Partyforumseasia: Since the Thai military ousted the Yingluck Shinawatra / Pheu Thai government in May 2014, party political activities were banned. Promises to re-establish democracy by holding elections were superseded by new promises and delays. But junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, feeling the growing frustration of the prohibited voters, has finally announced that the election will be held “no later than February 2019”. This means that there is still a year for preparations on all sides of the broad political spectrum which includes the military and several supporters who want to prevent a return to the tumultuous contestation which triggered the military coup, and especially a return of the Shinwatra clan.
Since 1 March, in preparation of the election, the Election Commission has started to accept applications for new parties, after no less than 114 groups have expressed their interest to apply. By Friday, 2 March, 38 applications had been submitted with their party name and logo, among them many newcomers. More than any other country in the region and beyond, the Thai party scene has been volatile with ever changing parties and coalitions as well as “reincarnations” of parties dissolved or banned by the courts. Registration is possible until end of March, and the Election Commission will have another 30 days for vetting and approval.
The expected playing field for the upcoming election will see at least three distinct party types. One will support the continuation of military supervision and “law and order”. Observers believe that the acting Prime Minister has ambitions to continue, which would be possible even is he is not elected, by a provision in the military-drafted new constitution through appointment by parliament. PM Prayut is being supported by several new parties, namely the “Reform People Party”, the “For Thai Nation Party”, the “Public State Party”, and “The Great Mass of People Party”. The latter has been
initiated by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, the controversial driving force behind the street turmoil in Bangkok in January 2014, to which he reportedly contributed funds from his own wealth. (see our related post “Who is funding Bangkok’s street protests” here LINK).
Another group will count on the new proportional representation system in the party law to get a few seats in the new parliament. Some of them might get cabinet posts as free-riders in case they are needed for a coalition government.
The third group may try to offer an alternative to the “old” parties. The chances of the oldest Thai political party, the Democrat Party, with its pro-establishment, though anti-military image might be difficult to gauge. Rumors that nearly 80 year-old Chuan Leekpai who was Prime Minister twice in the 1990’s would run again don’t sound too realistic. But the former Prime Ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck still enjoy massive support from their former voters and try to be visible in the media. Be sure, though, that the military will do anything it takes to prevent them from returning.