Big Read – Democrat party’s problems stems from leadership crisis, something that needs to be resolved urgently before it is too late

The departure of MPs is hurting the Democrat Party’s chances at the next general election, and insiders say that the party needs a new strategy and major changes in order to make a strong comeback.

“There will definitely be an impact because the government’s term is coming to an end and we are getting nearer the next general election,” Satit Wongnongtoey, a senior Democrat’s MP for Trang told Thai Enquirer.

The current government’s term will end in March 2023, if the House of Representatives was not dissolved before then, and the next general election is slated for May 2023.

“Nevertheless, there is still enough time left or at least 2 months for us to fix the ongoing problems and I have proposed to the party that it is now time for crisis management,” he said.

His comments came after reports that MPs from the Democrat Party are looking to join either the newly revamp Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), or the Bhumjai Thai Party before the deadline when MPs can switch parties on December 24.

The Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party is seen as a backup party for the 2014 coup leader and incumbent Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha in case the PPRP opted to nominate its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, as the pro-military party’s candidate for the premiership seat instead.

The Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party is currently being led by Former Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhanga who used to be a core member of the Democrat Party before he defected from the party in 2019 to become one of Gen. Prayut’s advisers.

The new party was launched in 2021 by Seksakol “Rambo Isan” Atthawong, a former Vice Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office and a strong supporter of Gen. Prayut, before Pirapan took over.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwankiri, who recently left the Democrat Party before being appointed as Gen. Prayut’s adviser this week, is also expected to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party in the coming months.

At least 4 other Democrat MPs were also reportedly looking to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party including Surat Thani MP Wachiraporn Kanjana, Nakhon Pathom MP Sinthop Kaewpijit, Tak MP Chaiwuti Bannawat and Nakhon Si Thammarat MP Pimpattra Wichaikul.

Ubon Ratchathani MP Boonthida Nan Somchai is looking to join the Bhumjai Thai Party and Samut Sakhon Rangsima Rodrasamee also said that she is looking to leave the Democrat Party but she has yet to announce which party she will join.

Pattani MP Anwar Saleh could also be joining the PPRP soon as the MP is fond of Gen. Prawit’s leadership.

The party’s leadership said that this kind of exodus is nothing new as the party that was formed in 1946 has suffered such departures in the past but it had continued to survive for more than 76 years.

Loss of Faith in Leadership

Democrat party list-MP Panich Vikitsreth told Thai Enquirer that the exodus from the Democrat first began with people who lost the leadership race to the party’s current leader Jurin Laksanawisit which includes Pirapan and Former Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij.

Panich said after the first wave, the Democrat has been “bleeding” out ever since including that of the former deputy leader of the party and former MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat Witthaya Kaewparadai who resigned after the sexual assault cases against another former deputy leader of the party, Prinn Panitchpakdi.

Witthaya already joined Ruam Thai Sang Chart along with many former MPs from the Democrat including former Bangkok MP Akanat Promphan, former Songkhla MP Jua Ratchasee, former Bangkok MP Kowit Tarana and former Chumphon MP Chumpol Julsai.

Panich noted that the party has been welcoming new members as well, including former Bangkok governor candidate Suchatchavee “Dr Ae” Suwansawas and Watanya “Madam Dear” Bunnag, but he also admitted that there were more people leaving than joining the party.

“The people who were leaving overshadowed that of people who were joining because both of the new members were also new to politics,” he said.

“The switching of parties is normal for politicians but the number of people who left the party was more than the people who joined and that made it look like a lot of people have left the Democrat Party at the moment,” he said.

For the latest round of exodus, Panich said many Democrat MPs support Gen. Prayut.

He said that after the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2014 coup leader’s 8-year premiership term limit will technically end in April 2025, many of the Democrat MPs who support Gen. Prayut expect the PPRP to pick Gen. Prawit as its PM candidate to avoid the dilemma that if they win, Gen. Prayut will only be in power for half of the next government’s term of 4-years.

That would mean that Gen. Prayut will have to join another party in order to stay in the race for the premier seat that many experts believe that Gen. Prayut will most likely join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party.

“The people who left to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart party had the hope that Gen. Prayut will be there and they believe that he will win the next election,” he said.

“Around 80% of the Ruam Thai Sang Chart party right now were former members of the Democrat and we must admit that many of them were our heavy-weight candidates,” he said.

Panich said the fact that some of the Democrat MPs are looking to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party because Gen. Prayut might be going there shows that there is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the party.

“The people who are looking to leave believe that if they stay, they will not become an MP again after the next election…and that shows there might be a confidence crisis in the leadership of the party,” he said.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit

Panich said the party will need to come up with a new strategy because the party used to have more than 140 MP seats before the 2019 election and now the party has less than 50 MPs with a chance to win even less in the next election as many MPs are departing.

“We need to gain voters’ confidence that the Democrat will be able to bring the country out of the current economic downturn and provide more political stability for the country,” he said.

“If we lost people but we have confidence and the right strategy that can provide solutions to the problems, we could recover,” he said.

Satit told Thai Enquirer that he proposed an emergency meeting of the Democrat’s executive board members to talk about the MPs who left, how to replace them and assess the impacts on the party’s popularity.

“There need to be a lot of changes because this problem of people leaving the party has been ongoing for a long time with differences of opinions and people who left believe that there are management problems within the party and we have to talk about these problems,” he said.

“If there is no change and we keep on blaming others, I am worried that we might be fixing the problem at the wrong point,” he said.

“We might have to suffer through some pains in order to make changes,” he said.

Satit also said that voters’ confidence in the leader of Democrat is still behind other candidates in many surveys, even in the party’s strongholds in Bangkok and in the southern region.

“It might be time for the people who are looking at the party’s strategy to look at what is happening and how are we going to fix it,” he said.

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