Is February 24 for sure?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018: Don’t go all in on February 24 being the definite election date. At least not yet. Some analysts are feeling strange about top government officials’ latest statements that the Election Commission will have a final say on when the general election will be held, because the agency’s readiness and preparations are of utmost important.

The statements can be seen as being made matter-of-factly, or they can be interpreted as the Prayut administration now trying to make the EC look responsible for a possible delay, according to the analysts.  There are some excuses that can be used, such as electoral rezoning problems or trouble in the registration of new parties.

Indications from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan and the government spokesman still heavily favour February 24, but now the tone has changed a little bit, with everyone basically saying “If the EC is ok, then we are ready to go.”

Monday, November 12, 2018: It was another relatively quiet day. Political reporters paid a lot of attention to Sudarat Keyuraphan’s teenaged daughter who has been on her side and attracting media photographers. Meanwhile, Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit posted on his Facebook that he had received both flowers and bricks after more than 160 days in politics. He was thankful for all praises and criticism, he said, reiterating his anti-coup stand.

“Our journey so far has been marked by both successes beyond our expectations and utter failures,” he wrote. The financial aspect of playing politics is interesting. He disclosed that the expense had been estimated at Bt300 million whereas his party was able to raise 28 million. The party has registered nearly 14,000 members, compared with its target of 35,000 members.

Sunday, November 11, 2018: Abhisit Vejjajiva was officially re-elected Democrat leader today amid a show of amicability between him and the other “primary” contestants _ namely Warong Dechgitvigrom and Alongkorn Palabutr. Alongkorn nominated Abhisit for the top party post at the party’s caucus whereas Warong politely stepped aside as a candidate.

Abhisit, who had won a party “primary”, an internal vote among registered party members on who they like the most among the trio, still kept his cards close to his chest on what the Democrats would do after next year’s election, particularly regarding the perceived race for premiership between the Pheu Thai Party and military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Abhisit himself could not be ruled out as a prime ministerial favourite, particularly if Prayut becomes an impossible option. The 250-member Senate, if it can’t vote for Prayut, is unlikely to support a Pheu Thai-backed prime ministerial candidate.

Juti Krairiksh was also named Democrat secretary-general today.

Saturday, November 10, 2018: That Abhisit Vejjajiva would retain his leadership of the Democrat Party had been “more certain” than what he will do after retaining it. Politically, all eyes are on him now as he can make life hard or super easy for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Democrat support would all but seal Prayut’s triumph in the premiership race, which the latter is expected to join. If Abhisit decides that it’s a matter between Prayut and Pheu Thai and settles his party in the opposition bloc, Thai politics will be a lot more unpredictable.

Abhisit won the Democrat Party’s “primary”, the vote among registered party members who want to send a message to the party’s top echelon who will have a caucus on Sunday to elect a new leader. Abhisit won 67,505 votes, followed by Warong Dechgitvigrom (57,689 votes). The other candidate, Alongkorn Palabutr, won 2,285 votes.

“How will you lead the party into the next election?” Abhisit was asked after primary results were announced. “I will talk about that tomorrow,” he replied.

He is not officially the new leader just yet, as primary results do not legally bind the caucus, which in theory could still elect Warong. That possibility is not going to happen, though.

Friday, November 9, 2018: Results of the Democrat Party’s “primary” _ the vote by registered party members to suggest to the party’s top echelon who they want as the leader _ will be announced Saturday morning. It will be followed by a party caucus on Sunday to formally elect the one who will lead the Democrats in the next few years.

Meanwhile, whispers about discontent within the Pheu Thai Party are getting louder, with reports suggesting that more politicians could be leaving Pheu Thai for the newly-formed Thai Raksa Chat Party before the “informal window” closes near the end of this month.

Earlier indications suggested Thai Raksa Chat was part of a “satellite strategy” to counter a new seat-rationing system introduced for the next election, but according to latest analyses, while some Pheu Thai politicians have made “strategic moves” to the new party, others are deciding whether they should follow suit out of resentment against latest developments within Pheu Thai.

