Four sons of Nakhon Si Thammarat brace for Sunday’s by-election battle
Four political parties will battle for a single MP seat when the polls open in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Constituency 3 by-election on Sunday (March 7).
The coalition Democrat and Palang Pracharath parties, the opposition Seree Ruam Thai and Kla – a new party with no MPs – are all targeting the parliamentary prize, though for different reasons and purposes.
Palang Pracharath is taking a second shot at the southern seat it nearly won in the 2019 general election, when its candidate Ayasit Srisuwan came runner-up to Democrat rival Theptai Senapong.
Theptai was stripped of his MP status by the Constitutional Court in January after the Nakhon Si Thammarat Provincial Court found him and his brother, former provincial mayor Manote, guilty of fraud in a 2014 local election contested by Manote. The provincial court sentenced each brother to two years in jail and banned them from elections for 10 years.
Meanwhile, the Democrats need to win on Sunday to retain as many MP seats as possible – particularly in the South, their traditional stronghold.
The party risks losing even more MP seats in the region after the Criminal Court last week sentenced eight leaders of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to prison.
In late 2013, PDRC launched street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government, sparking political turmoil that culminated in the May 2014 military coup. Two of those sentenced to jail are Democrat MPs – Songkhla’s Thaworn Senneam, who automatically lost his post as deputy transport minister, and Chumphon’s Chumpol Julsai.
The Election Commission has called on the Constitutional Court to rule on their MP status.
Fewer MPs means weaker bargaining power for the Democrats in the fragile coalition government, particularly after coalition partner/rival Bhumjaithai was boosted by the addition of 10 MPs from the dissolved Future Forward Party.
Pro-govt vote split?
The opposition Kla and Seree Ruam Thai parties, meanwhile, are hoping to benefit from a split in the pro-government vote between Palang Pracharath and Democrat candidates.
Seree Ruam Thai is urging voters to choose its candidate so as to boost the party’s power of scrutiny in Parliament and its ability to “give the government some lessons”.
Kla, which only registered as a political party in February last year, is led by former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, once a key Democrat figure. Korn is expected to build the party’s main support base in Bangkok.
A victory for Kla’s candidate would earn Korn’s party its first parliamentary seat and also serve as a wake-up call for the governing coalition in what it considers “friendly terrain”.
Most of the South’s 50 MPs come from three coalition parties – the Democrats, Palang Pracharath and Bhumjaithai.
Coalition partners turn rivals
Palang Pracharath’s Ayasit came second in the 2019 election, winning 28 per cent of the vote in Constituency 3 compared to Theptai’s 32 per cent.
Encouraged by Ayasit’s performance – he lost by just 4,500 votes – Palang Pracharath chose to ignore tradition and risk a rift by competing against its coalition partner and former seat holder.
Democrat complaints about a breach of protocol have been waved away by Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan.
“This is about democracy. Any party can field their candidate. It has nothing to do with etiquette,” said Prawit.
Ayasit, 56, was born in Nakhon Si Thammarat. After completing high school in the province, he shifted to Bangkok and enrolled at Ramkhamhaeng University’s Faculty of Law.
After graduating he joined the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration in 1989 and three years later became an assistant district officer with the Interior Ministry.
In 2017, he was appointed district chief in Nakhon Si Thammarat’s neighbouring province of Krabi before being transferred to the same post in his home province two years later.
He resigned to contest the March 2019 election but returned to the civil service after failing to win the seat. This year, he once again left the bureaucracy to contest the upcoming by-election.
Power of the local clan
Democrat candidate Pongsin Senapong, 52, is Theptai’s younger brother and former deputy mayor of the Nakhon Si Thammarat municipality.
He graduated from Ramkhamhaeng University with a bachelor’s in humanities and a master’s in political science.
With 20 years of experience in local politics, Pongsin was chosen as the Democrat candidate for his family’s strong support base in the province. Theptai won four terms as a local MP while his other brother Chaowat is the incumbent mayor.
In July 2017, Pongsin became acting mayor after Chaowat was suspended by the post-coup junta over corruption allegations. However, Chaowat was reinstated in October 2018.
Pongsin said his efforts in helping his brother look after his constituents over the past few years have helped him win hearts.
“I believe local people’s positive feeling towards Theptai and his work for them will benefit me [in the by-election],” Pongsin said.
Kla is fielding Sarawut Suwannarat, who owns a business exporting nielloware and silverware, for which Nakhon Si Thammarat is renowned. He was born in the southern province and completed his primary education there before his family moved to the capital.
Sarawut, 38, obtained a BSc in gems and jewellery from Srinakharinwirot University and an MBA in marketing from the same institution.
The young businessman is entering his first election and hoping to mark his political debut with a win. In his late 30s, Sarawut is touting himself as a “connecting link” between the older and younger generations.
The ‘change agent’
Seree Ruam Thai’s candidate Apirat Rattanapan was also born in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Now 48, he received his bachelor’s and master’s in law from Ramkhamhaeng University.
Upon graduating, he practised law before setting up a legal firm in the province’s Thung Song district, boasting local bank branches among his clients.
In 2008, his first attempt to enter local politics in the Thung Song mayoral election ended in defeat. This time, he is aiming to go national.
“I volunteer to serve as an agent of change for Nakhon Si Thammarat residents. We want to change for the better,” said the aspiring MP.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk