It is an indicator of the situation which may emerge after the anticipated May 7th General Election in which the Pheu Thai Party is widely believed to be odds-on to become the kingdom’s most powerful force. There was good news for General Prayut also on Sunday as he led the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA)’s opinion poll in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat while his party, the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC), has increased its support base from 1% in August 2022 to over 21% in this latest poll.
The jockeying for power after the next election saw two twists on Sunday when influential upper house member, Senator Wanchai Sornsiri, again warned about installing another member of the Shinawatra family in the top job while a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll in the South showed General Prayut and his Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) gaining ground while Pheu Thai looks poised to poll well there. The poll spells bad news for both the Palang Pracharat Party and Bhumjaithai Party even though Senator Wanchai has suggested both as possible coalition partners for Pheu Thai after the next election with a compromise choice as prime minister as the best way forward for the kingdom at this time.
As Thailand enters an election campaign in all but name even before the House of Representatives is due to be dissolved in late March, there are signs that the momentum generated coming into 2023 by Pheu Thai is being challenged as both the Prime Minister and his Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) and the Palang Pracharat Party led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan campaign throughout the country with a signal from the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat on Sunday that General Prayut’s political fortunes are rising.
At the same time, there was another shot across Pheu Thai’s bows on Sunday when a senior senator warned that he and others like him will not vote for Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing who is the likely candidate for prime minister of the Pheu Thai Party and is leading the country’s opinion polls for the role.
Senator said in January that the Senate must reflect the will of the people after the General Election but has a problem with the Shinawatra dynasty
Senator Wanchai Sornsiri’s statement is noteworthy as earlier this year he made it clear that the two generals, General Prayut Chan ocha and General Prawit Wongsuwan, key movers in the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) that handpicked the upper house before the 2019 General Election, cannot automatically assume that the appointed 250 member Senate will vote for their political interests in the aftermath of the General Election.
The election date has already been set provisionally by the Election Commission for May 7th next.
In January, he suggested that the senators would be duty-bound to respect the view of the public based on the results of the General Election and consequently, the makeup of the House of Representatives.
However, on Sunday, he was making a different point akin to what he said previously, in June 2022.
Senator Wanchai said he personally and several other senators would never vote for Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra as prime minister even if she was the candidate of the largest party in the newly elected lower house and could command a majority there.
He appeared to refer to the Shinawatra family linked with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and to that family’s attempt to extend its dynastic grip on political power in Thailand.
Same message coming from Red shirt activists who are beginning to question the role of Mr Thaksin Shinawatra and the family at the heart of Pheu Thai
It is a message also coming from former Red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan who launched a scathing attack on Mr Thaksin in recent weeks and comes after a weekend when two key United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) activists, Yoswaris Chuklom, also known as Jeng Dokjik, and Somwang Assarasee applied to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC), the new political party platform for General Prayut.
Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006 while in the July 2011 general election, his sister came from nowhere in a matter of just weeks to being elected in August of that year as Thailand’s 28th prime minister, the first female in the role, in a landslide.
She was ousted by the Constitutional Court in 2014 and her government was later toppled by a coup d’état led by General Prayut on May 22nd 2014 following months of disastrous street protests which crippled Bangkok and severely raised tensions.
‘The prime minister is a source of pride for the entire country, and electing someone as prime minister in the manner that happened in the past is wrong,’ Senator Wanchai told reporters on Sunday.
Ung Ung has proved popular and a galvanising force for Pheu Thai which together with a very strong economic platform, has made the party unstoppable
For the main opposition Pheu Thai party, Ms Paetongtarn or Ung Ing appears to have been a galvanising force since she emerged in early 2022 to become the party’s latest standard bearer for the Shinawatra family which appears to attract support with many working-class voters who associate the family with the highly successful and dynamic rule of the Thai Rak Thai Party government led by Mr Thaksin up to the 2006 coup.
The party’s economic platform, launched in December 2022, has proved a big hit with the public throughout the kingdom as grassroots anger with the economic performance of General Prayut’s government, especially over the severe COVID-19 shutdown of the economy in 2020, remains high.
Second time Senator Wanchai has warned Pheu Thai about the danger of pushing Ms Paetongtarn’s candidacy as PM based on senate opposition
Neither is this the first time that Mr Wanchai, a law professor at the Faculty of Law at Rangsit University, has made such a pronouncement following a similar warning in June 2022 when he said the relatively inexperienced Paetongtarn Shinawatra was not the right person to assume the mantle of government leader.
