Democrat Party’s turbulent day out: Chalermchai Sri-on emerges as leader amidst dramatic resignations. Victory came with the backing of 21 out of 25 MPs and an impressive 88.5% of the votes. Former PM Abhisit staged a shock walkout while ‘Madame Dear’ was disappointed.

It was a day of political high drama in Bangkok on Saturday when former Minister of Agriculture in the government of General Prayut Chan-Ocha from 2019 to 2023 and party list MP for the Democrat Party Chalermchai Sri-on was elected as party leader with the support of 21 out of 25 MPs and 88.5% of the vote at an Extraordinary General Meeting called for the third time to elect a new leader.

After a day of political drama in the Lak Si area of Bangkok, former Minister of Agriculture Chalermchai Sri-on merged as the new Democrat Party leader, but not before the dramatic resignation and walk out of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Afterwards, another contender, Wattanya Bunnag or Madame Dear, made clear her disappointment, although she did not tender her resignation, at this time.

The events included the dramatic resignation and walkout of former leader and prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the failure of Wattanya Bunnag or ‘Madame Dear’ to get party regulations waived to allow her, as a former member of the Palang Pracharat Party, to stand in the contest. Political observers believe that the day’s events could be linked to future political developments in 2024 and a possible alliance of former mortal enemies in political terms, the current ruling Pheu Thai Party and Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest and formerly the kingdom’s party of government.

In a whirlwind of political upheaval at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel, in the Lak Si district of Bangkok, Chalermchai Sri-on emerged as the new leader of the Democrat Party.

The extraordinary general meeting on Saturday, chaired by Acting Party Leader Chalermchai himself, witnessed a dramatic turn of events, including the resignation of former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and the thwarted candidacy of Madame Dear, Wattanya Bunnag.

Third time lucky for Democrats as Saturday’s meeting in Bangkok had a quorum and the decisive question had to be answered leading to political blowouts

The meeting, the third of its kind, achieved a quorum of 260 attendees, exceeding the required 250. Notable figures present included former party leaders Chuan Leekpai, Banyat Banthit, and Jurin Laksanawisit. The proceedings began with nominations, with Chuan proposing Abhisit, leading to an unexpected turn of events.

A 10-minute break followed, during which Chalermchai engaged in discussions with Abhisit. The former party leader, with tears in his eyes, addressed the assembly at 11:38 a.m., expressing his resignation from party membership but pledging loyalty to the Democrat Party until his last breath.

The nomination process resumed, with Det-ism Khaothong nominating Chalermchai for the party leadership. Despite Khayan Wipromchai’s nomination of Wattanya Bunnag, the meeting disqualified her due to insufficient membership qualifications. Chalermchai, now the sole candidate, received 88.5% of the votes, securing his position as the ninth leader of the Democrat Party.

In an emotional statement, Chalermchai acknowledged the pain of his decision to take on the role amid such controversy, vowing to maintain the party’s principles and ideology.

Former deputy Minister of Public Health also resigned and criticised the new party leader Mr Chalermchai Sri-on for not keeping his promise to resign

He reassured members of his commitment to unity, emphasising a conversation with Abhisit that affirmed his loyalty and commitment to the Democrat Party.

The meeting also witnessed the resignation of acting deputy leader Sathit Pitutecha, who expressed concern about Chalermchai’s previous commitment to retire from politics if the party failed to secure at least 50 MP seats in the May 14th General Election. He had earlier resigned as Secretary-general in the summer and had indicated a willingness to make way for younger blood.

He is seen as being a practical political operator, less concerned with ideology and who was opposed by Mr Abhisit who some thought could have made a comeback to the job he resigned from in 2019 when the Democrat Party joined the coalition government of General Prayut Chan ocha.

Prachuap Khiri Khan native faces an uphill struggle rebuilding a party split into factions and discord over its future role in Thailand’s new politics

Chalermchai, a 58-year-old native of Prachuap Khiri Khan, faces the challenging task of leading the party amidst internal dissent.

Abhisit’s unexpected departure adds another layer to the political drama. During a tumultuous announcement, he declined to comment on potential links between his exit and the party’s alignment with the Pheu Thai-led government coalition under new leadership.

The thwarted candidacy of Wattanya Bunnag, known as ‘Madame Dear’ further complicates the Democrat Party’s internal dynamics. Blocked by party regulations, she now contemplates her future with the party, emphasising alignment with her political ideology.

As Chalermchai takes the helm, the Democrat Party navigates a delicate path, balancing internal cohesion with external political dynamics. The new leader promises to evaluate his performance every three months and emphasises collaboration with the new generation. The unfolding narrative leaves the Democrat stalwarts and voters on the edge, awaiting the repercussions of this unprecedented party meeting.

Saturday’s shock resignation of ex-Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva after being nominated by a former party leader in Bangkok was a piece of political theatre

It was a stunning turn of events, when Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former prime minister and longstanding leader of the Democrat Party, announced his dramatic resignation. 

