Editorial Notes

Can Chuan Leekpai be the next Thai PM? The Nation

In its editorial, the paper says reports that veteran Chuan Leekpai could be the next Democrat Party leader and Prime Minister candidate underlines the highly fluid nature of Thai politics.

As the country speculates who will become the next prime minister, veteran politician Chuan Leekpai (above) has been thrown into the mix as Thailand's future ruler. PHOTO: THE NATION / ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - All of a sudden, the name of a veteran politician who is approaching 80 years of age has been thrown into the mix as the country's future ruler.

As the Democrat Party ponders its future under incumbent Abhisit Vejjajiva and the country speculates over who will become the next prime minister, Chuan Leekpai has emerged as a candidate for both the party leadership and that of the country.

Arguably, he has the best credentials as a former leader of Thailand's oldest political party, as a former prime minister, and one who is relatively untainted by the national crisis that has crippled or destroyed governments and hindered the country's progress.

Few believe the mooting of his name will amount to anything more, not least because of his age and far-from-perfect health. Yet the fact that his name is being suggested at all can provide some insights into the current political situation, both at party and national levels.

Firstly, the emergence of Chuan's name confirms that the Democrats are reluctant to go into the next election having to deal with divisive issues like the Abhisit government's 2010 crackdown on the violent red-shirt uprising.

The party's headache will worsen if the rival Pheu Thai Party decides to pick Sudarat Keyuraphan as its flag-bearer, which will leave Abhisit more exposed to character attacks than his opponent.

Secondly, the mooting of Chuan's name coincides with a - once-impossible scenario - of a Democrat-Pheu Thai alliance that could block Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha from post-election administrative power.

Such an uneasy partnership has a next-to-zero chance of being struck with Abhisit at the Democrat Party's helm, as the red-shirt movement is most likely to fiercely oppose him.

Thirdly, people are talking about Chuan because Abhisit is obviously facing a big dilemma. The latter has burnt his bridges as far as Thaksin Shinawatra - Pheu Thai's de facto leader - is concerned, and has been one of the most vocal critics of the military government's future plans.

Will a Chuan-led Democrat Party strike such a deal with Pheu Thai, or will it choose the military over Thaksin?

Either way, many analysts believe that it will relatively be "easier" with Chuan's return as Democrat leader. In fact, any other name - be it Jurin Laksanavisit, Korn Chatikavanij or Supachai Panitchpakdi - will offer more acceptability than Abhisit.

Much will depend on who Pheu Thai picks as its prime ministerial candidate. Things will be easier for Abhisit if that candidate reeks of being nothing but a Thaksin nominee. Any name perceived as not so susceptible to Thaksin's "remote control" will give both Abhisit and the Democrat Party a tough time.

Last but not least, the soul searching at the Democrat Party underlines the "three kingdoms" situation of Thai politics ahead of the new poll.

The military, Pheu Thai, and the Democrats are three armies at each other's throats.

The only thing impossible is a military-Pheu Thai alliance because nothing will make sense in that scenario.

Apart from that, anything is possible, and Thais will vote in the next election with so much dust still up in the air.

Chuan himself is old and not in perfect health. A return to active politics is absolutely not the best option.

He must have been flattered by the mention and speculation, but is very unlikely to throw his hat into the ring.

After all, such a mention and speculation have more to do with apparent deadlocks or somebody else's dilemma that even his own merits will struggle badly to solve.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.

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