Growing speculation that the current Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, may take a seat in the House of Representatives for the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party after the next General Election. This could see him nominated again for government leader as an MP from within the house if 25 MPs can be found to support him as a candidate. With the support of the junta-appointed upper house or Senate, this would leave him only seeking the support of just over 100 or so MPs to retain his job although the use of the Senate in this way would be highly controversial and unworkable in the long run if Pheu Thai and other opposition parties secure an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives.
With the General Election set for May 14th, there has been mixed reaction from the business community in Thailand with key leaders such as Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) Chairman Kriengkrai Thiennukul welcoming the clarity and decisive way with which the election timetable has now been laid out while the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) has warned that a survey of business leaders shows they are anxious that the aftermath of the poll may lead to another period of political instability in the kingdom which would be disastrous for the economy.
Reaction to the news of May’s General Election finally being called this week has been generally positive with key industry leader Mr Kriengkrai Thiennukul, the Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), on Wednesday, welcoming the clarity with a schedule of events involved being clearly laid out as the Election Commission came forward with key dates for the elderly conduct of the election.
This includes a window for the registration of candidates for the 400 constituency seats which will take place from Monday, April 3rd to Friday, April 7th next.
Party-list candidates must be registered in early April, speculation that the PM, General Prayut, may be among the hopefuls seeking one of the 100 seats
Party-list candidates seeking to contest the 100 party list seats linked with the party’s vote share in the national poll must also be registered within the same timeframe window at Bangkok City Hall in the Din Daeng area of the capital.
This will also see each party nominate up to three candidates each for election as prime minister when the new parliament meets after the election.
In the days up to April 7th, there will be speculation on whether the prime minister, General Prayut, will be on the MPs list submitted by the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart).
The Election Commission is advising Thai citizens eligible to vote that they can check or rectify their voting status between March 27th next and April 13th while those who cannot vote should avail of windows between May 7th to May 13th and May 15th to May 21st to signal this and give a reason for why they cannot do so.
Voting in Thailand is mandatory for all citizens under the terms of the constitution but at the same time, all voters must be registered in their constituencies to vote, 90 days before the poll.
If not, this can be rectified from the end of March to mid-April.
Thailand has high election turnouts, over 75% voted in the 2019 General Election and over 85% in 2007
In the 2019 General Election, there was a turnout of 74.69% at the polls which was the third highest behind the 2011 vote which saw the Pheu Thai Party sweep to a landslide victory.
Then 75.03% of people turned out.
In this election, given the level of enthusiasm on the ground for a change of government, the turnout is likely to be higher than 75%.
Approximately 52 million are expected to be eligible to vote with a projected voter turnout of 77% or circa 40 million people across Bangkok and 76 provinces divided into 400 constituencies.
However, it was the end of 2007 which saw the largest voter turnout ever when the predecessor of the Pheu Thai Party, the People’s Power Party also associated with the dominant Shinawatra family, romped home with a voter turnout of 85.28%.
Key business leaders praised the clarity as the Election Commission laid out the timetable this week
Mr Kriengkrai, on Wednesday, welcomed the clarity from the Election Commission explaining it allowed the business sector to plan and prepare for whatever might be ahead.
‘This is good for the business sector because we can begin to see more clearly what will happen next, allowing us to prepare our businesses under a new government,’ said Mr Kriengkrai. ‘The settling on an exact election date in May also eases some concerns of business leaders over unclear issues raised before the dissolution.’
However, the picture is not all positive with many business people expressing concerns about the prospect of political instability after the May 14th election which looks like it will lead to a victory for the Pheu Thai-led opposition.
The question, however, is the extent of the victory and the reaction to it from current establishment forces linked with the junta era that are still ensconced in the unwieldy democratic government since 2019.
Spectre of political instability depends on the reaction by conservatives to what is expected to be a strong shift towards the opposition in voting
The latest opinion poll from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) published last weekend showed that the Pheu Thai Party, the Move Forward Party and the opposition-aligned Thai Sang Thai Party of former Pheu Thai Party strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan commanding 70.1% of voters who expressed a preference for a political party.
However, after this election, it will take any combination of parties to initially command over 375 MPs in the House of Representatives if the Senate or upper house, as it may well do, opts to support an alternative choice for premier in what would still be a very controversial move if, as looks likely, the electorate expresses a preference for a change to a Pheu Thai led government.
Nevertheless, if Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was nominated by 25 MPs in the House of Representatives and received the support of just over 100 other MPs, then with the support of the senate, he could form an administration although it’s ability to govern and legitimacy would be highly questionable if it came to power on this basis and time-limited to one year.
That is because another key factor is that the Senate will not have the same power to vote in the election of a prime minister after June 2024 when under Section 272 of the Constitution, this power expires.
