A strong political performance is still required from the Pheu Thai Party but if it manages to secure over 200 seats in the next General Election, it represents the only viable basis for establishing an effective and secure coalition government especially as the controversial power of the Senate under Section 272 of the constitution in electing a prime minister will expire within a year.
The odds are rising on a new prime minister taking over the role from General Prayut after the May 7th General Election despite insistent claims from analysts and pundits on the Bangkok media scene that the incumbent has the whip hand with the support of the Thai Senate which will have its say in the election of a prime minister this summer for the last time under a provision of the 2017 Thai constitution. It appears clear that if Pheu Thai can maintain its current popularity, there will be a governing coalition option open to it after the poll with the reassuring prospect that after June 2024, the power of the Senate in this respect will have become a thing of the past.
On Monday, the Pheu Thai Party Secretary-general Prasert Jantararuangtong insisted that his party would continue to push for the House of Representatives to hold a debate on the government in February in which it has promised to highlight current corruption scandals, in particular concerning Chinese mafia dealings and influence within government agencies.
The Nakhon Ratchasima MP said there was a feeling in Thailand that the time had come for the unpopular government of Prayut Chan ocha to bow out.
With less than 4 months to go before the General Election which is scheduled for May 7th, it appears that the position of the Pheu Thai Party may be stronger than many analysts think, provided the party can maintain its current popularity in the polls and secure over 200 seats in the House of Representatives.
It comes with the Palang Pracharat Party and its leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, in recent days, openly differentiating themselves from the prime minister with signs of rising tension between the deputy prime minister and the PM as their political destinies appear, for now, to diverge.
Possible Pheu Thai Palang Pracharat coalition is again being mooted with remarks by Paetongtarn Shinawatra interpreted as accepting a coalition deal
Political observers and analysts over the weekend in Thailand were again resurrecting the possibility of a potential Pheu Phai and Palang Pracharat Party coalition in the aftermath of the 2023 General Election provisionally scheduled for May 7th.
Summarising the position, one analyst said that because of Section 272 of the 2017 constitution, a controversial provision which allows the Thai Senate or upper house a say in electing the next prime minister, 376 seats would be required to assure outright victory.
At the same time, it was highly unlikely that any party, even with Pheu Thai’s undoubted popularity at this time with 34.6% support in recent polls and trending higher, will obtain the 376 seats to secure a majority in such a joint sitting of the National Assembly.
New voting and electoral laws should give the party a far better chance of converting votes into seats than existed under the regulations that governed the 2019 General Election.
New electoral laws awaiting royal endorsement but everything is in order and can proceed says legal chief and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam
These new electoral laws are still awaiting royal endorsement having been submitted on December 16th 2022 and with the appropriate 90-day pending period ending on March 15th 2023.
Speaking to reporters last week, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that even if the House of Representatives was dissolved in the interim, the Election Commission can ask the government to issue a royal decree on the conduct of the General Election.
Analysts expect that the Pheu Thai Party, buoyed by a desire for change with a recent Super Poll survey showing 95% want a new prime minister and popular policies including a ฿600 minimum daily wage by 2027, will poll well in the election across the kingdom and is likely to secure over 200 seats in the House of Representatives or possibly over 250 seats which would give it a majority in the lower house.
They also concede that if the party was to obtain anything like 300 seats in the election, then the moral force of such a victory would put it in the driving seat to form the next government.
Thailand’s General Election campaign is already effectively underway with all key political leaders on the road and policy announcements being put forth
It is now a given at the beginning of what increasingly looks like a General Election campaign with party leaders on the provincial roads, campaign posters and policy announcements, that the Pheu Thai Party will win this election.
Last week, in a rare move, the Palang Pracharat Party leader General Prawit Wongsuwan issued a statement in which he spoke candidly with the media about his political activities and the politics pursued since the 2014 coup.
To many observers, that statement appeared to have been prepared for him by Palang Pracharat Party advisors and was seen as an attempt to explain the deputy prime minister’s role since the 2014 coup which ousted the former Pheu Thai Party government or at the very least, highlight his sense of duty and patriotism.
This statement was followed by what appeared to be a knockdown by the presumptive candidate of the Pheu Thai Party for prime minister, Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing who said her party would prioritise discussions, after the General Election, with parties who were committed to democratic principles.
Ung Ing’s statement said her party favoured parties with a history of adhering to democratic principles but opened the door to a coalition government
At the same time, the door was left clearly open to some possible coalition arrangement with other parties.
‘We must respect the rights of the people first,’ she told reporters.
However, this has not completely dampened speculation that General Prawit Wongsuwan and the Palang Pracharat Party may yet form part of the next government with analysts suggesting that it may be a way to heal the red and yellow shirt political divide which opened in Thailand in 2005, the year before the 2006 coup which ousted her father.
A key factor in all this could be the Sam Mitr faction that remains within the Palang Pracharat Party centred on Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin who is seen as a capable minister with a long history of government service going back to the 1990s and who formerly served in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Minister of Justice has been a steady and assured player in the government but his Sam Mitr group’s position within Palang Pracharat Party is unclear
The position of this group within the Palang Pracharat Party is unclear at this point with most observers waiting to see which way Mr Somsak will move as a sign of things to come or which way the wind is blowing.
Mr Somsak is seen as handling the current corruption scandal relating to Chinese ‘grey’ capital corruption competently and transparently while also pursuing substantial reforms in the justice system to tackle violent crime, in particular against women.
Palang Pracharat Party launches new welfare policies this week to establish its party credentials apart from the government of General Prayut Chan ocha
This week, the Palang Pracharat Party underscored its credentials as a party of government under General Prawit by launching its own social welfare policies with party insiders hoping that despite the lack of charisma of the deputy prime minister and its loss of many MPs, both to the Bhumjaithai Party and the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) of General Prayut, that the political organisation can manage to secure enough seats in the General Election to make it a kingmaker.
Recent polls however are not encouraging.
They show support for the Palang Pracharat Party flagging while that of the Bhumjaithai Party and the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) rise, especially in Bangkok and key areas where the party would have hoped to do better.
In Bangkok, the result of a Super Poll survey last weekend showed it in sixth place with only 6.6% of the vote compared to 33% for Pheu Thai.
Role of upper house may be pivotal in electing the next PM but a strong Pheu Thai win would give it moral power with the Senate’s abolished in 2024
As things stand, its greatest strength may well be the influence that General Prawit wields within the Senate, handpicked by the junta before the 2019 General Election.
In the meantime, support is ebbing away from the Palang Pracharat Party towards General Prayut’s new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) with many observers now suggesting that despite it being its first day out at the polls, it could manage to capture well over 30 seats in the General Election.
A key aspect of the current political equation that is not yet being taken into account by the analysts is that the power to elect a prime minister granted to the Thai Senate will expire under the terms of the 2017 Constitution in June 2024, just over 12 months after this year’s General Election.
The position of the Pheu Thai Party which has waited patiently for this year’s second election under the 2017 charter may be stronger than analysts think yet, barring any unforeseen developments or surprises which is always a distinct possibility in Thai politics.