On Sunday, he elaborated on this further when he insisted that the leadership of the country must be placed in the hands of someone with proven ability and the capacity to unite the kingdom.
Pointedly, he warned the office of prime minister was not a ‘toy for anyone or any clan’ as he declared that to elect Ms Paetongtarn as PM, Pheu Thai would need complete control over 376 MPs or senators as he indicated a lack of support in the upper house for her candidature.
‘It’s a slap in the face for parliamentarians and Thais,’ he argued. ‘I’ve heard and seen for myself that Pheu Thai will achieve success on the ground. It will appoint Ung-Ing as its leader. But Pheu Thai should handle this. She won’t receive the support of my coalition or my allies. Ung-Ing can become the PM if she so chooses. For Pheu Thai to elect her as the prime minister, it will need 376 of the 750 votes. All of those votes must approve her.’
He suggested that the candidature of Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing as prime minister if pushed forward by the Pheu Thai leadership will cause a landslide in the Thai Senate in opposition to her.
Senate’s say in electing a prime minister expires in June 2024 under Section 272 of the constitution
Under the highly controversial Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution, the election of a prime minister is a matter for both the House of Representatives and the Senate for 5 years from June 2019 when the first parliament sat.
After June 2024, however, the Senate will no longer have a say in the matter.
This may well enter into the political calculations of the Pheu Thai Party leadership as it continues to campaign with Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra as a very popular figurehead with the party’s populist economic policies including its groundbreaking proposal to introduce a ฿600 a day minimum wage by 2027, something that will become a key focus of political attacks with General Prayut and the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) already spelling out the danger of vote-buying policies.
For the time being, the Senate does have a voice and on Sunday, Senator Wanchai made clear that it may well come out opposed to Ms Paetongtarn or Ung Ing.
‘Senators have already come to the conclusion that any party that gains a majority of seats in the House ought to run the government, and senators ought to support the person who aligns with the interests of the people,’ he explained.
Advocated a coalition deal with Palang Pracharat or Bhumjaithai and a compromise for prime minister
He seemed to advocate, as an alternative, a coalition between the Pheu Thai Party and either the Palang Pracharat Party or the Bhumjaithai Party as a way forward with a compromise candidate for the role of prime minister.
On Sunday, a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll in Nakhon Si Thammarat showed that General Prayut Chan ocha was the popular choice for prime minister among the public of the conservative southern province.
He polled 29.08% but was followed by Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra with a healthy 21.07% indicating that Pheu Thai’s popular economic platform is helping it gain ground in the South, traditionally not the party’s best hunting ground for votes.
Significantly also, Mr Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party polled in third place with 8.93% showing his party is gaining steadily, especially due to the Bangkok MP’s steady leadership.
It is increasingly being seen by educated and younger Thais as a growing and credible party which could perform within government.
The poor showing of Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul at 3.44% again shows the damage that the party’s policy on legalising cannabis or pot has done to its potential support in the conservative and Muslim-dominated South of Thailand.
In the poll among political parties, Bhumjaithai still maintains only 4.5% support while the Move Forward Party registers 9.16%.
The poll is bad news for the Palang Pracharat Party in the southern province where Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan only polled 1.07% while the current ruling party only scored 3.13% meaning its support base has been taken over by General Prayut’s Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which came in with 21.22%.
Good news in the South for General Prayut
The poll also shows a trend seen in by-elections last year with the Democrat Party holding its own and leading the opinion poll despite internal party criticism of its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, on 22.29% while Pheu Thai, with its populist economic policies, was nearly at the top with 21.68%, something that will translate into extra seats in the General Election under the country’s new electoral law and voting system when compared to 2019.
The southern poll left the Secretary-general of the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC), Akanat Prompan, in a very upbeat mood.
Democrat Party victories in the South seen as a vote for stability despite vote-buying claims by Ratchaburi MP
He pointed to a poll in August 2022 which showed the party on only 1% rising to 12% when it became clear that General Prayut would be joining its ranks to over 21% in this latest poll.
General Prayut is expected in Surat Thani province on Monday as he seeks to build on his party’s momentum in the South.
‘I believe that with General Prayut himself and the prime minister’s leadership plus the new team in the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, we will be able to succeed in the upcoming elections,’ the top party official said.