Opinion – Pheu Thai party is on the warpath to a landslide but getting there is likely an uphill battle

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There are questions being raised about how Pheu Thai party, the country’s single largest political party, is going to make it to the claims of a ‘landslide victory’ it has been making over the past few months.

Pheu Thai party that won 136 seats in the 2019 elections has been claiming that it would return to the parliament in the upcoming elections, slated for no later than March 2023, with at least 251 seats in the 500-seat parliament, but how it achieves this herculean feat is yet to be known.

The party had hoped that the new electoral process of having 2 ballot papers which separates the selection of the constituency and the party list member of parliament (MP), could have benefitted the party had the division of the MPs been by 100 as was initially agreed upon.

The use of 2 ballot papers is something that Pheu Thai prefers because it usually gives them a chance to win more party-list seats. For example, in the 2011 election that used two ballots, Pheu Thai won over 265 seats consisting of 204 constituency seats and 61party-list seats, enabling Yingluck Shinawatra to form a single-party government in 2011.

Despite the new party-list calculation method of dividing party-list votes by 500 seats that was passed on July 6th, Pheu Thai hopes it will maintain its lead because it still has other options.

On July 6th the parliament voted 354 to 162 to change the calculation method to have the party list MP calculation be undertaken by dividing the vote count by 500, thus leaving the possibility of Pheu Thai making it big on the party list candidacy numbers less likely to achieve the ‘landslide’.

Against All Odds

The Pheu Thai party is preparing to fight an uphill battle to be able to get its ‘landslide’ and all options are on the table with the party looking at all options on its platter to get as many MPs as possible.

One of the possibilities for the Pheu Thai party is to what is called as ‘splitting the banknote’. The splitting the banknotes is a notion that was used in 2019 elections by the Pheu Thai party whereby some key members of the Pheu Thai party went to form a breakaway Thai Raksaa Chart party. Thai Raksaa Chart party was dissolved on March 7th 2019, just 2 weeks before the 2019 elections, after the Constitutional Court blamed the party for nominating Princess Ubolratana, as the candidate for the Prime Minister.

The reason for the splitting of the banknote is no other than the fact that the use of the 500 seats to divide would leave the Pheu Thai party with next to no party list MPs as was the case in 2019 elections when Pheu Thai did not get any votes

The 2nd option for the party is to go all out and gain as many seats in the constituencies which would have as many as 400 seats up for grab. This would be more viable option as the party’s popularity continues to rise.

The 3rd option for the Pheu Thai party is to garner more than 18 million of the 30+ million votes that are cast in each election. By being able to garner up to 18 million votes or more, the party would be able to get at least 35-37 party list MPs out of the 100 MP seats up for grabs in the party list calculation.

Raising Profile

Pheu Thai Party has been enthusing its supporters with a campaign and high-profile names as it looks to settle for nothing less than a landslide victory in the next general election.

To achieve this feat, the Pheu Thai party, has looped in Paethongtan Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, attends a Pheu Thai Party event in Bangkok

Thaksin continues to woo the public by taking on his bi-weekly talk shows on Clubhouse and other social media platforms and continues to show that he is on top of the game when it comes to knowing how the revive Thailand’s floundering economy.

This revival of Thaksin in the social media has helped revive the notion that Thaksin is the best man when it comes to solving the problems that the country faces, although many a times it is these same people who protest to take down the government that is backed by Thaksin.

To cement the notion of Thaksin and his ability to care for the low-income people, the policies of the past such as the 30-baht universal health care has helped keep his name alive and kicking in the minds of the voters.

Thaksin’s 30-baht health scheme is one of his policies that has kept his popularity alive to this day. Millions of Thais, regardless of political affiliation, benefit from this universal healthcare coverage although Thaksin’s regime ended tragically in a coup, stigmatizing him as a corrupt leader. The 30-baht health scheme was also forced to continue by Thaksin’s successor governments because they all feared losing the low-income vote, which largely defines every election result, thus keeping Thaksin’s name alive.

It is therefore Thaksin’s name that many politicians want to use to gain political milage.

It is therefore no surprise that Thaksin’s daughter, Paethongtan was given the helm of leaidn the Pheu Thai party because the brand name ‘Shinawatra’ is likely to attract more voters to the party than in the past election.

This rising profile was reflected in the recent polling by NIDA, in which NIDA Poll, saw Paethongtan as the most favorable leader with 25.28% of 2,500 people surveyed nationwide, while incumbent PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was seen to be the 4th ranking with a mere 11.68%.

Even Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party, another important rival of Pheu Thai, came in 3rd with 13.24% of the vote.

“The poll only reflects a small portion of the entire popularity,” PM Gen Prayut had responded to the interviewers, when asked about the outcome of the polling, but one can believe that many leading members of the parliament could already predict where this was all heading towards.

The Bangkok Effect

The ‘Bangkok effect’ is the fact that when people are sick of an ineffective leader, they vote in anyone who is good and in the case of Bangkok it was the overwhelming majority of vote for Chadchart Sittipunt, the governor who won by more than 50% of the votes cast in the May 24th elections this year.

To top this off was also the victory of Pheu Thai in the recent Bangkok gubernatorial election. The Pheu Thai Party won 20 seats in the Bangkok city council, coming in first again with a beautiful victory in the 50 members city council elections. Move Forward party got 14 out of the 50 city council seats, thus giving the opposition 34 out of the 50 council seats.

Pheu Thai party supporters campaign in Bangkok

Meanwhile, the ruling Palang Pracharath Party fell dramatically, winning only two seats and falling to fifth place. This is also the PPRP’s second defeat, having previously been beaten by Pheu Thai in a by-election in Bangkok district 4 by a large margin.

If one looks closely, a pattern is forming here. Whenever Pheu Thai participated in a by-election in the last few months, it always won by a landslide.

Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin commented on this incident,

“Bangkok is a lot more variable than other provinces. We can not predict the next election’s result from such a small picture.”

His statement may be true to some extent, but at least Pheu Thai has proven that despite being out of power for nearly a decade, it could always come back and pull off a miracle.

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