Pheu Thai politicians who want to leave the party must do so within the last week of this month if they want to compete in next year’s election, tentatively scheduled for late February.

Thursday, November 8, 2018: This was a relatively quiet day in Thai politics, but it could be a calm before a storm. The Democrat Party’s “primary” could produce a winner Friday evening or Saturday at the latest. A party caucus is scheduled for Sunday to formally elect the one who will lead the Democrats into next year’s election.

A computer hiccup occurred earlier this week so the primary vote is scheduled to take place digitally all over Thailand among registered Democrat members from Friday morning onwards. Results could be known by Friday evening.

So, don’t blink from late Friday afternoon up until the caucus vote on Sunday. The difference between Abhisit Vejjajiva and Warong Dechgitvigrom can be huge.

To be clear, though, the party caucus is not legally bound to follow results of the “primary”. In other words, a primary loser can still be named the party leader. However, this doesn’t mean that the name of the primary winner will not weigh heavily on party caucus voters.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018: Critics of the Shinawatra clan can be forgiven for seeing its “influences” looming over the Thai Raksa Chat Party, the newest political party to be formalised. Today saw Preechapol Pongpanich, son of well-known Rabiabrat Pongpanich, controversial activist and former senator who has push forth contentious ideas on social order and rights, rise to the new party’s helm. A lot of famous figures with apparent connections with the Shinawatras gathered at the party’s official launch.

Thai Raksa Chat has been born amid what is perceived as a “satellite strategy” of Thaksin Shinawatra, in which politicians who support him have panned out to form new parties in order to gain utmost benefits from the new constitutional rule on rationing of House seats. The new rule benefits small parties, who may lose at constituencies but may gain substantial votes despite the losses, more than big ones, analysts say.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018: Today was a day for confirmations. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha confirmed that post-coup restrictions on political activities will be gone after all electoral laws come into effect. This means political campaigns can begin around the end of the year and go into full swing in January.

The Palang Pracharat Party, a pro-Prayut camp that could test the ratings of the military-backed prime minister in the election, has also been confirmed as a new party by the Election Commission. In another development, the Cabinet learned that the general election was tentatively set for February 24. Rather interestingly, though, Deputy Prime Mister Wissanu Krea-ngarm told the Cabinet the new government could be in place “within June.” In other words, a lengthy vacuum between the expected polling day and the day the new government is finally born has not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, Prayut, prompted by reporters, said the authorities would “look into” a New Year calendar featuring pictures of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. Some news outlets might report that Prayut was threatening a crackdown on people having the calendar, but his exact wordings appeared cautious and uttered in a matter-of-fact manner.

Monday, November 5, 2018: The Democrat Party has apparently ruled out the possibility of joining hands with the Pheu Thai Party after the election to shut out military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, regardless of who becomes the next leader of Thailand’s oldest political party.

A senior member of the camp supporting incumbent leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has come out to thrash speculation that he would be tempted to try to form a government with Pheu Thai if re-elected leader of the Democrat Party. This means that whether Abhisit or his rival in the Democrat leadership race, Warong Dechgitvigrom, takes the party’s helm later this month, Pheu Thai cannot expect the Democrat support.

However, analysts still consider Warong as more willing than Abhisit to back Prayut as prime minister. While Abhisit will never join Pheu Thai, he might still snub Prayut altogether and lead the party to settle in the opposition bloc. Abhisit has been critical of Prayut, prompting cheeky calls from Pheu Thai for a temporary alliance, and suggested he would not mind working on the opposition side of Parliament.

Sunday, November 4, 2018: News about serious infighting at the Dhammakaya Temple has been overshadowed by the unexpected death of King Power and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. However, the temple has a very massive following and is known to have strong connections with a main political party. The internal crisis has involved a showdown between an influential group of lay followers on one side and senior monks running the temple on the other. The former have accused the latter of corruption and other religious misconduct.

