11 July 2024

It was a peculiar electoral outcome that “winners” may celebrate cautiously and some “losers” can find encouraging. Ballots cast in Bangkok’s Laksi and Chatuchak districts on Sunday show that races beyond the area can be the same in the future _ unpredictable yet heavily depending on old loyalty and turnouts.

The only thing that is clear is that the biggest loser, the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, is spiraling downward. Sunday was its third successive defeat in a short span of time, and while Chumphon and Songkhla were not total humiliation, Bangkok’s Constituency 9 was. What analysts cannot say for sure is whether Sunday’s crushing loss was because of reported problems with Prayut Chan-o-cha or because of its continued linkage to him.

In other words, it’s difficult to tell if Prayut was unpopular and that brought the party down, or if voters were snubbing the party because it did not treat him well. The pro-Prayut camp is trying to convince itself that it was the latter case, but opponents of the prime minister are insisting that Prayut’s “increasing unpopularity” was a big factor.

Palang Pracharath pledged continued support for Prayut during its election campaign in a bid to retain its parliamentary seat, but anyone viewing such a vow as insincere or reflective of desperation can be forgiven. Whatever the cause or causes of the decline, the party won just over 7,000 votes on Sunday, compared with almost 35,000 votes in the 2019 general election when the party was considered to be unambiguously pro-Prayut.

A big difference between Sunday’s by-election and the 2019 general election concerns voter turnouts in the constituency. It was 74% in 2019 and just over 52% on Sunday. The question of the hours is whether the substantial gap is meaningful. Opinions have been divided.

The winner, the Pheu Thai Party, can claim a “convincing” or “comprehensive” victory, but its candidate actually received about 3,000 votes fewer than in 2019. Whatever the party believes, the numbers in both elections can prevent a full-scale celebration, in addition to the fact that its candidate, Surachat Thienthong, had won before in the constituency in 2011, gathering virtually the same amount of votes as Sunday.For a politician who used to “own” the constituency, the manner of the comeback can be subjected to scrutiny.

The Kla Party and the Thai Pakdee Party can be quietly encouraged by the by-election results. Both were new and that mean their networks of canvassers in the constituency could never match their rivals’, yet both parties’ candidates did well. Kla’s runner Attawit Suwanpakdee, a former Democrat, did better than the Democrat Party had done in the last general election, whereas a Thai Padee competitor did not lose toPalang Pracharath by a big margin on Sunday.

Pheu Thai leader calls for House dissolution after by-election win on Sunday

But while Kla looks like a force to be reckoned with in the general election, should the Democrats be hopeful themselves? They should be, because, after 2019, there has been no way for them to go but up. Kla against the Democrat Party can be another “frenemy” showdown in the next general election.

Move Forward (formerly Future Forward) is in strange territory. It fielded a good-looking celebrity and won more than 20,000 votes on Sunday. That was miles ahead of Palang Pracharath, which beat it comfortably in 2019, yet was about 5,000 votes shy of what the Future Forward Party got in that same year in the same constituency. Like Pheu Thai, Move Forward can blame the turnout for not getting more votes.

As for Prayut, it’s also up to the interpretations. He and his supporters can consider the low turnout as voters’ snub of Palang Pracharath, and take heart from that. Or his camp may consider the possibility that so many eligible voters chose to stay from this by-election because they became disillusioned with the government led by him.

To say that nobody can really rejoice entirely may take away what the Pheu Thai Party did work hard for. After all, “losers” always have excuses, especially those in politics. Yet while the biggest opposition camp literally strolled to a victory on Sunday, voters in the constituency did send a message that can be analyzed in many ways, and even the Chinese New Year could have possibly come into play as well.

That message can be summed up like this: “Don’t count on us to be accountable, because we can be unexplainable sometimes.” As of now, nobody knows for certain how things would have transpired with a bigger turnout, and it appears disillusionment is affecting many in the political realm and will still be in the foreseeable future.

By Tulsathit Taptim