Chadchart’s dilemma underscores big political shift
Will Future Forward “surpass” Pheu Thai? The question is becoming glaring with each passing day, underlined by the apparent reluctance of Chadchart Sittipunt to run in the Bangkok gubernatorial election as a Pheu Thai candidate. Deemed a favourite in the city race, he seemingly does not want the “Thaksin factor” to scupper his chances in the last minute like Pongsapat Pongcharoen before him, but there must be something more than that.
Pongsapat, a former police general, was initially the big favourite, contesting a no contest, but found himself fighting a rearguard battle just a few days before the election in 2013, with Thaksin Shinawatra’s shadows suddenly sapping his campaign. Chadchart, however, will be on the front foot after years under the military rule, which should considerably dilute the Thaksin factor when the election comes. This is where Chadchart is far better poised than Pongsapat.
Yet Chadchart still reportedly wants to compete as an independent. Why?
He is well aware of the Future Forward threat, that is. Future Forward won more votes than Pheu Thai in Bangkok in the March 24 general election, although Palang Pracharat swept the most seats in the capital.
Pheu Thai still has a substantial fan base in the capital, coming third in terms of popular votes in March, but Chadchart wants all the votes he can get. In other words, he does not want the Thaksin factor just to be diluted; he does not want anything to do with it at all. Chadchart wants to be seen as someone who can wipe away the military influences, but he wants to do so without associating himself with Thaksin. The only way he can do it is by running independently.
With the Palang Pracharat Party likely to step aside for its major ally, the Democrats, Chadchart obviously does not want to be involved in a three-way battle among the government, Pheu Thai and Future Forward. He would rather have the three sides take votes off one another and present himself as a non-partisan alternative.
A recent newspaper poll has found something very interesting. It predicts that Pheu Thai will struggle in the gubernatorial poll if it does not have Chadchart as its candidate, but, additionally, it finds that some anti-military voters may opt for a Future Forward candidate if they are torn between Chadchart as an independent and a Pheu Thai runner.
It’s fair to say that while Chadchart can compete against “the other side” as a Pheu Thai candidate, he may want to run against Future Forward as an independent. A Future Forward candidate will claim freshness, ideological drive, and having absolutely nothing to do with Thaksin. Chadchart needs all those qualifications.
Pheu Thai, still going strong upcountry, may be losing grounds to Future Forward when it comes to “ideology” and the new generation of voters, particularly in urban areas. But with red shirted leaders crippled legally or financially and support from the Shinawatra family increasingly doubtful, the biggest opposition party is struggling to keep abreast of Future Forward.
Newspaper headlines are another tell-tale sign of Thailand’s political shift. When was the last time Sudarat Keyuraphan or Sompong Amornwiwat or Chaturon Chaisaeng had their names in big, controversial news? The front pages and home pages have been monopolized by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Sangkanokkul and Pannika Wanich.
Numerically nationwide, Pheu Thai may still hold sway, thanks to the vastness of its rural power base. But the party’s immense number of seats was always backed up by an ideological fight, something Pheu Thai has seemed unable to lead at the moment. Future Forward has taken over as an ideological flag bearer and is set to claim a lot of Pheu Thai support in that aspect. If Chadchart has doubts about his party, surely many voters will do, too.