The meeting, convened to select a new leader after two previously unsuccessful attempts following the May 14th General Election, gathered several former party leaders, including Mr Jurin, Mr Chuan, and Mr Banyat Bantadtan. It was an eagerly anticipated occasion, with visible support for Chalermchai Sri-on evident among Democrats, buoyed by endorsements from a significant faction within the party.

Mr Chuan, the list MP, and former party leader initially proposed Mr Abhisit for the leadership role, extolling his capabilities and expressing confidence in his ability to lead the party towards democracy. However, the atmosphere shifted dramatically when Mr Abhisit, after contemplation, refused the nomination and declared his resignation from the Democrat Party.

In a poignant statement that reverberated through the hall, Mr Abhisit asserted, ‘I wish to withdraw myself as a candidate and resign from the Democrat Party. There is no other party, and there will be no other party for me.’

His allegiance to the party, emphasised by the metaphorical imagery of bleeding blue, struck a chord with party members, eliciting applause as he exited the venue.

Walkout by the former Prime Minister Mr Abhisit certainly now leaves a void within what is a very troubled party with an illustrious past in Thailand

Addressing the press on his way out, Mr Abhisit maintained a composed demeanour, stating that he had said all he wanted to say, leaving behind a sense of finality. When probed about his future role in politics, the Oxford-educated Democrat conveyed that he had not yet considered it, keeping the door open for speculation regarding his potential future involvement in the political landscape.

The void left by Mr Abhisit’s departure, a figure who served as prime minister from 2008-11 and led the Democrats for over a decade until resigning after the party’s lacklustre performance in the 2019 election, casts a significant shadow over the party’s future despite its illustrious past.

As the party ushers in a new leader, Chalermchai Sri-on, who faced no opposition due to the adherence to a rule requiring a five-year party membership before seeking leadership, the Democrats find themselves at a critical juncture.

Watanya ‘Madame Dear’ Bunnag, the only other contender for the leadership position, acknowledged the uncertainty of her future with the party. In a post-meeting interview, she expressed the need to assess the alignment between her political ideology and the direction taken by the new Democrat leader and executive committee before making a decision.

‘Madame Dear’ was deeply uncertain about her future with the Democrat Party after the outcome of the meeting on Saturday and suspended her ongoing work 

The Democrat Party, grappling with internal dynamics and leadership transitions, now stands on the precipice of change. The unexpected resignation of a seasoned leader like Mr Abhisit introduces an element of unpredictability to the party’s future, leaving party members and political observers eagerly anticipating how the Democrats will navigate this historic juncture in Thai political history.

In the aftermath of the dramatic events at today’s meeting of the Democrat Party at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel, Madame Dear, officially known as Wattanya Bunnag, is grappling with the uncertain trajectory of her own political future within the party she joined just a year ago.

Speaking candidly after the whirlwind meeting, Wattanya openly expressed her reservations about the Democrat Party, raising questions about her continued association with the political entity. The meeting, held on December 9 at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel in Lak Si, marked a pivotal moment for Wattanya, who had intended to vie for the leadership but received less than the required three-quarters of votes to change the regulations prohibiting her candidacy for the leadership.

In an interview, she reflected on the outcome, acknowledging her gratitude for the votes she did receive. However, with a tone of disappointment, she outlined her aspirations for change within the party. She hoped that her candidacy would signal a new direction, reigniting faith in the Democrat Party among the electorate. The election result, however, dimmed her hope for immediate change.

Ms Watanya was somewhat critical of the course of events within the Democrat Party and suggested a loss of faith and resolve while not yet resigning

The charismatic politician emphasised the need for unity within the party, urging fellow members to share a common vision. She expressed concern about the current state of the Democrat Party, questioning how the people could be expected to place faith in it when internal transformations seem elusive.

‘Madame Dear’ throws her hat in the ring for the Democrat Party leadership with the party at war

When confronted with the possibility of resignation from the Democrat Party, Wattanya remained diplomatic but hinted at the importance of ideological alignment. 

She stressed the significance of political parties sharing a common ideology, and that the lack thereof could prompt a reconsideration of her political allegiance. The decision, she emphasised, would depend on the party’s direction and whether it aligns with her principles.

Bangkok-based former MP to continue in politics

Wattanya’s measured response revealed a commitment to careful evaluation, review, and patience. She anticipates that a clear signal will emerge, indicating the path forward for her.

In a notable stance, Wattanya declared her decision not to accept any position within the party at the moment.

However, the Bangkok-based politician and former Palang Pracharat Party MP reassured the public that her commitment to the work promised during the election campaign, such as advocating for various laws and initiatives benefiting the people, remains unchanged. She confirmed the suspension of her party-related activities until clarity emerges and certainly, this underscores the uncertainty now surrounding the Democrat Party’s internal dynamics.

As Wattanya Bunnag navigates another crossroads on her political journey, the Democrat Party grapples with the outcome of an epic but bruising meeting.

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Further reading:

‘Madame Dear’ throws her hat in the ring for the Democrat Party leadership with the party at war

Democrat Party top leader warns of voices of hate toppling the ‘spirit of democracy’ in Thailand

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