11 July 2024

The medium-sized Bhum Jai Thai Party can be another beneficiary of a new electoral rule which essentially makes sure that every vote cast will not be lost. The party stands to gain some seats from battles at constituencies and more from votes that its losing candidates get. Ultimately, this rule bodes well for parties of its characteristics — “second-string” ones that have candidates popular enough to appeal to substantial numbers of voters.

The biggest question is whether Bhum Jai Thai’s gains will help military-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He needs at least 376 senators and MPs to effectively elect him post-election prime minister. This is in case of Prayut’s name being in a party’s list of prime ministerial nominees. In case his name is not there, Prayut will be regarded as an “outsider”, and maneuvering to make him post-election prime minister will require a much bigger number of parliamentary votes, or 500.

Bhum Jai Thai will nominate its leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, for the prime minister post. But the nomination is unlikely to go far, meaning what’s in the party’s mind regarding the “alternative” is more important than such an actual nominee. (The party can put Prayut in its prime ministerial nomination list right out, after Anutin’s name, but even if it does not do that, it can still vote for Prayut if he is nominated by others.)

Political analysts still rate Newin Chidchob, former Bhum Jai Thai strongman, as politically influential, although he seems to be more interested in managing the Thai Premier League’s top football team, Buriram United, at the moment. The analysts believe that if Prayut really has Newin on his side, it’s a real political boost for the former.

So far Bhum Jai Thai has been, like many, toeing correct political lines. It said it was ready to have its leader debate national issues with Prayut. It said its leader will be its prime ministerial nominee. It said it is going into the election with public interests at heart. At the end of the day, though, the analysts believe that Bhum Jai Thai will do what most mainstream politicians have been doing –being engaged in intense horse-trading.

Newin’s influential traces are still all over Bhum Jai Thai, with people bearing his surname remaining highly-regarded party members. But as, if not more, significant, is the fact that Newin warmly welcomed Prayut and treated him as a hero when the latter visited Buriram earlier this year.

Bhum Jai Thai won 34 seats in the last general election in 2011. That was without the advantage of the “Every Vote Counts” rule which is expected to benefit medium-sized parties this time. It won more than 3 million votes in constituency battles nationwide, compared with Pheu Thai’s 12.2 million and the Democrats’ 8.9 million.

Newin used to be regarded as a kingmaker in Thai politics, having worked effectively for both sides in the national divide. A major factor of the upcoming Thai election is his reported falling out with the Shinawatras and warming toward “the other side.”

Newin is known to shut down his mobile phone during Buriram FC games or when supervising or observing training of his soccer players, but the new habit could change when Thai politics gets very exciting again.