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Election

The day that shook Thai politics

Tim Newton

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The day that shook Thai politics | The Thaiger

OPINION

It was just another Friday except that it was also the final day that political parties were able to nominate MPs for the March 24 elections. And their proposed candidates for the role of the a Prime Minister following the election.

PM Prayuth Chan-ocha would announce his candidacy sometime during the morning, the worst kept secret in Thai politics.

After engineering a new constitution in 2017, with an outward veneer of democracy, the General and the military minders were a shoe-in to regain control following the election. Except this time they would appear to have a mandate through an electoral process.

The country’s upper house of parliament, the National Assembly, would be nominated, entirely, by the Military. But there was plenty of residual negative feeling brewing, both from the factions loyal to former PM Thaksin, still lurking in exile, and a reaction to four years of military rule.

There were plenty of new political parties putting forward MPs vying for a seat in the lower house of the Thai parliament. They realised that they would have an uphill battle. But the sheer numbers of MP candidates, the largest ever in Thai history, was an impressive show of the country’s desire to return to a semblance of democracy, even if the military would continue to pull the strings.

The new charter throws a new electoral system into play. Untested and untried. It’s a modified proportional method of choosing the 500 members of the lower house of parliament in which people vote for one of 350 constituency candidates; those votes are totalled to determine which of the remaining 150 party list seats go to which party.

Under the previous system voters cast two ballots, one for the candidate and one for the party.

The barely disguised aim was to increase the seats held by medium-sized parties, but significantly reduce the seats held by the party of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, which won every election held since 2001.

The Thaksin parties needed to pull a political rabbit out of the hat to maintain their margin – pluck a winning card out of the stacked deck.

First thing last Friday, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, actually dropped their political, and social bombshell. Although rumored in the days before the nomination deadline, they announced that Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, as its prime ministerial candidate.

Princess Ubolratana was a famous actress, singer and businesswoman. She had officially relinquished her royal titles in 1972, when she married an American and moved to the United States. At the time she was the eldest child of Rama 9, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a female, so unable to assume the throne under the Thai royal succession guidelines.

But now she was the sister of the current Monarch. And, aghast, she was throwing her hat in the ring with the country’s pro-Thaksin forces.

What did all this mean? Was there some back-room collusion between the Thai monarch and the exiled fugitive former PM Thaksin? Was this some unforeseen coup d’état attempt against the country’s military? Had a deal being brokered between the Shinawatras and the Thai palace following decades of rivalry which had caused so much political turmoil?

Was THIS the move that would break the long-standing stalemate between the Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt factions?

The news of her candidacy sent academics scurrying for their history books. The media were in a frenzy. The current PM’s nomination as prime ministerial candidate almost went unnoticed.

The news would throw Prayuth’s ‘cunning plan’ to put a democratic varnish on his leadership into turmoil.

This was a first. The first time in Thai history that a member of the royal family ran for elected office. Was it legal? Could she do it? Had she spoken to HM The King before agreeing to the invitation from the Thai Raksa Chart party?

If it had gone ahead, Ubolratana’s candidacy would probably have been a walk in the park, all the way to the keys of the PM office in Government House.

Who would run against her, or make statements against a candidate who cannot be legally criticised? Although she had relinquished her Royal title ‘HRH’, she was still very much a part of the ‘Family’.

For Thais, they would be divided between making a political vote or displaying their loyalty to the country’s monarchy – an institution with potent emotional power in the South East Asian nation.

But a mere 13 hours after Princess Ubolratana had been announced as a prime ministerial candidate, her brother HM King Vajiralongkorn issued a strongly worded statement which took the winning card out of the deck.

“Despite the fact that Princess Ubolratana relinquished her titles, in compliance with the Palace Laws, she has been maintaining her status as a member of the Chakri royal family.”

“Any attempt to involve high-ranking members of the royal family in the political process, by whatever means, would be a breach of time-honoured royal traditions, customs and national culture.”

“Such actions must be deemed a transgression and a highly inappropriate act.”

The Princess’ 13 hour political career was over.

The statement from His Majesty, and the Princess’ Instagram response the following day, were both ambiguous enough to allow the Election Commission to make a final decision about her candidacy, although to allow her continuation in the political race, in defiance with The King, would have thrown the country into a constitutional crisis in the weeks leading up to the general election.

But the drama wasn’t entirely over with rumors of a coup underway from another military faction just four days after the events of the tumultuous Friday. The NCPO’s public relations machine, along with the Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, were rolled out to firmly deny the rumors and promised to track down the source of the fake news and punish anyone who shared the news on social media.

Everything was back to normal, although ‘normal’ is never a word that can be used to describe the political situation in Thailand or the complex social links between the Family, the Privy Council, business people and the Army.

The election campaign is forging ahead as planned but March 24 is still a long way off and, really, anything could happen. The NCPO’s 2014 aim to ‘bring the happiness back to Thailand’ will be sorely tested in the next few weeks.

