The voice of the people throughout Thailand albeit in local polls, where local issues are to the fore, did not provide encouragement or impetus for the radical agenda and changes being demanded during this year’s ongoing student-led street protests whose rhetoric became increasingly radical as the rallies went on and came up against steady, quiet but resolute resistance.
Thailand’s local election poll on Sunday has yielded some good news for all parties but shows clearly that the country is divided and not yet ready for the progressive revolution demanded by the student-led protesters on the streets of Bangkok. The poll showed Pheu Thai, the country’s largest party, retaining its strong support in the north of Thailand but a decisive win by a Thaksin backed candidate for the Chairmanship of the Provincial Authority Organisation in Chiang Mai may yet spell bad news for the opposition party’s very survival as it is currently being scrutinised by the country’s powerful Election Commission.
A decisive win by Pheu Thai candidate Pichai Lertpongadisorn in Chiang Mai’s local election poll on Sunday may strengthen the case against it currently being reviewed by the Election Commission that the party is still being directed by exiled former Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
The investigation could result in a case against the party being referred to the Constitutional Court, an outcome which in turn, could possibly see Pheu Thai dissolved if the top court’s decision goes the wrong way.
On Monday, the Secretary-General of the party, Prasert Chanruangthong, said that he was satisfied with its performance in the local polls overall but the result in Chiang Mai has sparked controversy.
Local candidate backed by Thaksin Shinawatra sweeps to victory in the Chiang Mai PAO election
News of the outcome of the poll, nationwide, was led by the result in the northern party stronghold where candidate Pichai Lertpongadisorn, who received last-minute backing from former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, won the Chairmanship of the PAO in that province, beating off his long time rival Boonlert Buranupakorn who was supported by the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and redshirt activist, Jatuporn Prompan.
Mr Jatuporn was, afterwards, scathing towards the decision by the party to ditch Mr Boonlert.
Election Commission’s interest will be piqued
The outcome is sure to pique the interest of the Election Commission’s investigators who are currently reviewing a petition, submitted only last week, by constitutional activist, Srisuwan Janya, to have Pheu Thai disbanded due to its close association with Mr Thaksin and what Mr Srisuwan claims is the undue and illegal influence the exiled ex-government leader has over Thailand’s most popular political party.
Result emphasises the status quo in Thailand, not a vote for radical change called for on the streets
The result of Thailand’s first local election held since the 2014 coup, appears to suggest the maintenance of the status quo in Thai politics despite the observations of political experts that the local elections have a difference of emphasis from national ones.
The results contrasted sharply with international media coverage of Thailand’s street protests and again shows, as in the 2019 General Election, that the Thai public has both a voice of its own and a remarkably consistent and deep grasp of the country’s politics.
This was the view of Phichit Likhitkitsombun, a former economic lecturer at Thammasat University, who said after the result that the poll result which had yet to be confirmed, showed the local poll was dominated by the older generation in Thai society.
Disappointing outcome for the Progressive Movement
The comment was made in the context of what has been seen as a disappointing outing for the Progressive Movement, led by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, which contested 42 provinces but failed to win the chairmanship of any local authorities, what are called in Thailand Provincial Administrative Organisations or PAOs.
Mr Thanathorn apologised to his supporters for the result and said it shows that his movement should have done more to get out its vote in the areas it targeted.
However, the Progressive Movement and its associated coalition, appears to have garnered 17% of the poll at 2.67 million votes in the provinces when calculated as a percentage of the eligible voting population.
This was slightly ahead of the performance of the now-defunct Future Forward Party which was dissolved by the Constitutional Court at the end of February.
The good news for the progressive wing of Thailand’s political spectrum is that it is not going away and the 2019 election result was not just a flash in the pan.
Group picked up 55 local seats but is also being investigated by an Election Commission committee
The movement picked up 55 seats on councils throughout the country.
However, Mr Thanathorn and the Progressive Movement are also being examined by the Election Commission after an earlier, complaint also filed by activist Mr Srisuwan, alleged that the movement was functioning in the same fashion as a political party and indeed one closely aligned with the now-disbanded Future Forward organisation whose demise in late February also saw Mr Thanathorn banned from politics.
On November 30th, the Election Commission said it had set up a committee to review that complaint and the activities of Mr Thanathorn’s organisation.
Some political observers are suggesting that the poll indicates the rejection of the progressive agenda particularly after student-led protests began to call for more oversight of the monarchy.
It certainly shows a lack of enthusiasm among the wider public for radical policy shifts or change.
Thanathorn accepted that the monarchy is a sensitive issue with voters but said the Progressive Movement’s views have not changed on the matter
Indeed, in recent weeks, one of the core elements of the student-led protest movement, the Free Youth group, appeared to be flirting with the idea of a republic or even communist messaging when it produced its Restart Thailand document with a logo in the form of a hammer and sickle and openly touted the prospect of Thailand as a republic.
The question of the monarchy was addressed by Mr Thanathorn at a post-election press conference where he accepted that it was a particularly sensitive issue with Thais while insisting the views of the Progressive Movement had not changed on the matter at all.
Pheu Thai won 9 out of 25 provinces where it campaigned for control of the local Provincial Administration Authority or PAO
Pheu Thai won 9 out of 25 contested province chairmanships in last Sunday’s poll and consolidated its power base in northern Thailand with wins in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Phrae, Lampang, Nan, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Yasothon and Mukdahan.
The result was applauded by Thaksin’s sister, also a former Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who also lives in exile and who was ousted by a Constitutional Court decision in 2014, weeks before the military coup.
Ms Yingluck in 2017 fled Thailand ahead of another court decision in which she was found guilty of negligence while in office and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Ruling party Palang Pracharat was behind those who came out on top in no less than 20 provinces
The ruling Palang Pracharat Party did not formally participate in last Sunday’s poll.
The country’s second-largest political party, however, was behind the scenes in its support of candidates in key provinces who came out on top.
In all, the party’s preferred candidates won in 20 provinces. These included Phayao, Kamphaeng Phet, Chai Nat, Chon Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima and Chaiyaphum.
The results show that Palang Pracharat is quietly consolidating its position in southern and central Thailand and will be welcome news for the government.