While the confronting political ideologies in western countries are the left and the right, their counterparts in Thai politics are moral politics and the politics of economic inequality. These ideologies will be represented through political parties in the upcoming election.
In the 2018 elections, policies will not and cannot be a decisive factor since politicians have to conform to the NCPO’s National Strategic Plan which provides a policy framework that future governments have to follow for the next 20 years. Political parties then have to gain support by through their ideologies.
For a decade, Thai political conflict has been divided by colour -- red and yellow. Of course, this metaphor is superficial, yet not far from the truth. Broadly interpreted, the yellows are pro-establishment, those who believe in moral politics, and military supporters. The common characteristics of these people are that they are likely to believe that elected politicians are the root of corruption and that democracy comes with conflict and disorder. Meanwhile, the reds include those who are anti-establishment and believe solving economic inequality is more important than ensuring that politicians are moral.
According to Siripan Nogsuan Sawadee these contesting ideologies will be a decisive factor, rather than parties’ policies.
“Policy will not be a variable other than positions for or against the military, for or against elections. There are other social cleavages along two overlapping dimensions. First, the long-standing fact of unequal development such as that between urban and rural areas. This has long been an issue for Thaksin partisans, such that poor regions like the Northeast and the North favour Thaksin while the urban middle classes of the South and Bangkok oppose him. Another cleavage that opened after 2006 is the conflict between moral politics and populism.”
This article speculates on the positions of the current political parties, assessed through speeches and statements made by key members.
Democrat: say no to dictators?
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has stated the party would fight against all kinds of dictatorship including the military government and the so-called “Thaksin regime.” In other words, the Democrats will neither support Gen Prayut, nor cooperate with Pheu Thai Party.
“Democrat members still support the Democrat party leader. For those who are out of line and support Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister and head of the NCPO, please follow other options. Don’t come here, because there are many other parties for you,” Abhisit said. “If you want to be with the Democrats, you have to support the party leader whoever the leader is.”
However, the Democrats might eventually have to make either choice because, without Pheu Thai-Democrat coordination, there is a high chance that an unelected official will be the next PM. The NCPO’s constitution allows the junta to appoint all 250 members of the Senate, which will have the opportunity to vote on who becomes Prime Minister if the House of Representatives cannot agree on a candidate. This means that the votes of at least 326 elected MPs (out of 500) will be needed to offset the junta-appointed senators. Therefore, if the Democrats intend to fight against the military regime, they will very likely have to cooperate with Pheu Thai.
The evidence is that the Democrats support moral politics since various Democrats were involved in the anti-election People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which helped to pave the way for the 2014 coup. However, the relations between the party and the PDRC came to a dead end after Suthep Thaugsuban, former deputy leader of the Democrats and the PDRC leader, announced that he would support the formation of a political party to back Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.
During the past month, however, the party has tried to rebrand itself by putting one of its younger members, Parit Wacharasindhu, in the spotlight. A nephew of Abhisit, Parit has appeared in multiple public seminars on behalf of the party, proposing to create “New Democrats” with a greater commitment to liberal democratic values.
“It’s not too late and I want to become a part of the movement to help the Democrat Party overcome its past. The New Democrats will be committed to liberal democracy and ready to be representatives of the people,” Parit posted on Facebook.
He added that such liberal values mean that the Democrats will not compromise with any form of dictatorship including the so-called Thaksin regime, in which corruption is pervasive
“If the term ‘Thaksin regime’ means reducing inequality of people in the country, I might have been a part of the Thaksin regime. But if ‘Thaksin regime’ means having good policies, yet with corruption, I don’t go along with this regime, because I believe corruption is unnecessary for good policies,” stated Parit.
Democrat's rising star Parit Wacharasindhu (Photo from Matichon)
Pheu Thai: unfinalised leader
After the NCPO ousted the Yingluck government in the 2014 coup, Pheu Thai is the only major established party that has continuously criticised the junta. Its famous members, such as Watana Muangsook and Chaturon Chaisang, have been repeatedly intimidated by the ruling junta. Ahead of the elections, Pheu Thai has consistently opposed the junta’s attempts to maintain power after the general election and announced that the party will not support an outsider PM.
To prevent Thailand from having a non-elected PM, some members of Pheu Thai have tried to persuade other parties to cooperate in opposing the military influence after the election.
“Politicians should join hands before the election, and after the election takes place each party should show its stance against an outsider PM because it will ruin the system,” said Sudarat Keyuraphan, one of the candidates for Pheu Thai leader.
Unlike the Democrats, Pheu Thai has not revealed its official leader but the possible candidates include Sudarat, who has close ties with deputy junta leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwan; Chaturon, an experienced politician and ex-member of Communist Party of Thailand; and Panthongtae Shinawatra, the only son of Thaksin and founder of Voice TV.
Sudarat Keyuraphan is a potential candidate for Pheu Thai Party leader (Photo from Matichon)
Future Forward Party: new party, old future?
The FFP has brought the hype of the “new generation” into Thai politics. The leaders say the “new generation” will bring change to Thai politics. The FFP leaders claim to be a new generation of politicians who refuse to surrender to the status quo, who “still believe that change is possible, and who believe that their power still can make society better.”
The party has recruited new faces and young social activists into the party. Although most of the members lack experience in parliamentary politics, they are involved in progressive movements in various fields, such as civic education, labour rights, disability rights and decentralisation. The fact that, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a key FFP leader, is a former member of the anti-royal defamation law group Nitirat, has ignited hope among liberal individuals that this party will truly bring change into Thai politics.
However, the progressive image of the FFP has been heavily questioned after Piyabutr announced the end of his efforts to amend Article 112. He stated this after a number of hyper-royalists threatened and tried to sabotage the FFP over its alleged anti-monarchy stance.
Piyabutr added that he chose to abandon his agenda so that the party will be perceived as less radical and receive enough votes to get elected, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political tasks, like eliminating the junta legacy from Thai politics.
“I’d like to beg for mercy from the Election Commission of Thailand to allow us to establish the FFP, to bring back a constructive and strong democracy. Please allow us and, together with the people, to determine the country’s new future,” Piyabutr stated after being accused of disloyalty to the monarchy.
Thanathorn and Piyabutr at the opening ceremony of the FPP
Then anti-election protesters, now pro-military politicians
Despite joining the anti-election movement and calling for ‘reform before elections’, various PDRC supporters have formed political parties to promote Gen Prayut as PM in the next election. The examples include the New Alternative Party (NEWA), led by Rachen Trakulwieng, the PDRC leader in Nonthaburi; and People Reform Party (PRP) led by Paiboon Nititawan, a former charter drafter appointed by the junta.
Although the PDRC key leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, previously stated that he would end his role in Thai politics after the 2014 coup, he has broken his word saying that he has to return to politics to achieve the PDRC’s goals.
“I’d like to confirm that the political ideology of the PDRC to reform the country into an absolute democracy with the King as head of state must have people, people’s movements and people’s political parties to fulfill this duty and maintain the ideology of the PDRC,” Suthep stated, adding that he will not directly run as an MP in the elections.
It remains unconfirmed whether Suthep will join the NEWA or the PRP, or found a new party himself. However, any party led by Suthep will certainly diminish the votes of Democrats since they share the same pool of supporters -- southerners and Bangkokians.
Democrat MP Nipit Intarasombat speculated that Suthep’s party could cost the Democrats around 20,000 votes in each southern constituency as the Thaugsuban clan have a large political network in the South, especially in Surat Thani Province, which is Suthep’s hometown.