Opinion: Abhisit’s ‘reform proposal’ a losing bet
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Opinion: Abhisit’s ‘reform proposal’ a losing bet

The reform proposal tabled by opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has left many asking not only about its probability, but how serious he was with it, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

There’s no blame for trying, but there’s no reward for poor execution.

In the past two weeks, Abhisit Vejjajiva made headlines again by re-imagining himself as a mediator in an increasingly dangerous political stalemate, pledging to talk to all sides and come up with a plan for a way out of the crisis within 10 days (we reported).

“I understand that my proposals cannot satisfy the wishes and demands of all sides, not even within the Democrat Party, or those seen to be on my side. But I believe that this is the correct direction in order for our country to move forward,” he said at the beginning of his quest.

There was no question that it was going to be an ambitious undertaking to foster a consensus for the immediate political future among the caretaker government, the anti-government protesters and other power brokers, formal and informal alike. Over half a year has gone by where the political discourse in Thailand has come to a grinding halt.

What was presented by the leader of the opposition Democrat Party last Saturday in a Bangkok hotel ballroom, however, was nothing but a complete and utter flop.

Abhisit proposed that the planned elections on July 20 to be postponed for “5 or 6 months”, so that an appointed committee can draw up “reforms” to be put to a referendum, while the country is ruled by a “neutral” caretaker government with “limited powers” for a year. He additionally demanded that the caretaker government of interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down in order to make way for his proposal.

In many points Abhisit’s proposal emulated those non-democratic calls for a “People’s Assembly” by the anti-government protesters, who also demand “reform before elections.” Nobody has detailed what the reforms actually should look like.

That alone would have drawn heavy skepticism from the Yingluck cabinet and its supporters. However, there were many more points in Abhisit’s proposal that raised more questions than answers, never mind its possible legal problems.

For instance, he suggested that these barely mentioned reforms should be drawn up in part by the (until now) largely unknown “Reform Now Network,” the impartiality of which has to be questioned. Furthermore, he has completely shut out the pro-government red shirts while elevating the anti-government protesters to the position of equal political stakeholder, if not even more.

This whole thing was nothing more than an attempt by Abhisit to bring himself and his Democrat Party back into the current political narrative after being sidelined and more often than not upstaged by the anti-government protests for the past six months – ironically led by former Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thuagsuban and carried by many former party executives in addition to a large, shared supporter base.

Thus, it was hardly a surprise that the interim cabinet flat-out rejected it. What Abhisit probably didn’t expect though – despite all the concessions and perks he gave to them – was the rejection by the protesters as well, including their two militant wings.

This shows how politically marginalized he and his party are now. But that didn’t happen overnight. It has been a self-inflicted slow decline, sfrom the 2011 election defeat and to the Democrat Party’s boycott of the most recent election (partially botched thanks to mob blockades on election day associated with them).

While Abhisit has admitted for the first time that his party might have been “part of the problem” as well, their problems remain the same: the failure to acknowledge what got them to this place and why they haven’t been able to win an election for 20 years.

It shouldn’t even play that much of a role anymore now that the Democrats have threatened to again boycott the next election should Abhisit’s proposal be rejected, since the caretaker government will carry on with the next attempt to have polls on July 20, which could likely be targeted by the anti-government protesters again.

We may never really know if Abhisit was really sincere with his proposal, but his willingness to step aside politically in exchange for it to be accepted would have been just a very small sacrifice considering his marginalized credibility in the current big picture that only further symbolizes the ongoing decline of the Democrat Party and the desperate need for a change of direction – and ultimately a new leadership.

SaksithSV-262x262  About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.