Abhisit stays defiant
ANALYSIS Abhisit stays defiant
By THE NATION
Published on June 11, 2011 In an exclusive interview, Democrat chief says he's unfazed by opinion polls
Abhisit Vejjajiva's well-known eloquence can sometimes make it hard to tell if he's being defiant or simply stating the obvious. That was the case yesterday when, during an exclusive interview with The Nation, the prime minister sought to dismiss his buoyant political rivals' begging for a chance to form the next government. Opinion polls have margins of error, and the upcoming election may yet be closer than everyone believes right now, he said. The Democrat leader refuses to give up. While virtually questioning their accuracy, Abhisit noted that none of the major pollsters like Dusit, Abac and Nida had predicted the Pheu Thai Party would win a majority (a minimum of 251 seats) of the House of Representatives. He took time to emphasise this point because his chances of keeping office may hinge on it.
One day after Pheu Thai prime minister candidate Yingluck Shinawatra pleaded on TV for the right to form the next government if her party wins the most seats (regardless of whether it wins 251 or more), Abhisit reiterated that even Western democracies allowed smaller parties to group together and grab power. He also saw what he described as a discrepancy in how Pheu Thai foresees the election outcome.
"On one hand, Pheu Thai is telling the public that it's expecting a landslide victory, a sweep of up to 300 seats. If they are so confident about that, why do they keep demanding the right to form the government?" Abhisit asked. "If you win, say, 270 seats or more, you don't even have to ask. Who will be able to deny you the right?"
He vowed to give Pheu Thai a chance if it wins, but made clear that if the party tried and failed to command a majority in the House, it would be his party's turn. Abhisit also warned Pheu Thai, which has been asking its rivals to "respect" election results, to do the same if the outcome was not as it expected. Abhisit said he was afraid that Pheu Thai, which was drumming up its "landslide" prospect almost on a daily basis, could cry foul if the election results did not go its way.
Abhisit was cautious when commenting on his coalition allies, all of whom bar Bhum Jai Thai are believed to be ready to switch sides and back Pheu Thai in the blink of an eye. "I saw no problems when I met them at Cabinet meetings," he said, half tongue-in-cheek. He attributed some anti-Democrat remarks by the allies recently to their need to gain media space currently dominated by the two biggest parties.
Most analysts believe the Democrats will need most, if not all, their current allies to remain loyal to them to stand any chance of keeping power. In this pro-Democrat scenario, Abhisit's party needs to win around 170 seats or more, and the present partners must together win closer to 100 so the alliance can edge out Pheu Thai and claim the right to form a government.
Pro-Pheu Thai scenarios have the opposition camp either scoring a real landslide, sweeping more than 250 seats, or winning fewer than 250 but close enough. Pheu Thai needs to be in a position to tempt just one or two smaller parties with great incentives. Either the Chart Thai Pattana Party or the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party, or both, will fancy their chances in the two scenarios. Pheu Thai can also form a single-party administration if the 300-seat expectation becomes reality.
Abhisit hinted that the Democrats would step up their campaign by scrutinising the Pheu Thai Party's blanket amnesty plan with greater intensity. He said he did not believe the rival camp's pledge would lead to reconciliation but rather keep the political conflict alive.
He cautioned that there was danger in Pheu Thai's use of the amnesty amid a myriad of election promises. There was no way to determine if pro-Pheu Thai voters wanted the amnesty or supported its other policies, he said. According to Abhisit, if Pheu Thai was to push for a public referendum on the amnesty, it could be at the expense of reconciliation.
Democrat sources still rule out a TV debate between Abhisit and Yingluck, a showdown the ruling party believes could reverse its sagging fortunes prior to July 3. Odds remain against Abhisit with three weeks to go, but the biggest sign of defiance, if that was what he demonstrated yesterday, could be his answer to the question of whether his House dissolution was mistimed, and thus a mistake. "No. I still believe the election is the only way out," he said.