6 June 2024

Voters are now watching how the Pheu Thai Party goes about forming the new government after it parted ways with election-winner Move Forward, courted several conservative parties including Bhumjaithai, United Thai Nation and Palang Pracharath.

With serious political bargaining laid bare under the public gaze, netizens are crying foul over Pheu Thai’s recent moves. Many have declared they will certainly vote for Move Forward again, after witnessing what they perceive as Pheu Thai’s betrayal of the popular liberal party.

“But if you think the Pheu Thai Party will be driven to extinction, you are wrong,” said Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute.

 Pheu Thai’s growth opportunity

Stithorn insisted that even if Pheu Thai does partner with the conservative camp to lead the new government, its hard-core fans would not be swayed.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute.

“True supporters of Pheu Thai Party merely hope that it can become the ruling party and implement its policies. They think it’s okay no matter what Pheu Thai does, including scrapping the memorandum of understanding (MoU) it signed with Move Forward,” the politics expert commented.

He said its followers would be disappointed only if Pheu Thai failed to lead the government after it was formed, for instance by becoming subservient to the ultra conservative parties and unable to turn its policies into reality.

Stithorn does not believe widespread claims that Pheu Thai Party will lose a huge number of supporters simply because it openly betrayed Move Forward, which agreed to pass on the opportunity to form the new government to Pheu Thai after failing to get its leader Pita Limjaroenrat elected as prime minister in a parliamentary vote.

“Some say up to 20% of Pheu Thai supporters will switch allegiance. But I think no more than 10% will really stop supporting Pheu Thai,” he said.

In his view, Pheu Thai may have little cause to worry, because if it performs well as the ruling party in the coming years, it will be able to attract more voters when the next general election is due in four years time.

“Pheu Thai has chances to become even more popular if it successfully forms a new government and performs well while in power,” Stithorn said.Move

Pheu Thai has aligned itself with classic populism or so-called eatable democracy since it was known as the Thai Rak Thai Party in the early 2000s, he added.

“Voters who love it for this selling point will continue to support it,” he explained.

Stithorn said people who admire democratic ideals tagged along with Pheu Thai Party in the wake of the 2006 coup, because this party seemed to be their primary choice back then. These people had continued to stick with Pheu Thai during political violence in 2009 and 2010, and also during the Yingluck Shinawatra-led government that was ousted by the 2014 coup.

However, after the Future Forward Party (now known as the Move Forward Party) was formed in 2019, these supporters of the Pheu Thai were drawn to this new pro-democracy choice instead.

“Up to 1.5 million voters may abandon Pheu Thai for Move Forward at the next election. But Pheu Thai may be able to attract more voters from elsewhere,” Stithorn concluded.

Move Forward boss Pita Limjaroenrat

 Voters’ say

Two elderly voters in Khon Kaen said they voted for Move Forward in May’s general election but feel no special loyalty to the party. Instead, they based their voting decision on policies that they believed would deliver direct benefits to them.

“We voted for the Move Forward Party because we liked its idea of raising monthly subsidies for the elderly to 3,000 baht a month,” the two women chorused.

Both in their 60s, the two voters struggle to make ends meet and are worried that if their health fails, they will have trouble feeding themselves.

They are unhappy that Move Forward missed the chance of forming a new government because of opposition to its plan to reform Article 112 or the lese-majeste law, among other reasons.

“We don’t understand the Article 112 issue. But had hoped that Move Forward Party would be able to work for the people,” one of the women said.

A 52-year-old employee of a state university echoed their disappointment over Move Forward failing to form the government.

“I think the party is too obstinate on some points. Sometimes, I even doubt if Move Forward really wants to lead or join the government to implement ideas it highlighted during the election campaign,” she said. “I think Move Forward should be able to back off from Article 112 issues”.

Pim, a 24-year-old medical technologist and loyal Move Forward supporter, defended the party despite its failure to form a new government.

“I am not angry with the party. The problem lies with the old power clique and senators,” she said, adding that she would not be happy if her favorite party abandoned its ideology just for the sake of forming a government.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai each won 112 constituency seats in the May 14 election. But Move Forward Party got the first chance to form the new government because it beat Pheu Thai in party-list vote, earning 39 list MPs versus Pheu Thai’s 29.

Pheu Thai has announced its decision to form the new government with seven other political parties. But by excluding the ultra-conservative parties like Palang Pracharat and United Thai Nation, the Pheu Thai-led group will have just 238 MPs in its hand. The House of Representatives has 500 MPs.

 Move Forward’s popularity grows

In a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), 42.98% of respondents said Move Forward failed to form a government because it refused to compromise, while 11.68% thought the party had simply alienated itself from power. Some 30.46% said Move Forward had done nothing wrong while 27.56% indicated the party was just outwitted in Parliament.

“It’s quite clear that Move Forward’s popularity has not dropped even after it was unable to form a government,” Stithorn said. “Voters understand that their support alone cannot guarantee that Move Forward will be the ruling party.”

He added that some voters will even have sympathy for Move Forward and its leader Pita, believing they might not be included in a government coalition even if they backed down on the plan to amend Article 112.

“So, I think Move Forward will likely receive more votes next time as well,” Stithorn concluded.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk