Independent candidates reshape Thailand’s political makeup

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Barring a fairly likely attempt to disqualify him on the pretext of using unauthorized campaign posters, Chadchart Sittipunt, an independent candidate from the pro-democracy camp, is likely to become Bangkok’s next governor, possibly sparking a revolution in politics. Thailand after eight years of misrule by the deeply corrupt junta that seized power in a military coup in 2014.

Chadchart, a 55-year-old civil engineer and former transport minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government from 2011 to 2014 who was briefly jailed after the coup, won a landslide victory, garnering more than 50% of the vote among eight candidates and amassed 1,386,215 votes, with his closest competitor trailing only 254,723. Chadchart also humiliated the junta-nominated candidate, Police General Aswin Kwanmuang, who garnered around 210,000 votes.

The question is whether he will be allowed to take office. The junta, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, has systematically used captive courts to thwart other popular candidates, including most recently Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the wealthy leader of the disbanded youth-focused Future Forward Party. despite more than 6 million votes in national elections after a court ruled that a loan he made to the party was an illegal donation. Future Forward has been forced to reconstitute as Move Forward and Thanathorn face charges.

Although Chadchart has presented himself as non-partisan, his father, mother and older brother are yellow or royalist shirts, and he himself is loosely affiliated with the reds, the designation for parties aligned with Shinawatra’s political power. Nonetheless, he was seen as capable and neutral and cultivated a populist image. It is also popular with millennials.

The governorship of Bangkok, by far Thailand’s largest city with nearly 11 million people, automatically makes Chadchart a national figure in a country where yellow-shirt royalists have never found a leader who could replace Prem Tinsulanonda, the deeply respected figure who rose from commanding the armed forces to becoming the king’s most influential adviser until his death at 99 in 2019.

Chadchart was joined by Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, the candidate of Move Forward, renamed Future Forward Party, who finished just third in the poll after Suchatvee Suwansawat, the candidate of the Democratic Party, which has traditionally governed Bangkok. Chadchart went on a highly symbolic boat trip on the Lad Phrao Canal with Wiroj and newly elected councilors from the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties in a show of unity and an immediate demonstration of the government’s intentions in seeking to resolve the issues of flooding in the capital, which has been flowing for decades as groundwater runs out and is expected to be underwater due to global warming and subsidence by 2040.

Like Myanmar, the military and oligarchy have traditionally set political boundaries for civilian rule and restricted the power of elected governments through the judiciary, the constitutional court and the electoral commission, which are all fully controlled by the military and the Thai establishment and have little patience with the millions of rural voters in the Isaan region. Since 1932, there have been 18 successful and unsuccessful coups with bureaucrats, generals and businessmen leading most political parties.

Although Chadchart is ostensibly non-partisan, the question is whether he will stay that way, or whether – given his previous association with Pheu Thai – he will emerge as another surrogate figure for Thaksin Shinawatra, the former mogul communications billionaire who has dominated politics from his perch in Dubai since he was ousted in a 2006 coup and later convicted of corruption charges, much like his popular sister Yingluck, who was forced to join him in exile after also being convicted on charges seen as another way to remove the family from power.

Thaksin’s youngest daughter, Paetongtarn, was recently appointed Pheu Thai’s chief advisor on participation and innovation and was named head of the new “Pheu Thai Family”, making her a potential candidate for the post of Prime Minister.

The factor that could allow electoral politics to survive is that sympathy for authoritarianism is at an all-time low after eight years of thinly disguised military rule under Prayuth, which has been riddled with corruption that the military has hardly taken on. bother to conceal. Bangkok’s election was the first authorized since the 2014 coup.

Economic performance has been poor, in part because a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases significantly slowed economic activity during the third quarter of 2021, with the economy contracting by 0.3% year-on-year according to World Bank seasonally adjusted output down 1.1. percent from the second quarter after flat growth in the first half. The World Bank noted that “Thailand’s year-on-year contraction in the third quarter was the third largest among its regional peers, after Vietnam (-6.2%) and Malaysia (-4, 5%), while the Philippines and Indonesia recorded strong growth”.

Private consumption fell, the bank said, and consumption of durable goods was particularly weak. External demand has also weakened and global supply chain and logistics issues have disrupted exports and imports of productive inputs.

Other factors playing into the opposition factor include Prayuth’s unpopularity, even among his own troops, with Palang Pracharat, the main governing party, divided and could abandon him if faced to a censure debate to be tabled by the opposition at the end of May. The Palang Pracharat party’s approval rating has fallen below 10% and many coalition partners are weary of their alliance with him, straining Prayuth’s hopes of political survival.

Even with the constitution rigged to keep parliament in military hands, the odds for Pheu Thai – and Thaksin – are starting to look hopeful. It would require a parliamentary majority of more than 375 constituency deputies, as the 250 senators are appointed by the military and are required to vote for Prayuth or a candidate chosen by the military. As the Pheu Thai cannot muster 375 deputies, it should put together a coalition of pro-democracy parties such as the MFP, the STP, the Seri Ruam Thai party, the Prachachart party, the Pheu Chat party, and even the parties who have no basic principles. but only act on the opportunities such as Chat Thai Pattana Party, Chat Pattana Party and Bhumjaithai Party in order to succeed.

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