Opinion: Pheu Thai and Move Forward must learn to play the political game to progress

There has been consistent chatter within Thai political circles over the past few weeks that Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, will not run a candidate in the Bangkok gubernatorial elections.

Now the Bangkok governor race is seen as a good litmus test for the political appetites of Thailand’s middle class and the thought that PT might not run a candidate is surprising. But the political calculations that have gone into the supposed decisions is astute and given the party’s lack of strategy in recent run-off elections, refreshing.

In the past three run-off elections for seats in the lower house, the lack of coordination between PT under the leadership of Sudarat Keyuraphan and the other opposition parties, including Move Forward, have resulted in split votes and the ruling party winning the election.

Now under new leadership, Pheu Thai seems to be more savvy and political calculations and strategy have returned to a space that was once lacking.

As Pheu Thai Deputy Leader Pichai Narithapan told Thai Enquirer, the party is seriously considering not running in the gubernatorial elections because it did not want to steal votes from former party stalwart Chadchart Sittipunt who is running as an independent.

“It is something strongly being considered so that we do not undercut one another and give the seat to the government side,” Pichai told Thai Enquirer.

But while Pheu Thai have increasingly factored political considerations into their decision making, the Progressive Movement headed by former Future Forward MP Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit must begin to do the same.

In recent provincial and local elections, the group ran candidates in numerous provincial leadership contests to come away with no seats.

In a moment of self-reflection after the elections, Thanathorn said that he may have overestimated the appeal of his progressive messaging.

Likewise, the Move Forward Party – an extension of Thanathorn’s political machine – has also not been politically astute. It has run candidates in the same districts as Pheu Thai resulting in split votes once again.

Going forward, with the Bangkok Governorship at stake, and with more contests likely to come in the near future, Thanathorn and the political leaders close to him must learn to ‘play ball’ more often.

Otherwise, the people that will gain the most from their political naivete will be the ruling party and their anti-democratic cohorts. The ruling party has no qualms with coordinating strategy with their various appendages and offshoot parties. They have no problem running dirty men in dirty contests to get their way, just look at their alliance with alleged drug-dealing MP Thammanat Prompao.

The MPs at Move Forward have been in politics for two years now, as has Thanathorn and the Progressive Movement. I, for one, am glad that they are not associating themselves with the likes of Thammanat. Idealism and progressiveness have gotten them this far, and that is already remarkable.

But unless they engage meaningfully in the power games that surround Thai politics, it will unlikely get them very much further.

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