The official date for the general election is set to be announced within days with talk of a short postponement to allow political party logos on all ballot papers. The big news is a reported negotiation between the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party which would see a divide bridged in Thai politics. Such a deal would allow a possible return to civilian rule in a coalition government with both parties combining to elect Pheu Thai leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan as Thailand’s next Prime Minister. Former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva would be elected to the Presidency of the Parliament and there would be a division of cabinet seats.

There was strong speculation this week that Thailand’s election could be postponed from the February 24th date with the Election Commission due to make a statement following an anticipated royal decree, which will officially set the date for the first time. The government has been anxious to stick with the existing date, which is the earliest possible opportunity to hold the poll. Meanwhile, talks are reported to be taking place between the Pheu Thai Party and Democrat Party with a view to a coalition government once the new parliament meets after the election. The reports, which have been denied, quote senior figures and strategists in both political organisations.

There are reports of talks between Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrats and the party that is still expected to be the biggest in the new parliament, Pheu Thai, the former governing party, with a view to electing a civilian Prime Minster from the established political order, prior to the 2014 coup. The talks, it should be noted, have been denied by the parties but the reports, carried in the Bangkok Post did quote senior party sources in both parties who were aware of the discussions. It would see both parties combine and elect a new government with Pheu Thai leader, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, becoming Prime Minister and former Prime Minister and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, becoming President of the Parliament. A share of cabinet portfolios would see key ministries going to the Democrats for their participation in the new government.

Thailand is still gearing up for an election at the end of February but there was some confusion this week that the election may not, after all, take place on the date anticipated since late last year. The Thai government has insisted that February 24th is still the date for the election, in response to speculation from some media quarters, that a 30-day postponement may be required for technical and logistical purposes. The issue is concerned with logos for political parties on ballot papers which assume a new importance in Thailand with the new party-list electoral count procedure, at both national and local level.

Thai government adamant on 24th February date but called on the Election Commission to explain matters

Government spokesman, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, was adamant that the election was still scheduled for February  24th next. He was asked about ballot materials and responded that the Election Commission would have to explain any postponement and provide an explanation.

He made it clear that the Thai government, including all major players in the regime, were determined that the poll go ahead as scheduled.

It is reported that an announcement is due by the Election Commission in a matter of days, which will clarify the matter and officially schedule the election.

A Royal decree announcing the election is expected to be published and the election date will be set, at that point, by the election commission or shortly afterwards.

Reports of a delay have sparked criticism from all political parties but the election will go-ahead

Reports suggest that a logistical problem may have developed as the Election Commission is finalizing the design and content of ballot papers to be used in the historic poll. The reports have sparked stinging criticism from the Future Forward Party, which claims that any delay will damage the confidence of the public in the junta.

The debate over party logos is considered to be important to both the parties and the election commission as the new electoral process places far more significance on parties and the party-list system.

Representatives and spokesmen for a range of parties expressed concern that any proposed delay would damage the credibility of the process among the public, while more cynical commentators opined that such a move was designed to benefit pro-government parties.

The leader of the Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, called on the Election Commission to move quickly to clarify matters and this is expected quite shortly.

Thailand’s Election law fully complied with and there can be no postponement as the date is not set

The legislation for the election, passed by Thailand’s Legislative Assembly and signed into law by the monarch, in fact, specifies an election that may take place anytime between the 24th of February and the 9th of May 2019.

This point has been made by several politicians and observers but routinely dismissed by some government officials, who have always been anxious to suggest February 24th as the date. However, the latest suggestion of a postponement may hold more weight since it comes for the current Secretary-General of the Election Commission, Jarungvith Phumma.

Mr Phumma indicated that the election commission, the body ultimately responsible for organising what is hoped to be Thailand’s first general election in eight years, will issue a statement on the matter at some time in the future. The election commission official has pointed that there can be no question of talking about a postponement of the poll as the commission itself has never finalized the date under Thai law.

Super poll gives new insight into the Thai electorate’s current mindset as the election looms

Meanwhile, a new ‘super poll’ has emerged to give an insight into the voting intentions of the Thai people in advance of this year’s election. It follows conflicting polls in recent 6 months, some showing strong support for the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party, positioning it in second place behind Pheu Thai Party, but other surveys show just a marginal preference for the new party in both the Bangkok metropolis, where pro-junta sentiment is thought to be higher and outside it.

The new party is drawing enthusiastic support from more influential Thais, surpassing all records when it comes to fundraising. However, the conflicting polls are thought to be a cause of concern.

The new poll was conducted with a large sample of over 2,400 people from December 10th right up to December 29th or 3 days ago. It sought to measure sentiment towards the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) or the junta.

Thai people praise the junta for restoring harmony and tackling corruption in a large poll

The top-line results of the poll suggest that 39% of people in Thailand were satisfied with the government’s efforts to restore peace and harmony to the country and to limit pernicious influences on Thai politics.

Nearly 32% expressed satisfaction with the government’s campaign against human trafficking, which has recently seen the US State Department upgrading Thailand’s status. Over 30% approved of the government’s concerted anti-corruption drive which it has prioritised since taking office in 2014. There were similar approval scores for new state welfare cards and the success of the regime in preserving social order. The government received lower approval ratings for farm prices, tackling illegal fishing and unrest in the southern provinces.

Current Thai Prime Minister pulls ahead of Pheu Thai favourite Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan in the poll for job as future PM

The survey showed that Prayut Chan ocha, the existing prime minister regaining his position as the favourite for taking the top government job after this year’s election.

He polled 23.7%,  down marginally from previous polls but now well ahead of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan of Pheu Thai, who in the last major survey had edged him out but has now dropped to 16.5% support from over 25% in a previous poll.

