23 May 2024

In politics, there are names that carry with them “good images”. In the end, something is often found lacking and the “good images” can only go so far, and then they are eventually edged out by “lesser” figures.

Chaturon Chaisaeng, now with the Thai Raksa Chat Party, is one of them.

His “friendly departure” from the Pheu Thai Party to its perceived associate,Thai Raksa Chat, has all but sealed his perhaps long-overdue fate as an official prime ministerial candidate. He will chair Thai Raksa Chat’s election strategy committee, being in the same position as Sudarat Keyuraphan in Pheu Thai. Both are certain to be named candidates for prime minister of their respective parties, as chairing the election strategic committees is not an executive position, so the two will be shielded from political ban in case their parties are dissolved.

On the surface, the prospect appears exciting, with Sudarat and Chaturon key parts of Thaksin Shinawatra’s two-pronged assault aimed at regaining political control. Under more normal circumstances, it would have been just one of them, while the other would have had to be content with being just a well-respected party character.

Thanks to new constitutional rules on seat-rationing, Pheu Thai had to “branch out”, and this means the Thaksin camp now consists of a few parties. As a result, instead of having just one prime ministerial candidate, it now has two.

But on a closer scrutiny, having Sudarat and Chaturon as prime ministerial nominees is not much different from having just Sudarat as the sole candidate. Thailand’s political divide means that if Sudarat fails in the last stage of contest, there is no chance for another pro-Thaksin nominee to have a shot. This is the truth, underlined by the fact that Sudarat and Chaturon have to rely on the same parliamentary votes. If those votes fail the clear the hurdles for Sudarat, it’s impossible for those votes to help Chaturon.

This analysis is based on the likelihood that Pheu Thai will be a bigger party than Thai Raksa Chat after the election. But even if the opposite happens (specifically if Thai Raksa Chat outdoes Pheu Thai in the election), there will be no difference. If Chaturon fails, there is no chance Sudarat will succeed.

According to the “branch out” strategy, Pheu Thai will field candidates in constituencies it is fully confident of winning. For the other constituencies, Thai Raksa Chatwill field candidates not with an intention to win, but to accumulate enough votes to get a sizable number of rationed seats.

This strategy means Thai Raksa Chat is unlikely to outperform Pheu Thai in the election, and that only Sudarat stands a realistic chance of challenging for the prime ministerial post.

Chaturon is arguably the same as Jurin Laksanavisit or Supachai Panichpakdi of the Democrat Party. They have relatively good public images but, in politics, ones need more than that to get to the top. Chaturon is seen as more ideological than most Pheu Thai politicians, has not been tainted by violence or controversial protests that plagued Thai politics over the past few years like Jatuporn Prompan, Nuttawut Saikua or many other leading red-shirted figures, and is well-respected by academic communities here and abroad. But there are reasons why he has been “passed over” many times over the past few years.

Despite a remarkable ideological background, in which he once had to flee to the United States, Chaturon is not quite trusted within Pheu Thai, where two contrasting forces both join hands and fight. The “ideological” side of Pheu Thai may want Chaturon to be more prominent and active, but the other side is controlled by the rich “Shinawatras”, who are very cautious about what happens to the party.

Chaturon is a son of Anand Chaisaeng, a leading “liberal” politician of his times. The young Chaisaeng was involved in politics early, when he studied medicine at the Chiang Mai University. Student activism and involvement with the Communist Party of Thailand were the highlights of his young life, in addition to the escape to America following the infamous October 6 incident at the Thammasat University.

The “academic” image crept up on him in latter days. He started off with the Democrat Party, but soon began party-hopping before settling down with Thaksin Shinawatra before the 2001 election. It was an ironic political joint venture, as Thaksin at the time was far from being associated with ideological struggles, but reports said Chaturon did not have many choices, as his wish to have his own party proved impractical.

Chaturon has served in various Cabinet positions. He has been, among others, education minister and justice minister and even was acting leader of Thaksin’s party. Every time the Shinawatras were in search of someone who could be prime minister, Chaturon’s name came up. But that was as close as he could getto being the top man at Government House.

Unless something dramatic happens, that will still be the case after next year’s election. But this is probably the closest Chaturon can get to the political summit.  However, as things stand, apart from the excitement value, his nomination for prime minister may not amount to much else.