Role of the upper house may be pivotal in electing the next PM but a strong Pheu Thai win would give it moral power with the Senate’s abolished in 2024
This is all an area of doubt giving rise to some genuine unease among the business community as Thailand is already facing an economically challenging year against a backdrop of impeded exports and rising geo-political tensions to achieve up to 4% GDP growth backed up by a projected arrival of 27 million foreign tourists in 2023.
Political instability is highly damaging to the kingdom’s economy both in the short and long term
On Wednesday, this goal appeared tenable when the government revealed that from January 1st to March 18th the country welcomed 5.6 million visitors.
However, political instability in 2010 and 2014 has shown itself to be a negative factor when it comes to foreign tourist arrivals as well as damaging the country’s long-term foreign investment prospects which has seen Thailand trailing behind countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam over the past two decades.
Mr Thanavath Phonvichai of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) while acknowledging also that the election campaign itself may see a large domestic expenditure boost to the economy estimated at ฿100 billion to ฿120 billion or a possible boost to GDP of 0.4 to 0.7%, highlights the genuine concern of the kingdom’s business community.
He revealed that a survey undertaken by the institution shows genuine apprehension in the sector about the potential for political stability in the aftermath of the May 14th poll.
Controversial Section 272 provision allowing the Senate to vote in the election of the Prime Minister can be leveraged, but at what political cost?
Not only is there concern that the 2017 provision empowering the senate to become a decisive voice may be exploited but there are also fears the possibility of a Pheu Thai-led government may open up old, divisive political wounds and that it may prove difficult to wrench the junta era establishment from power while the possibility of exercising Section 272 exists.
This will all unfold sometime in June and July after the election results are confirmed and the new House of Representatives meets.
On Monday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha made the decision to request that parliament be dissolved by royal decree.
The order means all MPs have lost their positions while the Thai Senate or upper house remains in place until its term expires a year later in 2024.
After the dissolution, ministers in the government, which will stay on as caretaker administration, were briefed by officials of the Election Commission.
As caretaker ministers, they are not allowed to make major decisions which may be binding on the next government, make civil service or state enterprise appointments or transfers.
They are also prohibited from removing key officials except with the express permission of the powerful Election Commission.
They are also prohibited from using state resources and facilities in any way which may assist them in furthering their electoral ambitions.
After the house was dissolved, on Monday, General Prayut at Government House took time to speak, at length, with the media posse that accompanies him
On Tuesday, the Election Commission confirmed Sunday, May 14th as the election date with early voting on May 7th, the day provisionally set for the poll some months ago.
On Monday, however, after ordering the dissolution of the House of Representatives, a reflective prime minister took time with the media posse who he has had a fractious relationship with since he took power in 2014 to reflect on his tenure since 2019 as a democratically elected leader.
He went out of his way to thank the reporters and the media in general for their service to the country in the last four years in government and to tell them specifically that he was not angry with either the media or anyone as his latest government and perhaps his political career winds down.
The warm comments from the PM on the grounds of Government House came after a particularly stormy and bruising week on the campaign the week previously for him.
General Prayut, in a relaxed and cheerful manner, answered the reporter’s questions and accepted that in the past four years, he had not been able to get all he wanted to do over the line.
PM says his family and wife are not keen on him becoming a fully-fledged politician. Proud to have helped develop a modern economic base for Thailand
Appearing to be relaxed in the company of the reporters, he revealed that his family and his wife are not particularly enthusiastic about him becoming a full-time politician although he said they supported him.
He admitted he was proud to have been prime minister for the last eight years and said that he was grateful also to the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and all who had assisted him.
The PM explained to the press group the responsibilities of governing under a democratic coalition involved due regard for cabinet responsibility and also making sure that all plans and projects were able to be funded.
He signalled the government’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project and the tens of billions in foreign investment being channelled into the country at the moment to build a new, more modern industrial base as a key achievement.
Speaking frankly, he told the reporters, many of them female and from the younger generation, that he often got frustrated because his job has been a stressful one but assured them that, at the end of the day, he was not angry with anyone.
Growing speculation that General Prayut whether as Prime Minister or not after the election in May, may become an MP in the next House of Representatives
There is growing speculation that the incumbent prime minister has set his sights on becoming an MP with speculation that the premier may top the list of the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) party-list candidates to be submitted in early April at Bangkok City Hall.
One of the persistent gripes and causes of friction between General Prayut and the Palang Pracharat Party which nominated him as prime minister in 2019 was his aloofness from MPs in the House of Representatives which eventually culminated, in September 2021, in an attempted bid to oust him as government leader and ultimately his move away from the party which is now plummeting in the polls.
The move may also possibly see him retain a role in politics even after the General Election in which a Pheu Thai-led government is expected to come to power.