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Thailand. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

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Election

Palang Pracharat are warned not to renege on Thai ministry promises

The Thaiger

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Palang Pracharat are warned not to renege on Thai ministry promises | The Thaiger

Amidst rumours circulating that the Palang Pracharat Party may renege on some of the promises it made to secure MP votes from the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, the Democrat party leader Jurin Laksanavisit says he believes the Palang Pracharat party will keep its promises.

Thepthai Senpong MP, a key Democrat party member, is warning that the coalition government will be in big trouble if the promise is broken. He says the coalition government would “function with great difficulty” if the Palang Pracharat party does not stick to the promises it made to the Democrats, according to Thai PBS.

Meanwhile, Somsak Thepsutin, one of the Sam Mitr faction within Palang Pracharat, says that if one of their group isn’t offered the agriculture minister’s post (reportedly offered to the Democrats as part of the ‘deal’), the promises they made with Thai voters during the election campaign could be affected.

Somsak has already spoken of his aspirations to become the next agriculture minister, despite the portfolio being used as a political football during negotiations with the Democrats.

But the new leader of the Democrats, Jurin Laksanavisit insists that the issue of the quota of ministries for his MPs has already been settled. He re-iterated yesterday that Palang Pracharat would not go back on its promises to the Democrats. He added that he had not been informed of any changes to their arrangements despite being aware of the media reports about the prevarication.

SOURCES: Thai PBS | The Nation

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Election

Palang Pracharat still quibbling over portfolios in the new Thai parliament

The Thaiger

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Palang Pracharat still quibbling over portfolios in the new Thai parliament | The Thaiger

Election – check. Vote for PM – check. New government sworn in – not quite yet.

There is still a reported back-room fight over cabinet portfolios between factions in the Palang Pracharat Party. Several key ministries were offered to Bhumjaithai and Democrat MPs in return for voting for Prayut Chan-o-cha as PM on Wednesday.

Now that Prayut’s been installed back behind the big desk at government house, there have been sources reporting wrangling and possible back-tracking over the promises made preceding the parliamentary vote on Wednesday.

  • The Democrats were promised the agriculture, commerce and social development ministries while the Bhumjaithai were reportedly offered the Transport Ministry post.
  • Palang Pracharat MPs claim that, as the leading party in the coalition, it should control key ministries to follow through on its election promises.
  • PPRP list MP Somsak Thepsuthin, a leading figure of the “Sam Mitr” faction in Palang Pracharat, claims the party needs control of the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry and that PM Prayut will have a final say on the matter (a notion that was flatly denied by the PPRP last week).
  • Palang Pracharat MP Buddhipongse Punnakanta admits the quota of cabinet posts for coalition parties “might” change but didn’t detail any of the Cabinet position affected, including the position of agriculture minister.
  • Newly elected House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, a former Democrat PM, waded into the issue yesterday saying he was sure that Palang Pracharat would honour the promises made in regards to Cabinet posts offered to the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties.
  • Democrat leader Jurin Laksanavisit says the deal with the PPRP was singed and sealed and believes it would be honoured.
  • Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charvirakul says the agreement with the PPRP remains unchanged, and insisted the party will push for its election pledges to be implemented.
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Election

“We were robbed of victory” – Future Forward’s Thanathorn

The Thaiger

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“We were robbed of victory” – Future Forward’s Thanathorn | The Thaiger

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 40 year old Future Forward leader who was up against Prayut Chan-o-cha for the position of PM yesterday, says that the pro-democracy alliance hasn’t conceded defeat but, he says, were “robbed of their victory”.

He is vowing to work harder outside parliament to prove that to the people.

“This election is just one battle in the long journey to achieve democracy. We fiercely believe that, in the end, our day will come. Dictatorship cannot resist the winds of change, the winds of democracy. The people will cry for freedom, cry for justice.”

Thanathorn was nominated by the Pheu Thai-led alliance as their sole PM candidate for yesterday’s vote, admitted that he had little hope that both the Democrat and the Bhumjaithai parties would make the “right decision”. Without their vote the Pheu Thai alliance wouldn’t have a majority in the lower house to make a stand (even though the Senate’s votes – 250 – would have carried Prayut Chan-o-cha over the finish line anyway). As it was he only missed winning the vote in the lower house by a handful of votes.

Thai PBS reports that, despite the election defeat, the firebrand young politician pleaded with all democracy advocates not to lose hope, but to move forward with him.

“I would like to tell my brothers and sisters that this is not our end, it is just the beginning,” he said, adding that the election result was a proof that they did not work hard enough and must strive harder.

“Future Forward party would divide its work and resources into three main areas; its MPs will undertake legislative work and check the performance of the government, the party will prepare for the forthcoming local elections and strengthen the party.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS

“We were robbed of victory” - Future Forward's Thanathorn | News by The Thaiger

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