When Vichai’s news leaves the front pages, what’s happening at Dhammakaya will likely replace it, not least because the temple has always been associated with controversies, the most recent one being former abbot Dhammachayo running away from the police who wanted to arrest him in connection with a cooperatives embezzlement scandal. Whether or how the fresh trouble at Dhammakaya will affect next year’s Thai election remains to be seen.

Saturday, November 3, 2018: Bhum Jai Thai leader Anutin Charnvirakul, who according to some analyses is becoming a realistic “alternative” if the cutthroat showdown between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Pheu Thai Party results in an impasse, has made guarded but lengthy comments on his party’s and Thailand’s political futures. He is still playing his cards close to his chest, or some may say he and his party are keeping their options open.

Anutin’s media comments deplored “missed chances” and tainted national image, and apparently blamed the military’s intervention in politics more than Thaksin Shinawatra. Yet he suggested the latter’s political fights have little to do with national interests. “We have seen too many attempts to gain government control not for the sake of the country, but for personal interests,” Anutin said. He also has an apparent dig at Pheu Thai, which he said always implemented Thaksin’s ideas. “At Bhum Jai Thai, we implement what Anutin thinks,” he said. The remark was also a response to claims that Bhum Jai Thai strongman Newin Chidchob still has influences over the party.

As a medium-sized party, Bhum Jai Thai stands to benefit from the seat-rationing system under the new Constitution. If the party manages to win a sizable number of seats, it can be a decisive factor in determining whether Prayut will retain power or Pheu Thai will regain it. With Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Prayut “unacceptable” to Pheu Thai as prime minister and any Pheu Thai leader “unacceptable” to the former two, some analysts have begun to believe that Anutin may not be the “kingmaker” but the king himself.

On talks about him being an “alternative” prime minister after the election, he used a popular political cliche: “If the people want it, I can do it.”

Friday, November 2, 2018: This is Thai politics’ extremely quiet day, with news websites having to focus on Sudarat Keyuraphan’s new hairdo, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s same-old, same-old criticism of “old-style” politics and Panthongtae Shinawatra’s all-too-familiar criticism of Prayut and praises for his father Thaksin. In another development that was not exactly earth-shattering, it was confirmed that the military-backed government would end post-coup restrictions on political activities at the beginning of December. It had always been reported that the much-deplored ban would be revoked once all electoral laws are in place and ready for implementation. The legal readiness will be around the second week of December.

The most interesting thing is probably Sudarat’s new hairstyle, which one media outlet said made her look like a 35-year-old woman. In other words, she was looking a couple of decades younger.

Thursday, November 1, 2018: In a press interview that may reflect either desperation or do-or-die strategy of Thaksin Shinawatra’s camp, top pro-Thaksin figures Yongyuth Tiyapairat and Jatuporn Prompan warned that the post-election government could be extremely unstable.

Yongyuth and Jatuporn are campaigning discreetly for the Puea Chat (For Nation) Party but cannot register as party members and election candidates due to their “criminal records.” They admitted during the interview that military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would need support from just 126 MPs after next year’s election in order to remain in power, thanks to “surefire” backing from the 250-strong Senate.

But that government could be highly unstable if the rest of MPs were on the opposite side, Yongyuth and Jatuporn warned. They called for a pre-election talk between senators and political parties to prevent the unwanted scenario of a “fragile” prime minister backed primarily by just the upper House.

In effect, Yongyuth and Jatuporn were saying that the Senate should “respect the will” of the people and back the party that manages to put together a “majority” coalition of MPs _ or 251 MPs to be exact _ to form the government.

Such calls will grow louder as the election draws near. Whether the Senate, given the provisional power to join the House of Representatives in selecting the prime minister, will heed them is another matter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018: A glance at every key political figure’s Facebook page has yielded something interesting. All except one have seen increases in the numbers of “Likes”. Suthep Thaugsuban’s page, in fact, has recorded a tiny but steady decrease in the number of people liking it. He still has over two millions of Likes and the drop over the past two weeks amounts to just a couple of thousands. Two things make it significant, though: Firstly, he is the only one hit by the decrease at a time when ratings are the most important. Secondly, the drop is coinciding with public criticism against his decision to go back to politics, despite his earlier promise to stay away from it.

