2021: Year of powerplays, purges and defections as parties begin countdown to Thai general election
Thai political parties have undergone change, evolution and even transformation in the past year, ahead of a general election expected in the coming year.
Parties large and small – as well as newcomers to the political arena – are actively preparing for the next electoral battle, with more contenders expected to launch as early as next month (January).
The House of Representatives’ four-year term began after the previous election in March 2019 and ends in 2023. However, given volatile political developments, many analysts reckon the next national vote is likely to take place next year – although those in power seem intent on putting it off as long as possible.
Changes in large parties
Main opposition party Pheu Thai has a new leader and executive members after a recent reorganization that also saw the youngest daughter of its patriarch, Thaksin Shinawatra, become senior party adviser at its general meeting in October.
At 60, Pheu Thai’s new leader Chonlanan Srikaew represents the more youthful face of the party than his predecessor, 80-year-old Sompong Amornvivat. The new executive leadership also includes several young and promising politicians.
Analysts say Paetongtarn Shinawatra’s appointment as Pheu Thai’s chief adviser on participation and innovation indicates ex-premier Thaksin is “really serious this time” about winning the next election and returning to power. Thaksin was deposed by the 2006 military coup and has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008, when he was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for abuse of power as PM.
In the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, factions have sought to undermine Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. However, the PM managed to quell an attempt to unseat him during September’s censure debate, firing the two Cabinet members rumored to be behind the move — the party’s secretary-general Thammanat Prompow and its treasurer Narumon Pinyosinwat.
More than a few feathers were ruffled, leading to a souring of ties between long-time brothers in arms Prayut and Prawit Wongsuwan, who is his deputy PM and Palang Pracharath leader.
However, both sides have managed to retain their status — Prayut is still the party’s PM candidate while Thammanat and Narumon have kept their key party positions with Prawit’s blessing.
More than five years since its governor was appointed after a coup, Bangkok is now looking forward to its first gubernatorial election in almost nine years. Although no date has been set for the citywide election, Bangkok voters are being primed by media reports and opinion surveys on aspiring candidates.
Gaining the upper hand
Changes in electoral rules also appear to have heartened Pheu Thai, which was in power before its government was overthrown by the 2014 military coup led by then-Army chief Gen Prayut.
The two-ballot voting system, via which the party came to power in 2011, was recently revived by constitutional amendment and will be used at the next election if a new organic law is issued in time for the national vote.
Both Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath are expected to benefit from this rule change, which offers them a better chance of winning MP seats from both constituencies and the party-list system.
The two parties are expected to be the main election contenders to form the next government.
Larger parties will also benefit from a recent constitutional amendment that restores the composition of the 500-PM Lower House to 400 from constituencies and 100 from the party-list system, compared to the present make-up of 350 and 150, respectively.
The rule change has seen veteran politicians like Chaturon Chaisang and Samart Kaewmechai return to Pheu Thai. They had left the party to form new parties with other senior politicians in the hope of winning seats under the single-ballot voting system, which was used for the 2019 election and credited with helping the debutant Future Forward Party come third and small parties gain seats.
Analysts predict Samart’s departure from Thai Sang Thai could damage the election prospects of the new party, which is led by former Pheu Thai heavyweight Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan.
Looking into the future
Meanwhile, the opposition Move Forward Party – the disbanded Future Forward’s reincarnation – is purging “ungrateful snake” MPs who failed to vote in line with the party’s resolutions.
The rebel MPs have left to join coalition parties after being accused of “straying from the democratic camp and siding with the authoritarians”. They denied the accusation, arguing that they had a constitutional right to vote with their conscience.
By ditching the dissident MPs, Move Forward hopes to retain its reputation as the progressive pro-democracy party, untainted by “non-believers”.
Elsewhere, two former key members of Prayut’s Cabinet hinted they would launch a new party. Technocrats Uttama Savanayana and Sonthirat Sonthijirawong will unveil the “Thai Future Party” after the New Year, according to rumors.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk