Monday review: public responds to junta’s proposal to form political party

On 8 November 2017, junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha posed six questions to the Thai people, seeking their opinions on Thai politics and politicians, and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The questions have been interpreted as an indication that the junta is considering prolonging its power in the post-election era through military-supported political parties. 
 
Prayut intends to assign the Interior Ministry to collect responses from across the country. He did the same thing in May with four questions on elections. No results of that exercise have ever been made public.
 
The six long, leading and sometimes complex questions are:
  1. Do we need new political parties or new politicians for the people to consider in the next election? Will the old politicians or political parties bring about national reforms and comply with the national strategy?
  2. Does the NCPO have the right to support a political party?
  3. Do people foresee a better future because of the government's work over the past three years?
  4. Is it appropriate to compare the current government with previously elected governments?
  5. Did previous governments show efficiency and good governance, or contribute to long-term development?
  6. Why have political parties and politicians come out to discredit the government on an unusually large scale during this period?
Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan confirmed that the NCPO will establish a political party if it is ‘necessary’. 
 
But Prawit has denied allegations that the junta has close connections with the newly-established Palang Chart Thai Party (PCTP). Various media voices have accused the PCTP of being a pro-military party since the party leader, Maj Gen Songklot Thiprat, is a retired soldier who has worked closely with the NCPO, although the NCPO claim not to know who he is. 
 
Despite the junta’s ban on political activity, the PCTP last week launched local branches and held community service activities in various provinces including Nonthaburi, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani. 
 
Unsurprisingly, the emergence of the PCTP and Prayut’s six questions have prompted widespread criticism from politicians, activists and academics. 
 
“It’s a direct question, asking whether the people will give support if they establish a party and run for election,” said Satithorn Thananithichote, a researcher from King Prajadhipok’s Institute.
 
Satithorn believes the junta posed the questions at this moment in time to prepare for the lifting of its ban on political activity, which is needed for political parties to campaign for the long-awaited election. 
 
In other words, the junta itself must prepare for post-election politics. Electoral politics will be doubly difficult to navigate, given the junta-written constitution attempts to prevent any single party from dominating politics
 
“The direction of politics which will occur in this election is ‘three factions’ politics, comprising the Pheu Thai Party, the Democrat Party and other parties. Under the assumption that no party receives more than half the seats in parliament, a military party needs to emerge for the military to have the greatest bargaining power among the three factions in the vote for Prime Minister,” is Satithorn’s analysis. 
 
Satithorn also argued that the junta head’s six questions show that the military has learnt from its past mistakes. The military covertly supported the Puea Pandin Party in the 2007 election but the party gained little popular support. The military may choose to engage in more explicit support in this coming election. 
 
But many politicians have argued that the junta should not back any particular party. 
 
“For the NCPO to support any one party, you must ask whether its support will be through expressing opinions or through using its authority. If it is done through its authority, it is likely to be illegal,” posted Chaturon Chaisang, a key leader of the Pheu Thai Party, on his Facebook page.
 
 
The PCTP’s campaign in Khon Kaen.  Maj Gen Songklot Thiprat is the one in the hat and dark glasses hiding behind the lectern.   (Photo froKomchadluek)