Analysis – Prayut’s fear of Pheu Thai’s landslide is an indirect admission of being the underdog

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With the general elections right around the corner the ruling coalition parties are looking at every possible way of trying to scuttle the plans by the Pheu Thai party to be able to return to power, a desperate move that makes political analysts feel as though the ruling Phalang Pracharath party (PPRP) is already accepting that it is the underdog in the next polls.

Pheu Thai party, which is the single largest political party in the parliament, has already declared that it wants to see a ‘landslide’ victory during the upcoming elections, slated to be no later than by Q1 2023.

The current parliamentary term ends on March 23, 2023, and as per the 2016 constitution elections must be held within 60-days after the parliament is dissolved. Parliamentary dissolution is expected no later than November 22, 2022, as it is the day after which any parliamentarian could switch their party allegiance without having to pay a penalty and/or have to hold by-elections in the constituency they represent.

With the declining popularity of the 2014 coup leader Prayut Chan-ocha, there are several MPs in the PPRP who are looking to jump ships and any opportunity to jump ship after November 22, 2022, would be an open forum for anyone to move out of PPRP and therefore General Prayut and PPRP may need to block that possibility by dissolving the parliament before midnight of November 22.

Change the Rule of the Game

Knowing well enough that there was no way that the PPRP and its coalition partners would be able to return to form the next government, the coalition members have resorted to using their age-old dirty tricks to scuttle their plans of the Pheu Thai being able to get a landslide victory.

The PPRP lead coalition has managed to change the rules of calculation of the party-list MP list calculations from 100 that was agreed upon earlier to division by 500 on July 6th in a surprise move.

The parliament is set to meet today (Tuesday August 2) to discuss the final reading of the bill that would decide whether to use 100 or 500 for the calculation of the party-list MPs.

A calculation that would see a division by 100 would be more beneficial to larger parties such as Pheu Thai party, and therefore a decision was made to use 500 as it was detrimental to Pheu Thai party’s possible victory.

If this was not enough late last year rules were also put in place to use different numbers for the voting of the 2 ballot papers – Constituency and party-list MPs. A single number for constituency and party-list MPs would mean that a voter needs to remember just 1 number for the party they want to vote but this was something that would benefit Pheu Thai and therefore changes were made so that the 2 ballot papers can be independent of each other even though a voter may want to vote for the same party’s candidate.

Fading Popularity

Although ‘Super Polls’ shows that the General Prayut continues to be the top choice for Prime Minister candidate, the realities on the ground are very different. Common man on the street are already grumbling that their income has gone down while their expenses have gone up.

Rising inflation coupled with slowing economy has taken a toll on the cost of living and with it is the declining popularity of General Prayut and his ability to handle the economy.

Thailand’s economy had shown signs of slowing down for years and with the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak it reached a breaking point. While the economy finally started to recover, the recovery has been jeopardized by the global economic slowdown caused by recession that is now being witnessed across the globe.

The popularity slide was evident in many of the by-elections that have taken place over the past couple of months which has seen the opposition candidates take lead.

The 1st slap on the face came when the outspoken supporter of Gen. Prayut – Sira Jenjaka’s wife lost the much-coveted seat in Laksi province in Bangkok.

The by-elections on January 30th saw Pheu Thai candidate Surachart Thienthong being victorious in Bangkok’s Laksi and Chatuchak districts, which was formerly the seat of PPRP’s Sira.

When Sira was thrown out of the Parliament and the re-election was held, it was clear that the party was unable to maintain its own vote and lost to Pheu Thai big time as the declining popularity of the Prime Minister Prayut.

Then came the gubernatorial elections of Bangkok 2022 in May, apart from the overwhelming victory for the ‘pro-democracy’ as Chadchart Sittipunt became Bangkok’s governor by a landslide, the Bangkok city council election was also a major success that reflected the big picture of the upcoming elections with the democratic front swept a total of 36 out of 50 Bangkok Council seats, and as many as 20 of those being Pheu Thai party members.

Then came July by-elections in Lampang, which saw Detthawee Srivichai, a member of Seri Ruam Thai party, part of the opposition block, win a landslide to the Settakij Thai party’s candidate. Settakij Thai party at that point was still aligned to the PPRP coalition but soon after that by-elections, Settakij Thai party decided not to be with PPRP lead coalition anymore.

Preparing for Worst Case Scenario

The PPRP and its leaders are already preparing for the worst case scenario and are preparing various back-up parties to push General Prayut to return as Prime Minister as the popularity of PPRP continues its downward slide.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan are building up two small parties to hamper Pheu Thai Party’s landslide strategy.

The PPRP backers are in agreement that they can restructure the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party and the rebranding of the Palang Chart Thai Party.

Ruam Thai Sang Chart party, which was always seen as Prayut’s back up party in case the PPRP does not nominate him as a candidate for the prime minister position, is being put in place by former MPs of the Democrat Party who are now in support of the previous junta leader.

Some of the former MPs include Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, Witthaya Kaewparadai and Ekkanat Phromphan.

General Wit Devahastin na Ayudhya, a former leader of the Settakij Thai Party and Prawit’s close aide, had also taken over the Palang Chart Thai Party. The party changed its name to Ruam Phaen Din (พรรครวมแผ่นดิน) with General Wit as its new leader.

All these efforts are indicative of the desperate governments struggling in the unwinnable battle as it requires enormous political capital.

The Failure of Reform before Elections

With so many problems and confusion, society has questioned the failure of the Prime Minister Prayut, who took office in 2014 by staging a coup d’état against the previous government of Yingluck Shinawatra with a big promise to reform the Thai political system before holding another election.

Questions have been raised whether Prayut’s efforts to help defuse the situation and make the political system more transparent was successful or not, after almost 8 years have gone by and nothing has made further progress, even more so, the system seems to be ruined quite completely.

After Prayut took over the position, politics was still in turmoil and new problems of openly accepting bribes in the parliament has started to prop up.

The reports of distribution of ‘bananas’ in the parliament has added to the chaos, besides, a clear conclusion on the election-related constitutional amendment is still nowhere to be found.

This political labyrinth displayed that Prayut is unable to deliver what he previously claimed he would, and now these failures and unfulfilled promises are signaling to him and his team as it is becoming more and more clear that they are admittedly an underdog trying everything to survive and return to power after the next election.

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