A Looming Landslide for the Pheu Thai Party?

Thaksin’s “little girl” as Prime Minister candidate

Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s next parliamentary election is scheduled for 7 May 2023, reason enough for political parties and their leaders to start campaigning and sorting out who will be the best candidate for the top job of prime minister. As usual, campaign season is the season of promises and opinion polls while both tend to be exaggerated and often enough too nice to be true or achievable.
The country is hopeful that the economy will start to grow again after the dull Covid years, but it is also true that the ruling coalition under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is not inspiring the electorate. Former general Prayut, started the top job as junta leader in the coup of 2014 and continued as civilian prime minister after the 2019 election. He has announced that he would like to continue but his popularity and that of the military behind him is limited. His 17-party coalition with eight of them represented by only one MP is anything but stable. The opposition camp in the house counts seven member parties, with the Pheu Thai Party being the biggest one with 131 MPs in the 500-seat parliament. The party performs rather consistently well in the polls, recently with 42% against the 4% for Prayut’s Palang Pracharath Party. One of its top candidates with increasing popularity is Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. According to the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), the 36-year-old politician has increased her polling results from 22% in September to 34% in December and may be the front runner among the party’s three hopefuls. The nomination has yet to be finalized, but Paetongtarn, nicknamed “Ung Ing” declared already her “readiness” to be the next prime minister. Pheu Thai expects a landslide victory, which competing parties call hot air, but the memory of the predecessor Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) and the triumphant election victories of Paetongtarn’s father Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001 and 2005 are unforgotten. The success ended with the party’s dissolution in 2008, the exile of Thaksin, and was followed by TRT’s reincarnation as Pheu Thai in 2008. Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra was then prime minister from 2011 to 2014, her government ended in turmoil and one of Thailand’s infamous military coups in May 2014, led by the present prime minister Prayuth chan-o-cha.  
Paetongtarn Shinawatra is now the third family member reaching out for the premiership. Also known as “Thaksin’s little girl”, her profile as a politician may not yet be sharp enough to show her as predestined for the top job. Obviously, if the poll results can be trusted, there seems to be enough nostalgia for the economically successful Thaksin years, feeding Ung Ing’s growing popularity. Interestingly, political families are more common in Asia than in the West, apart from the Kennedy and Bush clans in the USA. The election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as president of the Philippines last year is the latest example in Southeast Asia.

With the election campaign starting to develop momentum, the election promises are providing fodder for the media. Whether a majority of the voters believe them is an open question, but they belong to the propaganda rituals of the parties. Since it is difficult in Thailand’s stunningly diverse and volatile party landscape to understand their ideological or programmatic differences, promises must serve as bait for votes on top of the charisma of the leaders. That seems to be similar for many parliamentary democracies worldwide and may be due to the more and more chaotic supply of news and information through mainstream and social media. (WS)

Partyforumseasia plans to start a collection of typical election promises.

Suggestions are welcome!

Promises by Paetongtarn Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party (among ten proposed policies):

  • Raise the minimum daily wage to 600 baht ($17) by 2027, nearly twice the current amount.
  • Bachelor’s degree holders will earn at least 25,000 baht per month, about 765 USD.
  • “Drugs and Pheu Thai cannot coexist”.

Much of what happens in Vietnam’s government is opaque.

recommends this article from the Taipei Times, published on 21 January 2023:

Vietnam succession heats up after president’s ouster

CORRUPTION PURGE: The ouster of Nguyen Xuan Phuc opens the door for the Communist Party head to line up a successor and shut out rival reformist factions.

Happy CNY!

The Year of the Rabbit starts Tomorrow!

The horoscope says: “People born under the sign of the Rabbit dislike fighting and like to find solutions through compromise and negotiation.” Probably there are many non-Rabbits who also dislike fighting, especially in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere. Let us hope with them for an end to the war!

Best wishes for a successful and hopefully more peaceful year!

Umno’s No-Contest Motion

The Trappings of Leadership Succession in Malaysia

Partyforumseasia: Malaysia’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party which dominated the country’s politics for six decades, is trying to digest and hopes to overcome its worst election result ever. With the reliable support of ethnic minority parties, the predominantly Malay UMNO used to enjoy stable absolute majorities. After several years of gradual decline, the shock result of the November 2022 election reduced it to only 30 seats in the 222-member parliament.
Like in any political party, victories have many fathers and unite the membership whereas losses trigger internal and public debates, rivalries flare up and the hunt for culprits is difficult to control. This was the central problem of party president Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and secretary-general Ahmad Maslan, the second in command. The calls for their resignation were loud enough, especially from the former MPs who lost their mandate, but as well from the members who blame the defeat as a deserved punishment for the years of money politics and corruption. With former UMNO leader and Prime Minister Najib Razak in prison and a conviction of Zahid looming, many were arguing for a self-cleansing exercise to improve the bad image of the party. Acquitted of 40 corruption charges in September last year, Zahid is still facing 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption, and money laundering. In most democratic systems this would have finished his leadership ambitions, not so in UMNO and not in Malaysia. With admittedly skillful arguments and maneuvers, Zahid has managed to survive. He persuaded the recent general assembly of the party (January 11-14) to vote with a convincing majority of delegates not to contest the two top posts in the coming party polls, which must be held by May 19.
The main argument tried to persuade the delegates that shaking the boat even further would be a deadly danger for the very survival of the party, especially in view of the growth of long-time rival PAS, the Islamist party competing in UMNO’s Malay vote bank. Zahid’s and Maslan’s success shows as well how skillful the two can play the party piano, even without the deep pockets the party used to enjoy, mainly from contributions by Government-linked companies (GLCs).
The outmaneuvered faction in the assembly was not only against Zahid and Maslan and a more forceful renewal, but also for a rejuvenation of the leadership. Zahid, who just turned 70 last week, has been challenged by Khairy Jamaluddin, 47, a former leader of UMNO’s Youth Wing, former Minister of Youth and Sports as well as Health Minister. As son of a top diplomat and son in law of a former Prime Minister, he belongs to Malaysia’s “political nobility”, but above all he is a political animal of sorts. He lost his seat in Parliament in November and will have enough time to campaign for a continuation of his political career. One possible opportunity will come if Zahid should be convicted and imprisoned at the end of the law suit which will resume in April. For many it looks logical that his fight for an acquittal would be supported if he remains party president and Deputy Prime Minister in the present Government under PM Anwar Ibrahim.
For students of party politics, the ongoing saga is a rather interesting case study, though, or maybe even more so, because it is not following the textbooks on liberal democracy.  But which party does?