This weekend, the ruling Palang Pracharat Party won the country’s first electoral contest since national elections held last year.
Unofficial counts in the Lampang by-election shows PPRP candidate Wattana Sitwang leading his nearest rival candidate by a healthy margin.
The win shows that the ruling party has adapted well to regional and provincial politics with a ground game and an extensive patronage network that rivals Pheu Thai’s.
Of course much of this network infrastructure that Palang Pracharat has is imported directly from Pheu Thai with many of the MPs within the ruling party were ‘recruited’ from their Thaksin-backed rivals.
And with that recruitment comes the prestige, patronage networks and local knowledge that the MPs have.
This manifests itself most clearly in Thammanat Prompao, the erstwhile Thaksin ally.
Thammanat has become a sore spot among some PPRP MPs. Many see him as an unnecessary burden with his previous drug conviction in Australia, his alleged connections to the underworld and his business networks drawing flak from the opposition and the press.
According to sources inside the party and the government, many would be happy to see him go as they see him as becoming an increasing “distraction” at a time when the coalition is already gaining criticisms for its handling of the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet the leaders of the party, especially those close to General Prawit Wongsuwan (who will likely be the party’s next leader), see Thammanat as irreplaceable because of his role at the center of an extensive network of patronage and ‘baramee’ chains.
This weekend’s by-election was proof that Thammanat plays a pivotal role in provincial electoral politics. He was seen on the campaign trail and seen with the PPRP candidate strategizing and lending a hand on numerous occasion. When the night was won, it was Thammanat whom Wattana turned to thank and hug.
So even as the Constitutional Court considers Thammanat’s MP status over his previous drug incarceration, do not expect the ruling party to abandon him.
The deputy agricultural minister has become too valuable and too deeply ingrained within the party’s fabric to simply abandon.
Whether that bodes well for the long term viability of Palang Pracharat remains to be seen.