Abhisit pours cold water on Bhichai’s plan for national unity government

RESPECT: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva greets Bhichai Rattakul at the latter’s 92nd birthday celebration at Wat Pho Man Khunaram.

Setting up a government of national unity is a far-fetched idea because several parties still hold different views on the matter, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

Mr Abhisit, prime minister from 2008-11, said it was no easy task establishing a national unity government with parties with various political standpoints. He asserted that if a national unity government was to be formed successfully, it must receive solid support from all sides.

The former premier also stressed that the next general election, expected in the latter half of next year, must take place according to the government roadmap to restore international confidence and to steer the country forward. There must be no backtracking.

“A general election cannot be avoided. Without an election, I believe that conflict will recur,” Mr Abhisit said.

He added that efforts must be made to ensure that after the election the country will get an honest government that can deal with the country’s economy.

Any change to the general election roadmap would only hurt the country’s credibility in the eyes of international communities, Mr Abhisit said.

Former Democrat leader Bhichai Rattakul, who floated the idea of setting up a government of national unity, said he was not upset that several parties had poured cold water on his proposal.

Under the proposal, the Democrat, Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai parties would form an alliance with the military.

Mr Bhichai suggested Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha could initiate talks. He said national administration was a means to forge reconciliation but admitted the move to band together the various political parties would likely stoke controversy.

Mr Bhichai said there are many ways to achieve national reconciliation, and his proposal was one of them. Even though a national unity government is not easy to set up, it remains a possibility, he said.

Asked if the so-called “Prem Model”, a reference to Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda who served as non-elected prime minister for eight years starting in 1980, was suited to the current political situation, Mr Bhichai, who served as a deputy prime minister under the Prem coalition government, said he believed Gen Prayut could follow in Gen Prem’s footsteps, though he may need to “tone down” and become softer and gentler.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday said Gen Prayut had never mentioned the idea of a national unity government and that the government had nothing to do with it.

The proposal came from politicians and had sparked criticism even among politicians themselves, Lt Gen Sansern noted.

The spokesman said Gen Prayut has repeatedly stressed the need to stick to the government’s roadmap and a general election will be held when peace and stability are restored and all sides are willing to cooperate with the government.

A Suan Dusit poll yesterday showed its findings on the proposal for a national unity government. Many respondents threw support behind the idea.

It revealed that 71% of respondents believed that peace may be restored if a national unity government is set up, while 69% said it was difficult to form such a government and it was not suited to the country’s political circumstances.

Asked if it would be possible for the Pheu Thai, Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties to put aside their differences and join hands with the military to form a government, 48% said it would be impossible because the three parties have different ideologies and working styles.

If they came together to build a national unity government, the military would end up being the government’s leader, respondents said.

Asked how the military government can achieve reconciliation, 83% suggested that the government should listen to opinions from all sides and adjust them to improve its work.