Chuwit, who recently successfully contested a court order to gag his criticism and campaign against the Bhumjaithai Party, has described his latest roadshow in opposition to its marijuana policy as a legitimate exercise in democracy. He is telling the public that a return of the Bhumjaithai Party to government office would be tacit acceptance of the legalisation of marijuana while a poor showing and their removal from power would send a message that the public is not happy with the legalisation of the drug without a vote in parliament which has seen it available in over 14,000 outlets across the kingdom.
As activist and whistleblower Chuwit Kamolvisit sets out to travel around Thailand in the next 30 days urging the public to shun the Bhumjaithai Party because of its marijuana policy, the party’s leader, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was telling Reuters that the signature achievement in government of the Bhumjaithai Party was a vote winner. It comes as the Bhumjaithai Party, over the last few weeks or so, has tried to distance itself from the controversy and reverted to the promotion of more down-to-earth policies aimed at its core rural vote, such as life insurance schemes for the elderly and easy to access loans in case of emergencies.
In an interview, this week, with the news agency Reuters, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was presented as the leader of a party which is on the precipice of significant gains in the next General Election. The analysis chimes with a Super Poll study published on Friday which has predicted that the party may return over twice the number of MPs in this year’s General Election than it did in 2019.
Contrast in different polls on support for Bhumjaithai across Thailand in the runup to May 14th
However, the analysis runs counter to credible National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) polls across the country which show the party struggling at levels well below 5% support with a provincial poll in Samut Prakan showing it only polling 1.55% of the population.
This could well be because of the nature of the party’s support in key rural pockets of the kingdom where its potential voters only show up on certain nationwide polls or in local polls in key provinces where its support is based.
A March National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll in Bangkok showed the party with a support level of 3.64% while a nationwide poll by the same organisation in March only put the party on only 2.6% support.
Chuwit’s boycott over marijuana coincides with the suspension by the Constitutional Court of a key minister in the cabinet over alleged irregularities
The party is also facing headwinds with one of its key players, Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob recently suspended by the Constitutional Court after a complaint from parliament, pending a court ruling, related to his business dealings and also a virulent grassroots campaign across rural Thailand against the party’s controversial legalisation of marijuana, the flames of which are being fanned by activist and whistleblower Chuwit Kamolvisit who has described the election as a chance for the public to use it as a referendum on matter.
He has called on them to boycott the Bhumjaithai Party and see it removed from government because of it.
In the last week or so, of this campaign, the Bhumjaithai Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has been notably paying attention to bread-and-butter issues such as the party’s policies on farming and social welfare supports for rural communities as he continues campaigning in key heartlands with the party running a full panel of candidates in the election and aiming to be returned as a key player when negotiations begin to form a new government after polling day on May 14th.
Key issue is the economy but today voters see a link between economic progress and democratic values
The key issue in the General Election is the economy but many voters have been influenced by messaging from the Pheu Thai Party and the Move Forward Party that a lack of democracy has held Thailand back economically.
The message coincides with current international politics where authoritarianism and a lack of respect for human rights are being associated with economic decline, a message supported particularly by US policy concerning the Indo-Pacific.
It is a message being embraced by younger people in Thailand
The public, partly also through its traumatic pandemic experience of command and control government, has bought into the rallying cry that this election is a choice between growth and pro-democracy parties who want to expand Thailand’s economy or the alternative, a more protectionist policy from the conservative parties.
The Bhumjaithai Party and party leader Anutin seen as having grown close to the Generals in government
The Bhumjaithai Party is seen by many voters as having grown close to both General Prayut Chan ocha the prime minister and leader of the 2014 coup d’état as well as his ‘brother and arms’ and now leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, General Prawit Wongsuwan who appears to be working very closely with the Bhumjaithai Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in this election.
Speaking with Reuters this week, Anutin underlined the democratic credentials of his party and its focus on economic policies to improve the lot of the people but warned that the dividing line for Bhumjaithai was any potential change to Article 112 of the Criminal Code or the controversial lèse-majesté provision which is deemed as sacrosanct as is his party’s support for the monarchy.
On the other side of the political divide, the Pheu Thai Party which also fully supports the monarchy has been very reticent about advocating any change to the Article 112 provision.
Move Forward Party out of step on Article 112 on the draconian lèse-majesté provision in the Criminal Code which other parties do not want to change
The more progressive Move Forward Party has called for it to be rewritten and changed so that it cannot be used as a political tool by radical conservatives against those advocating progressive change while the Move Forward Party itself has also consistently emphasised its support for the country’s highest institution despite roiling tensions and street protests against the government and the 2017 Constitution.
