New political parties and a political flux as Thailand’s new political landscape is in the making under the watchful eye of the junta

Gender equality will become a new issue in Thai politics promoted by the new Action Coalition of Thailand party. The new party recently appointed former bank of Thailand governor Chatumongol Sonakul as its leader and Chairman.

At the recent party meeting held in Bangkok, Suthep Thaugsuban, the famous leader of the street protests that began in 2013 and precipitated the 2014 coup, said that the new party would include as many female candidates as male ones in time for the next election. Suthep currently serves as an ‘advisor’ to Action Coalition of Thailand (ACT).

New party to put forward men and women in equal numbers

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Current Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is seen by some as a possible candidate for prime minister after the next election due to be held next year. Former Bank of Thailand Governor Chatumongol Sonakul has recently been elected Chairman and Leader of ACT (Action Coalition for Thailand), a new party associated with former street protest leader and Democrat Party veteran Suthep Thaugsuban. The new party has promised gender equality with a mix of male and female candidates contesting very constituency in Thaiand. Under the tight supervision of the Thai military junta and the powerful Election Commission, there is a lot of preparation going on which could see a new political landscape for Thailand emerge in 2019.

‘We have agreed they [party representatives] would consist of men and women in equal numbers’, the veteran politician said. He sees it as scoring a big win for the party on an issue that is new to Thai politics, gender equality. Still, Mr. Thaugsuban said that his duties and participation in the new movement would be confined to giving advice to ATC leaders in the run-up to the general election that is set to take place next year, still making good on his pledge that he would stop being involved in politics.

‘I will be on the stage giving speeches to help the party out throughout the country,’ said the charismatic political leader, whose influence incited huge street protests against the government in 2013 and partly helped overthrow it. The former deputy prime minister added that he would decline to take up any post in ATC after the election is held.

‘I will not run for an MP seat in the election, whether in the party list or constituency list, but I will be on the stage giving speeches to help the party out throughout the country,’ the man who became the centre of the the huge movement and street protests five years ago said. ‘I will serve my duty as a coach and a mentor. I will use my 40-year experience to help their work.’ Suthep is loved and loathed in equal measure on both sides of the political divide in Thailand. However, any political settlement or arrangement after the election is bound to have his involvement in some role even in an advisory capacity The new political party was only registered on the 25th May this year by Suthep’s lawyer Tavisak Na Taguathung.

New party leader believes no party will have an overall majority after next election

The role of leading and managing ATC, the new political party, will fall to Chatumongol Sonakul, a former Bank of Thailand governor who was elected its chairman at the meeting held in at The Landmark Hotel in Bangkok. That was a foregone conclusion after the interim Chairman, Anek Laothamatas, reportedly withdrew from the role prior to the election and declined to contest it. Predicting that no party can win a majority large enough to form government on their own, Chatumongol said that he was looking forward to cordial negotiations, and that ATC was prepared to form a coalition with other parties.

New Act party to run candidates in every constituency in Thailand

At the meeting, Suthep Thaugsuban told the press that the new party would contest every constituency in Thailand in the forthcoming General Election due to be held in 2019. ‘We will send candidates to contest in every constituency. They will be selected through a primary vote, which means the people will be the ones selecting the party representatives,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘We have agreed they would consist of men and women in equal numbers.’

Questions role of Pheu Thai party in future political arrangements

But he was coy in his comments on Pheu Thai, the once largest political party in Thailand that enjoys the support of the many Thai people faithful to the political movement led by Thaksin Shinawatra and which is increasingly seen as the opposition to the current establishment although the current government is anxious and working to create a harmonious or inclusive atmosphere leading up to the election.  ‘I don’t even know if Pheu Thai will still exist by then,’ Chatumongol remarked.

Pheu Thai are gearing up but still unlikely to be able to form a single party government in Thailand

In the last week, Pheu Thai has floated a proposal to oppose compulsory conscription in Thailand as a key policy and a key leader of the party has predicted that the part will be in a position to command a majority in the lower house of parliament after the next election. This would require over 250 seats. However under Thailand’s new constitution both houses are instrumental in electing a Prime Minister to form the next government. The upper house of parliament dominated by Thailand’s military has 250 seats and any party seeking an effective majority to elect a new single party government would require over 375 seats out of the 500 to be contested in the next election.

Many new parties in Thailand’s new political flux

Since the announcement earlier this year that political parties can register with Thailand’s strengthened and very powerful Election Commission, there has been a raft of interest. As many as 42 new political groups attempted to register with the Commission in early March when the process started. The interest in creating a new political environment in Thailand as surprised many. The Secretary General of the Election Commission told the Associated Press that the heightened activity ‘shows that people have drive and belief in democracy.’ In order to qualify for registration as a new political groups must show at least 500 registered members and access to 1 million baht in funds or $31,000 approximately. Political activity is still very much controlled by the National Council for Peace and Order which is the official title of the junta overseeing Thailand’s government. The aim is to preserve harmony and order in the country in order to allow for successful and orderly elctions to take place leading to the formation of a stable, democratically elected government.

New parties will certainly bring more choice for Thai voters

One new party is led by Ravee Machamadol. The leader of the New Phalangdharma Party told the Associated Press (AP) that his party would consider the existing Prime Minister and former Army Chief, who led the 2014 coup, for the role of  ‘outside Prime Minister’ who can be appointed by the Thai parliament under the new constitution. ‘In voting for an outsider, we will vote for the best available person, and if on that day Prayuth is the best person, then we will vote for him,’ he said. Another interesting new political party in Thailand is led by a dog breeder whose Thai nickname is ‘Mark Pitbull.’ His party is called the Thai Civilised Party.

Expert say not to underestimate traditional support bases

A political science professor at Ubon Ratchathani University has said that it is debatable whether this new slew of political parties will garner widespread popular support. There is a body of opinion that holds to the view that the electorate is just waiting for an opportunity to voice support for traditional parties and the status quo before the coup.

A leader of the Pheu Thai Party which formed the last Thai government leading up to the coup with an overall majority in 2011 and which seemed likely to win the annulled election of 2014, has said that he thinks the party will win a majority of the seats in the next election if it take place in 2019. Professor Titipol Phakdeewanich, the political science professor, believes that the new parties may be important in terms of the balance of power after the next election as well as the new constitutional arrangements.

Unpredictable political flux in a country still under the rule of the junta

New political parties will be fighting for 500 seats in the lower house of parliament with 250 seats in the upper house under the influence and control of the military. Even if Pheu Thai were to win a majority of the lower house seats, it may well be unable to form a government by electing a prime minister. This may well lead to an outcome where the new prime minister will from outside the political party system. It is also thought unlikely that they will win a majority at ythis time although the political movement from which it springs has often been underestimated by those observing from the outside ove rthe last two decades.

There is some speculation as to the possible canditure of the current Prime Minister for the role of prime minister. He is seen as becoming more popular on both sides of the former political divide due to his direct and colourful style. There have been reports of interesting defections from the Pheu Thai support base and that which was thought to be loyal to the Shinawatra family in Thailand’s northern provinces in recent months. It is  understood that such moves may towards creating a nenw dynamic after the lection which may see Prayuth Chan-ocha emerge as a candidate to lead a new government bridging former divides.

The political situation, under the orderly control of the current junta, is fascinating and seems difficult to predict at this moment. It is still a political flux with a new landscape in the making including the precise date and confirmation for the 2019 election. Many are thankful that things are under control while some are impatient to see Thailand’s democratic mandate restored. There is a feeling that the country may be able to move on to a different era with stable politics and government.