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”.

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