he would name his successor before campaigning begins, if he chooses not to take the government's helm. He has a month to make up his mind.

Based on the outcome of the April 2 vote, Thaksin may not have a lot of leeway.

His hope for a third term relies on the assumption that his Thai Rak Thai Party can win a landslide victory to form another single-party government.

This scenario is far-fetched.

The ruling party ran virtually unopposed in April. Although it claimed victory, the majority of its candidates in Bangkok and the South lost to "no votes". Moreover, support dropped sharply in key provinces in the Central region, the lower North and the Northeast.

The government made much of the fact that about 16 million ballots were cast in its favour, but was less inclined to discuss the more than 14 million abstention and invalid ballots. Thailand is split almost right down the middle on Thaksin's leadership.

For the upcoming vote, the ruling party will face a multi-pronged attack from the Democrat, Chat Thai and Mahachon parties.

Thaksin remains popular among rural voters, but his appeal is waning if the last vote tally is any indication.

Many political observers believe his party can muster another victory at the polls, and that the next government will be a coalition of two or more parties.

Thaksin and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will be manoeuvring against each other to woo allies in the race to lead the next government.

Both Banharn and Abhisit were part of the opposition alliance that boycotted the April vote. Hence, it is no surprise that Thaksin has invited Banharn for reconciliation talks later this week.

These talks will be crucial in determining the shape of the next government as well as Thaksin's future.

Within the ruling party, Somsak holds a trump card that Thaksin must factor in when he decides his course of action.

Somsak has emerged as a potential kingmaker since holding a dinner for more than 130 government candidates seeking re-election in the Northeast.

On July 16 he attended a dinner with five other key ministers to wish caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak a happy birthday. The next day Thaksin called an urgent party meeting, a move widely interpreted as a roll call for allies.

Also present at the birthday party for Somkid was caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang. Somkid and Chaturon have both been tipped as lead contenders to succeed Thaksin should he step aside.

Thaksin may have a few weeks to decide his future but his options are limited.

If he insists on remaining at the government's helm, the possibility for a Thai Rak Thai-Chat Thai coalition seems unlikely. Banharn will risk political suicide if he switches loyalty from Abhisit to Thaksin.

Moreover, Somsak will not stand idly by if his party appears on the brink of losing a chance to form the next government.

At the urging of his own party's members, Thaksin may be forced to take a political break so his party can retain power.

Should the Democrat Party gain the upper hand and end up leading the next coalition, the ruling party will lose control over its mega-projects and other policies vital to its survival.

But if Thaksin loses the power struggle, he faces a possibly tumultuous future. He may face a graft probe into his Bt73-billion fortune, among other possible political reprisals.

Avudh Panananda

The Nation

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