Barring an unforeseen political shock that dramatically alters the political landscape, it now looks like Thailand will elect a Pheu Thai Party government in next year’s General Election. It is also becoming increasingly probable that that government will be led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra ousted in the 2006 coup and the niece of Yingluck Shinawatra whose government was ousted in 2014 in another coup led by then army chief and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
The door to General Prayut retaining power is closing quickly as the country’s main opposition Pheu Thai Party enters into full election mode with a telling NIDA opinion poll, published over the weekend, showing that three out of four now believe that the party will take power next year with Paetongtarn Shinawatra, confirmed on Sunday as one of the party’s candidates for prime minister, becoming the third Shinawatra family member to take the reins of government. It comes as momentum is building behind the party which is promising a ฿600-a-day minimum wage as well as a return to a higher growth economy. It is also emerging that the controversial marijuana legalisation programme of the Bhumjaithai Party will be a key election issue second only to the economy.
After Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha departed on Monday for a European Union ASEAN summit in Brussels accompanied by his wife and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, it is becoming clear that his chances of retaining power after the 2023 General Election are receding quickly.
In the last 48 hours, the Pheu Thai Party has announced that Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing, the daughter of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra will indeed be a candidate for Prime Minister for the party in the 2023 election leaving the 35-year-old wife and mother odds on favourite to win the top job and lead the country’s next government.
Pheu Thai flexes its muscles also in the South of Thailand as it aims for a 2023 landslide election win
Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra and her husband, whose mother has southern roots, were in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat on Sunday for a spectacular rally attended by 10,000 people during which the party leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew told reporters that the Pheu Thai Party is confident of increasing its voter support in the next election from 12% to 25%.
One of the winds blowing in the party’s favour is the strong feeling on the ground, particularly in Thailand’s southern provinces, in opposition to the Bhumjaithai Party’s controversial marijuana legalisation programme with conservative voters in the region blaming the scourge of illicit drugs for rising violent crime and societal breakdown.
United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Nattawut Saikuar, originally from the South, was at the rally and referred to the controversial story in recent weeks where two young boys, aged 9 in Pattaya, were pictured smoking marijuana from a bamboo bong while out near the sea riding their bicycles.
Incident further stoked the ire of conservative voters appalled by the Bhumjaithai Party’s pot policy
The incident, which saw the young boys taken into care by the government in response, has seared itself into public consciousness in Thailand with the tide of public opinion rising against the cannabis legalisation mission of the Bhumjaithai Party which has been facilitated by the government.
Mr Nattawut is currently working with the Pheu Thai Party in the ‘Pheu Thai family’ initiative heard up by Ms Paetongtarn.
Addressing the crowd Mr Nattawut said: ‘When Yingluck Shinawatra was prime minister, children walked to schools, holding tablet computers. But in the time of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, they are instead holding pipes for smoking marijuana.’
Nearly three-quarters of Thai adults now believe that the Pheu Thai Party will lead the next government
The rally came just after a poll testing the public’s opinion as to the formation of the next government showed that nearly three-quarters of people in Thailand believed that the Pheu Thai Party will be in government after next year’s election.
The poll conducted with a sample of 1,313 people aged 18 years and over from the 7th to the 8th of December 2022, showed nearly 73% or 72.82% said that was either definitely going to be the case or highly likely.
By comparison, the figure for the Bhumjaithai Party, which is increasingly being seen as the only hope for the return of General Prayut in a voting pact or pre-election deal with it, only scored 26.56% or just over one in four.
The corresponding figure for instance for the second opposition Move Forward Party was 41.23% while the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which is expected to put itself forward shortly as the new political bandwagon behind General Prayut only scored 21.46% or just higher than one in five.
The Palang Pracharat Party scored higher than the current government parties at 31.14%.
The Democrat Party came in last at 17.78%.
NIDA poll of voting intentions in September showed Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward leading the way with minimal support for the Bhumjaithai Party
It should be noted that this poll conducted by the respected National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) was not a direct indicator of voting intention with the most recent such poll at the end of September showing the Pheu Thai Party on 34.44% with the Move Forward Party on 13.6%.
In that poll, the two opposition parties including Khunying Sudarat’s Thai Sang Thai Party came in at 51.08%.
Ms Khunying is a former strategic coordinator and leader within the Pheu Thai Party.
In that poll, the Bhumjaithai Party only saw 2.3% support or a quarter of what it polled in 2019, with the Palang Pracharat Party at 5.56% while the Democrat Party, the country’s oldest political grouping which has a more committed and traditional base, coming in at 7.56%.
Pheu Thai Party now gone into full election mode with the wind at its back including the promise of more seats and the popular ฿600 minimum wage plan
This latest poll is coming after key political developments over the last few weeks have put the wind in the sails of the Pheu Thai Party which has now gone into full election mode from this weekend with strong momentum.
First, there was the decision of the Constitutional Court on Wednesday 30th November by a 7 to 2 vote to approve the revised voting and party list seat calculation system, controversially approved by the House of Representatives in August.
This will give the Pheu Thai Party between 30 to 45 extra seats in the next General Election over what could have been expected.
The decision effectively put paid to any hopes of General Prayut retaining power after the next General Election in a vote of the House of Representatives unless there is some major development or realignment of the political parties in the next few months.
