Although no general election has been called in Thailand, the air is thick with predictions about the future for some major and emerging political parties hoping to survive and thrive when the time comes.
The fate of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is currently serving a suspension pending the charter court’s decision on his eight-year tenure, will shape the political landscape in the coming months.
The court’s decision could come before the end of the month, but in the meantime, the country is in limbo, and Gen Prayut is becoming increasingly concerned.
If Gen Prayut’s statements to the court persuade the majority of judges that he has not yet served his maximum two, four-year terms, the ball will be in the court of the opposition and government opponents, who are expected to protest such a ruling by taking to the streets.
However, if the court ruled that Gen Prayut’s first term as prime minister began when the coup-maker installed him, the National Council for Peace and Order, Gen Prayut would have to pack his belongings and leave Government House because his tenure would have expired on August 24.
Elections in Thailand for March 2023
Prawit Wongsuwon, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, would then serve as acting Prime Minister until parliament elects a new Prime Minister from the same list of candidates that included Gen Prayut after the 2019 general election.
However, a prime minister chosen from the old list would undoubtedly be one of the most ineffective in the country’s history, as parliament’s term is set to end in March next year, followed by an election.
This prime minister is also expected to come from the current coalition, with Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul possibly emerging as the stronger contender, eclipsing Democrat Party former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva.
According to a political source, Mr. Abhisit could be considered a short-term replacement in Thailand for Gen Prayut, even though many of his views are thought to have irritated the government.
Mr. Abhisit is a vocal opponent of coups and what they represent, and his latest prediction of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party regaining power after the next election was too much for some government officials to bear.
Mr. Anutin, on the other hand, has been unquestionably loyal to Gen Prayut, and his Bhumjaithai Party has remained with the government through thick and thin, despite occasional schisms with fellow coalition partners, the Democrats and the Palang Pracharath Party in Thailand.
Getting ahead of the polls in Thailand
When he met with Gen Prayut recently, he sparked a flurry of speculation about his chances of landing the job. The Bhumjaithai leader said he had Gen Prayut’s best interests at heart, but he wouldn’t say what they talked about.
According to the source, many politicians are looking beyond the short time left in this parliament and getting a head start on early poll preparations.
The first step in these preparations is to organize the parties. Korn Chatikavanij, leader of the Kla Party, appeared at a press conference last week alongside Suwat Liptapanlop, chairman of the Chart Pattana Party, to announce his intention to join Chart Pattana’s economic team.
He did, however, put an end to speculation that Kla and Chart Pattana would merge. He also refused to say whether he would resign as Kla leader before joining Chart Pattana.
Mr. Korn’s explanation at the briefing perplexed many Kla supporters, who also felt conflicted about Mr. Korn’s commitment to the party and whether he would stick with it.
According to a source close to the situation, the press conference was a covert confirmation of a partnership between the two parties that will most likely lead to a merger.
However, for the duration of a parliamentary term, a merger of two or more parties in which at least one of them has one or more MPs is prohibited by law. That rule applies to the “courtship” between Kla and Chart Pattana.
Furthermore, neither Mr. Korn, a former finance minister, nor Mr. Suwat could say definitively whether their parties were merging because doing so would violate the law, which prohibits one party from coming under the influence of another or influencing another.
According to another source, it is only a matter of time before the two parties merge and are renamed “Kla Pattana Chart” (Brave to Develop the Nation) to reflect the merging of their political identities and ideals.
Old enemies are transformed into new adversaries
When Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan left the Pheu Thai Party in late 2020, some observers wondered if she and the party were playing the long game and if her departure was a ploy to help the party win more seats in the next election.
The observers’ suspicions stemmed from the country’s dual-ballot voting system, favouring the small parties in winning party-list seats.
Some analysts saw Khunying Sudarat’s new party, Thai Sang Thai (TST), as a possible offshoot of the main opposition party to capture party-list seats, and the former Pheu Thai chief strategist would eventually reunite with her old party after the next general election.
However, as time passed, it became clear that Pheu Thai and Khunying Sudarat’s TST were distinct entities that could clash when the election came around.
The Bangkok gubernatorial election and city council elections on May 22 provided Khunying Sudarat with an opportunity to raise the TST’s profile and change perceptions about her new party and where she stands.
The TST fielded Sqn Ldr Sita Divari, a close aide to Khunying Sudarat, as its gubernatorial candidate, as well as a team of candidates to compete for the 50 council seats up for grabs.
While Sqn Ldr Sita was no match for independent candidate Chadchart Sittipunt and finished far behind, the TST won two city council seats. Its candidates received 240,000 votes, or about 10% of those who voted, across all 50 districts.
Pheu Thai Party Ahead of the Pack
According to observers, the TST candidates running for council seats directly harmed the Pheu Thai candidates’ chances of winning. According to experts, if the TST had not entered the race, the main opposition party would have won 35 seats out of 50.
Pheu Thai won 20 of the 50 seats up for grabs, while the Move Forward Party (MFP) took 14. The Democrat Party won nine seats, while the Rak Krung Thep group (three seats), the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, and the TST shared the remaining seven (two seats each).
“Don’t be surprised if the Pheu Thai Party attacks the Thai Sang Thai Party. Our party has harmed their candidates and cost them many seats, “She was reported to have said.
Khunying Sudarat insisted in an interview with the Bangkok Post to mark the TST’s first anniversary that the party has established its own identity and that she left Pheu Thai to pursue her own dreams.
Khunying Sudarat insisted that the TST was not a tool of anyone. In fact, she intended to make the TST a political institution.
“I’m not forming this party to run for prime minister or to fill cabinet positions. I’ll take whatever the voters give me, “She stated.
Following the electoral change from one ballot to two ballots, the party was approached to merge with others to consolidate their political base and secure a large win, but she had no interest in being a faction in a large party.
“I don’t think we’ll merge with another party because we have a purpose to serve and are determined to accomplish our goals,” she said.
Khunying Sudarat, a veteran politician in Bangkok, is well-known in the capital, but she has gradually gained support in the Northeast in recent years.
Khunying Sudarat received 25.8% of the vote in the most recent E-Saan poll conducted by Khon Kaen University’s E-Saan Centre for Business and Economic Research (ECBER).
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the chairperson of Pheu Thai’s inclusion and innovation advisory committee, came in second place with 21.1%.
Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party, came in third place with 20.2%, while Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is temporarily suspended as prime minister pending a Constitutional Court of Thailand ruling on his tenure, trailed with 12.5%.
Khunying Sudarat was elected party leader on November 9 last year, nearly two years after launching the TST, and announced her intentions to run for prime minister.
Supant Mongkolsuthree, former chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries; Prawat Uttamote, former deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives; and Torphong Chaiyasan, former deputy minister of public health, were among the TST heavyweights.
Sqn Ldr Sita Divari has been appointed secretary-general.
Source: Bangkok Post