This week, speaking to Reuters and a more international audience, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin proudly defended his party’s policy on marijuana which is both directly and indirectly opposed by nearly all other political parties including the Pheu Thai Party and the country’s oldest political party and coalition partner, the Democrat Party.
‘Last time, Bhumjaithai Party won millions of votes from people who believed in the benefits of marijuana,’ he told the news wire.
The report quoted Wanwichit Boonprong of Rangsit University, a highly respected private third-level institution established in 1985. Mr Wanwichit is a political scientist.
Political expert at Rangsit University: Bhumjaithai Party poised to advance in the General Election
‘Bhumjaithai will likely gain the most seats among the parties in the government coalition,’ he said, suggesting that the party could pick up as many as 70 seats from its rural strongholds and in the lower northeast of the country where the Pheu Thai Party has been competing more strongly in this General Election.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin told Reuters that he was ‘younger, more fresh’ and that he understood both Thai politics and the democratic system.
In the last few weeks, the party has been emphasising its grassroots credentials and putting forward policies to rural voters designed to make farming more sustainable for less well off communities.
On April 11th, in Nakhon Nayok province in central Thailand, he talked about elderly life insurance policies and community insurance funds with cheaper and more easily accessible loans in response to the country’s chronic demographics problem which will see a rapid rise in those over 65 by 2040 and a halfling of the ratio of working people to support the elderly population in that time.
Anutin in recent weeks has been focusing on bread-and-butter issues aimed at the party’s traditional rural base such as a national life insurance plan
Among the benefits would be a ฿100,000 payout on the death of each elderly person to family members as well as added protection against storms and natural disasters.
The party is also advocating easy loans of ฿50,000 to those aged over 20 to deal with life emergencies or opportunities as required.
The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised to his audience that his party was one that pursued common sense policies and looked to the long term.
The message is in stark contrast to that of former Bangkok massage parlour boss, convict, local politician and now a social activist and anti-corruption campaigner, Chuwit Kamolvisit who in recent months, has become a nemesis of the Bhumjaithai Party.
Chuwit sets off across Thailand on a month-long campaign calling on the public to punish the ‘Mad Marijuana Party’ in his own colourful style
On Friday, Mr Chuwit began what he described as a tour of Thailand to bring his message against the legalisation of marijuana and his campaign against the Bhumjaithai Party to rural voters.
To some, Chuwit is a former Bangkok gangster with a notorious past who lacks credibility but to many others, in 2023, the former politician has become a popular folk hero who has exposed massive corruption within the police and government agencies through his recent high-profile campaigns winning him praise from former Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin who is now running in the election for the Pheu Thai Party, has resigned his post and turned his back on the Palang Pracharat Party.
The colourful activist has recently defeated an attempt in court by the Bhumjaithai Party registrar to silence his campaign in which he has dubbed the Bhumjaithai Party as the ‘Mad Cannabis Party’ and vowed to view the results of the election as the voice of the people on the matter of cannabis and its widespread legalisation.
General Election turns into a referendum on Pot as Chuwit calls on the public to kick out Bhumjaithai
According to Chuwit, if the Bhumjaithai Party is returned to government, it will signal support for marijuana and if not, the people will have rejected the liberalisation of the drug which has now found itself cleared for recreational use in Thailand with its availability through over 14,000 marijuana retail outlets across the country.
Chuwit claims Thailand’s real wealth is its youth who are threatened by the legalisation of cannabis
On Friday, Mr Chuwit said his roadshow across Thailand would take 30 days and during his tour, he would be emphasising that Thailand’s real wealth was its children and youth, against which marijuana stands as a clear threat.
He said that this was the message from doctors and social communities across the kingdom with large groups and networks coming out in opposition to the marijuana legalisation prematurely introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin when, without a vote in parliament, he removed the drug as a scheduled narcotic in 2022 without ensuring that adequate legislation was in place to control and limit abuse of the drug particularly its widespread use for recreational purposes as opposed to medical use.
Chwuit said that he viewed his campaign as a ‘righteous struggle’ and he simply wants to make the people across the country aware of what the Bhumjaithai Party stands for.
He called on the public to ‘see with their own eyes’ what the Bhumjaithai Party has introduced into Thailand and said he would oppose any political party that approves of the widespread availability of marijuana saying that his campaign was a valid exercise in democracy, one that he hoped the public would accept.