The former prime minister and leader of the Democrat Party is now at 11.5%, just ahead of the firebrand young leader of the Future Forward Party, which is implacably opposed to the junta and military interference in politics. It shows core support for Prayut’s candidacy for the post of prime minister, which he has not yet formally announced.

The poll also showed Thai people were marginally better off in 2018 with nearly 32% reporting this status while over 42%  remained unchanged and nearly 26% said they were worse off. Nearly 54% of Thai people were optimistic about prospects for 2019 while 40% were pessimistic.

Exploratory talks between Pheu Thai and Democrat party towards a pact or even a coalition deal for a new Thai government reported

Meanwhile, there are reported to have been exploratory talks between the two political party heavyweights prior to the 2013 street protest and the 2014 coup.

The talks appear to have been initiated by Pheu Thai, which still looks like emerging as Thailand’s largest political party after the election. There is also a body of opinion that the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political force, may retain its core support despite the huge changes brought about by Thailand’s new constitution, electoral boundary redrawing and the arrival of scores of new political groupings.

This is being acknowledged by Pheu Thai members but at a different level of expectations to Democrat Party leaders and strategists. One Pheu Thai member has been quoted by the authoritative Bangkok Post newspaper as suggesting the Democrats could emerge, after the election, with between 80 and 100 seats.

The leader of the Democrats and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said this week that the failure of his party to attain 100 seats would be a resignation matter and has set out his stall to win 160 seats in the new lower house of Parliament. Mr Vejjajiva has been highly critical of the current government since politics re-emerged, in recent months, in Thailand.

This has been heightened by a row over constituency redrawing which it is thought may result in the Democrat party losing key seats. In some instances, there has been speculation that these seats could go to the newly formed pro-junta, Palang Pracharat Party.

Constitution pushing parties into an arrangement to prevent a pro-junta PM from being elected

The new election will see all political parties, who want to see a democratically elected government that is opposed to a junta figure remaining in power, achieve at least 375 seats in the lower chamber. This is because the vote for Prime Minister will allow both the upper house or the Thai  Senate to vote as well as the lower house of 500 MPs for the position of Prime Minister. The appointed Prime Minister will then go on to form a new cabinet and government. The upper house or Senate is scheduled to have an election but the final 250 senators will effectively be chosen by the junta or military. This has been criticised, recently, by Mr Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit of the new and radical, Future Forward Party who dismissed the election as a waste of taxpayers money. The leader of the Future Forward Party was questioned by police in September over a Facebook post and is known for his strident criticism of the government.

All parties weighing up opinion polls and soundings from constituencies to take stock of realities on the ground and final seat tally

The range of opinion polls and soundings from the grassroots in all the constituencies means that the leading parties in Thailand are now taking stock of the realities facing them. This has led Pheu Thai, for the first time, to acknowledge that, despite anecdotal reports of a surge in support and consistent strong showings in polls, it will not now be able to win anything like a 375 seat majority in the lower house.

Two former political forces, once implacable foes, now find more common ground

This is believed to have prompted the invitation to the Democrat party. The approach was confirmed by the Bangkok Post and attributed to a senior party member involved with the party’s electoral strategy.

Although Pheu Thai has been opposed to the new constitution and the junta, since right back to the 2014 coup, it has been reticent in its statements and less combative than the new Future Forward Party.

There are signs that both the Democrats and Pheu Thai have now more common political ground and in particular, their opposition to military rule. Pheu Thai is now facing the reality of the new Thai electoral system which will work to the advantage of the smaller parties.

Indeed many smaller parties have already been formed by politicians formerly associated with Pheu Thai. It is understood that the new parties have been formed in response to the perceived danger of the party being dissolved at a future date. The former ruling party remains under investigation by Thailand’s powerful Election Commission due to its links with ex Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Democrat Party holds the keys to power in Thailand but reports of negotiations are denied

There has been speculation of a deal being brokered between the two political parties. It is thought to be possible that the combined strength of the two groups in the new parliament would allow them to elect a new prime minister from among the old political order.

There are no confirmed figures, but it is thought that Pheu Thai could achieve between 175 to 250 seats in the new parliament, while the Democrat Party could hold between 80 and 160. A combined force between the two parties would allow, conceivably, a coalition to put together the votes required to elect a new prime minister.

It is reported that Pheu Thai would put forward Khunying Sudarat as its candidate for Prime Minister, a popular choice, particularly with Thai women. On the other hand, the reports suggest the former Prime Minister and Democrat Party leader would be offered the Presidency of the Parliament and that his party would obtain key cabinet positions in the new government.

The reports suggest that this is being discussed by leading members of both parties. The reports have been denied, however, so far.

Democrat Party leader says he will resign f his party fails to take more than 100 seats

The Democrat leader has said that if his party achieved more than 140 seats after the election, it will be seen as a success whereas any outcome below 100 would prompt his resignation.

The appeal of the Democrat Party, for many Thai people, is its long-standing association with Thai politics and a sense of continuity. The Democrat leader highlighted the party’s formulation of new policies for the country. He has acknowledged that the party is facing a strong challenge both from new parties targeting its electoral base and the new electoral system which will certainly impact it negatively.

The Democrat Party garnered just short of 10 million votes from the Thai electorate in the last election, held in 2011.

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Further reading:

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Future Forward Party dissolved – leadership banned from politics by Constitutional Court order

Parliament to debate PM’s oath-taking question which is also referred to the Constitutional Court

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Thailand seeks less rancour as it counts down to its first election under the new Constitution

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Rejection of draft constitution means extended military rule