Then there is last week’s announcement by Pheu Thai’s policy committee of a signature ฿600 a day minimum wage which is already being enthusiastically received in provinces throughout the kingdom as well as the south.
A vote for other parties may see the return of General Prayut explained Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew, an oblique reference to Bhumjaithai
Speaking at the rally in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Sunday, the Pheu Thai Party leader, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, appealed to his southern audience to switch their allegiance solely to the main opposition party as a way of ensuring the General Prayut does not return to power pointing out that the Pheu Thai Party was aiming at obtaining well over 250 seats in the lower house in the 2023 General Election.
‘If you want to get out of poverty and see a bright future for your children, please take Pheu Thai in the hearts of all southerners. With your supporting votes, we hope to win with a landslide, not only in the South but all over the country. We need to win more than 250 seats in the House of Representatives in order to outnumber the 250 senators,’ he explained.
He also warned against what happened after the 2019 General Election and that a vote for any other party was a vote potentially for returning the current government led by General Prayut.
‘If you vote for other parties, then General Prayut could return,’ he said. ‘But if you vote Pheu Thai, you will get a prime minister that is nominated by the party.’
This message is also seen as a dig at the Bhumjaithai Party which in March 2019 campaigned as apart of the opposition but then supported the election of General Prayut Chan ocha as prime minister three months later on the basis of furthering its election manifesto which included the party’s own signature policy of legalising marijuana for medical use in Thailand.
The party’s enthusiastic rally in the southern province on Sunday, the heartland of its traditional political foes, is a sign of its current strength and confidence.
Ung Ing or Paetongtarn Shinawatra ‘understands the people’s problems as Thaksin’s 35-year-old daughter moves forward as a party candidate for PM
The party leader told the Nakhon Si Thammarat rally that he believed that the party had found a candidate for prime minister who had the support of the people in the South.
‘The party’s candidate is knowledgeable and understands the people’s problems. Judging from the previous polls, I believe the candidate has found a place in the heart of the southern people,’ he said.
The Pheu Thai Party, on Sunday, made it clear that it would be fielding candidates and fighting hard for seats in the 58 southern constituencies.
Speaking to the crowd, Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, now confirmed as the first Pheu Thai Party candidate for prime minister after the next General Election, promised that a new government led by her would tackle immediately higher electricity prices as well developing dual-track rail lines and completing a high-speed rail connection connecting China with Singapore.
She also appeared to indicate a rollback of the Bhumjaithai Party’s cannabis legalisation policy which her party has consistently called for.
‘Our intention is for people to have enough savings for the later part of their lives. They must enjoy a better future. With Pheu Thai in power, all narcotic drugs will be eradicated,’ she said.
PM indicates that the end of this parliament is near
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, on Monday, as he left for Brussels, was asked repeatedly about the latest National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll and his chances of returning to power.
He appeared to indicate that the current ‘constitutional’ government’s time was very limited but said the political outlook may change with further developments between now and the General Election, the real poll, next year.
In the meantime, the Secretary-general of the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) told reporters that the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll findings were just an analytic exercise and insisted there were ‘6 parties with the opportunity to become a government’ including the prospect of a return by General Prayut to power after the next General Election.
He also insisted that the political landscape may be altered dramatically between now and the next General Election.
Bhumjaithai Party’s Anutin Charnvirakul pours cold water on media narrative that he may be Prayut’s heir
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Bhumjaithai Party have, in the last week, poured cold water on a suggestion that he may reach a deal with General Prayut to take over from him after 2025 when the current PM is constitutionally obliged to step down.
Mr Anutin said he would prefer, first of all, to prove himself to the people.
However, this particular narrative has been generated by Bangkok media sources based on reports of the defection of MPs from other parties.
It comes despite the low support level for the Bhumjaithai Party in the opinion polls and a rising swell of public anger among conservative voters against the party’s extraordinary cannabis policy which is certainly going to be a key election issue in 2023 perhaps second-only to the economy.
In the last week, there are reports of the Bhumjaithai Party reaching out to MPs who had indicated they are ready to defect.
37 MPs are thought to be in this position and the party has, so far, it is thought, received an equivocal response with many MPs pondering the way the wind is blowing.
Defection of MPs in the coming weeks could trigger a forced dissolution of the House of Representatives
There is also speculation that if scores of MPs do defect this could mean a speedy dissolution of the House of Representatives as legally a by-election for each seat must be called in respect of constituency MPs.
There is also concern that the idea of General Prayut sharing his term as the prime minister with another politician may simply not be feasible under the current Thai constitutional framework while political observers have also noted that any prime minister must be democratically elected by parliament but the last vote which will include a say for 250 unelected senators will be after the next General Election.
The upper house, after that, will lose this controversial power under the provisions of the 2017 constitution.
A former respected advisor to Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, Paisal Puchmongkol, has dismissed the prospect of Mr Anutin becoming General Prayut’s heir as another laughable media narrative.
‘Parties don’t accept the splitting of the four-year term proposal under which General Prayut takes the first two years. Those who do, can’t face their supporters. So General Prayut’s chance of returning to Government House is narrowing,’ he concluded this week.