Red shirts-turned-royalists, anti-election leaders, “moral politics” supporters, an ex-junta official and an anti-lèse majesté academic have all revealed their intention to participate in the upcoming election. And this is just the beginning.
2 February was the first day of registration for new political parties, with over 40 registered at the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT). But will these new parties lead to new choices for the people? These are some of the political groups who have already shown their intention to participate in the repeatedly postponed election.
The first party to officially register at the ECT was a pro-military party called Palang Chart Thai Party (PCTP), literally translated as the ‘Thai Nation’s Power Party’. The Thai media have criticised this party for being a pro-junta party since the party leader, Maj Gen Songklot Thiprat, is a retired soldier who has worked closely with the National Council for Peace and Order, although deputy junta head Gen Prawit Wongsuwan claimed not to know who he is.
However, while junta was banning other parties from political activity, the PCTP in November 2017 was somehow allowed to launch local branches and hold community service activities in various provinces including Nonthaburi, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani.
Another party that actively supports the junta regime is the Reforming People Party (RPP) led by Paiboon Nititawan, a former junta-appointed charter drafter. Since August 2016, Paiboon has proposed a political party to promote junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as Prime Minister in the long-awaited election.
Apart from Paiboon, Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the anti-election People's Democratic Reform Committee, has also prepared a new party in support of the junta.
Although Suthep’s party has not been registered officially, Suthep’s brother, Thani Thaugsuban confirmed the intention to start a new political party, saying that the party’s full name is “Great Mass for Reforming Thailand into a Perfect Constitutional Monarchy,” or the “Great Mass Party (GMP)” in short.
Thani added that the GMP will put up candidates in southern and Bangkok constituencies, where the popularity of Suthep’s former party, the Democrats, is high. However, Suthep will not participate in the election and merely be a party member.
Although Gen Prayut has never said directly that he will participate in the next election, the 2017 Constitution has a channel which makes an unelected PM possible.
How can Prayut become a PM?
Before the election, each party may nominate up to three candidates for prime minister. These do not have to be candidates for parliament and do not even have to be party members. After the election, all nominees of parties which have obtained at least 5 percent of the House seats go forward to the election for PM if they can get the endorsement of at least 10% of MPs. The winning candidate needs more than 50% of the vote.
It is possible that this person will be an elected MP. It is also possible that they will not. It is also possible (and many think this is the more likely outcome) that no candidate can get the votes of more than 50% of MPs.
In that case, Article 272 will kick in. This needs the approval of more than 50% of MPs and two-thirds of both houses. This Article nullifies election of the PM by the House alone and calls for an election by both House and Senate. They can vote for anyone at all as PM, no matter whether they have been elected as an MP or not.
Former yellow shirts to support so-called “good people”
Not all Thai conservatives support the military. The “New Palang Dharma Party” led by Rawi Matchamadon is a clear example. This party is a coalition of former supporters of Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuan. The old Palang Dharma Party established and run by Chamlong in the late 1980s-early 1990’s, which provided the first entry into politics of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Chamlong, who was twice elected as Bangkok governor, an elected MP and Senator, later became a co-leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy which ousted Thaksin from power and paved the way to the 2006 coup. Rawi followed Chamlong’s path. In January 2014, Rawi also led PDRC protesters to seize the Ministry of Energy in the “shutdown Bangkok” operation against Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Despite his pro-military past, Rawi told the media that the party will not promote Gen Prayut as PM. He refused to reveal their candidate and merely said that the party will support “good people” to run the country. However, he did not clarify what “good people” look like.
Rawi admitted that the majority of current party members are Chamlong supporters but he wishes to reach out to other groups in the future, adding that Chamlong will not be involved in the party due to his age.
Red shirts-turned-royalists party
Thai conservatives usually label red shirts as an anti-monarchy movement, but not for the newly registered Siam Democrat Party led by Nopparut Vorachitkul. He was the leader of an anti-establishment group called White Pigeon (Phirap Khao) and spearheaded the 2007 siege of the house of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. He also criticised Prem for backing the 2006 coup and pressured the retired general to resign from King Rama IX’s Privy Council. Now, he is the secretary-general of a party which backs a strong pro-monarchy agenda -- to increase the sentences for lèse majesté.
“The monarchy is above everything. We will demand that PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha be more serious about those defaming the monarchy,” Nopparut told the media
. “Cases should also be speeded up, so they will set an example to others.”
One party has made a stunning entrance through its strange name, the “Selfish Party” (Hen Kae Tua Party or ‘Think Only of Oneself’). Party leader Krit Takbut told the media that he chose this name because he wants the party to be easily recognisable. He added that if the ECT disapproves of this name because it is impolite, the party will change its name to “Nationalist Party” (Hen Kae Chart Party, or ‘Think Only of the Nation’)
The leader stated that his party members initially wanted to support Gen Prayut to remain in power, but now they are unsure whether the junta’s policies, especially the Thailand 4.0 policy, will truly benefit the country.
According to Manager Online, Krit was a former politician in the Matubhum Party led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army and head of the 2006 coup d'état. Krit also participated in the 2011 election as a party-list candidate but was not elected.
“New Blood” Party led by business tycoon and anti-lèse majesté academic
Although the party has neither registered nor an official name, billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a lecturer at Thammasat University’s Law Faculty, have confirmed that they will set up a political party together to offer an alternative to the Thai people. They plan to gain support from younger generations and encourage them to determine the country’s future that they want.
“The new generation is not only those who are young. For me, it refers to those who refuse to surrender to the normal situation, those who refuse to surrender any longer to what is currently happening, those who still believe that change is possible and those who believe that their power still can make society better,” said
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul
Thanathorn is known as a successful businessman from Thai Summit Group
who actively speaks against the military government and is a financial supporter of some pro-democracy groups, while Piyabutr is a member of Nitirat, a group of Thai academics calling for the amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.
Piyabutr believes that his previous campaigns against the royal defamation law will not affect his new political mission since both activities stand on the same principle -- to establish true democracy in Thai society.
“If we take a look at Nitirat’s proposals as they have continually appeared, the core principle is democracy and the need to make the country more democratic,” Piya stated. “It’s freedom of expression. I have spoken in good faith, without any bad intention. But the main idea is that I want political institutions and other organisations within the constitution to conform with democracy and remain honourable.”
It is reported that the party has tried to recruit several young activists in their early twenties as members.