Suthep’s Action Coalition for Thailand Party has been a target of anti-military activists for apparently advocating military intervention in politics. Analysts said Suthep needed to make his connection with the party clear, despite risking a public backlash, because he did not want to be deemed “outside influences” which could make the party susceptible to being dissolved.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018: Setting up new parties is easy, but be careful about the names being publicised. That’s what the newly-formed Puea Chat Party is apparently learning the hard way. Some high-profile, albeit, legally troubled figures not only are ineligible for membership, they also can put the party at risk of dissolution.

Constitutional experts have confirmed today that Yongyuth Tiyapirat and Jatuporn Prompan cannot become political party members due to their criminal records. As to whether their well-documented involvement with Puea Chat’s activities would be considered attempts to assert influences, thus making Puea Chat susceptible to charges of yielding to illegal “outside influences”, an offence punishable by party dissolution, it is too early to tell. “We have to be really careful about it,” a senior party member was quoted as admitting today.

Puea Chat has repeatedly denied links with Pheu Thai, despite allegations that the former was set up to help Thaksin Shinawatra’s camp get around a new seat-rationing system that could put Pheu Thai in a disadvantage. The authorities have threatened to take action against “nominee” parties if there was solid evidence they were set up for that kind of purpose. That, however, is harder to prove than establishing Yongyuth’s or Jatuporn’s influences over the Puea Chat Party, legal sources said.

Monday, October 29, 2018: Some analysts and political watchers are beginning to believe that if Pheu Thai is to be dissolved for its connections with Thaksin Shinawatra, the ax may not come down before the general election. Several logical, political, strategic and legal reasons for that possibility are being pondered.

The new speculation may have something to do with the fact that Thaksin Shinawatra was found guilty in connection with the Ratchadapisek land scandal when his political party was leading a government. That meant the executive and judicial powers in Thailand were apparently independent of each other. Based on that, legal action can always be taken against Pheu Thai after the election, some believe.

Meanwhile, the party has confirmed its decision to make Sudarat Keyuraphan its foremost prime ministerial candidate, pending official endorsement in a few months’ time.

Sunday, October 28, 2018: Leadership and prime ministerial candidacy issues were dealt with as expected by the Pheu Thai Party today, with its front runner for the top government post, Sudarat Keyuraphan, kept away from any party executive position.

She will lead the party’s strategic committee, meaning that even if Pheu Thai is dissolved for “outside influences” of Thaksin Shinawatra, she will not be banned from politics, unlike those holding executive party posts.

Saturday, October 27, 2018: Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva apparently took a mild dig at rival parties during his “primary” campaign, saying the on-going leadership contest in Thailand’s oldest political party is unique and good for democracy. Meeting supporters at the Lumpini Park, he said his admirers have to show their “love” for him by “voting” for him at the primary.

“This is the real democracy,” he said. “This is a good example for all political parties.”

Millions of registered Democrat members can vote later this year, basically to show those at the top who they prefer between Abhisit and Warong Dechgitvigrom as the leader.

Friday, October 26, 2018: As the Democrats were busy absorbing visions of their leadership candidates, Kanchana Silpa-archa, daughter of late political maverick Banharn Silpa-archa, officially became new leader of the Chat Thai Pattana Party without a fuss.

How much of the smooth operation at Chat Thai Pattana had to do with party dissolution fears is anyone’s guess. Kanchana’s kid brother, Varawut Silpa-archa, stepped aside to facilitate her rise. Not having any executive position means he would not get banished from politics if the party was caught in political trouble like many years ago, when a lot of politicians received five-year bans.

Prapat Po-suthon was also appointed secretary-general of the Chat Thai Pattana Party. Anucha Sasomsap became a deputy party leader.

The Democrats will be hearing visions of leadership candidates, among whom is Warong Dechgitvigrom who is thought to be friendlier toward military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Warong is campaigning for leadership on a welfare platform that he said would change the way the party has been reaching out, with limited success, to large population of Thailand.

 

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