YESTERDAY marked a milestone for Thailand’s existing political parties, who were allowed to start reaffirming their membership lists, and their leaders began declaring their new policies, with an emphasis on the lingering military influence.
While the Democrat Party, many of whose former MPs joined the whistle-blowing protests that preceded the 2014 coup, held firm that it would not support Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha remaining in office after the election, the Bhumjaithai Party was reluctant to make its position clear.
“Party members would have to support the party’s leader, whoever he or she will be. Those wanting to support Prayut should choose the other way and not come here. There are many parties that would endorse such support,” Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.
Abhisit, however, did not rule out his party supporting any military representatives in the next elected government.
“We would have to see how the military would enter [politics] and how many votes they would have [in the parliament],” he said.
According to the junta-written 2017 charter, the Upper and Lower Houses would jointly nominate the prime minister, who could be an “outsider”, if MPs could not agree over a list of three candidates for the top job.
Given the charter-invented mixed-member apportionment electoral system, it is very likely that the majority of MPs will be from diverse medium-sized and small parties, and the major parties will have a hard time to gain a parliamentary majority.
Senators will not only be wholly handpicked by the junta, but some of the seats in the Senate will be reserved for top-ranking military officers.
Political observers have said that such a scenario would weaken the power of the major parties while empowering the military in post-election politics.
The Democrat Party’s headquarters in Bangkok yesterday was buzzing with hundreds of former MPs and supporters visiting to reaffirm their memberships.
More than 1,300 members were reaffirmed yesterday, a small number compared to the 2.5 million members nationwide who, in order to maintain its status, the party must reaffirm by the end of this month.
Abhisit also took the chance yesterday to announce the party’s agenda in what he called “the new era”.
Its new agenda would include more democratic processes at party level, including direct election of the party’s leaders via a mobile application.
“We’ll raise funds from members as much as possible and have branches covering all local areas. The party will belong to the people, not a few politicians with various and independent sources of income,” he said.
The event was also attended by Akanat Promphan, a former Democrat Party MP who works closely with his stepfather, Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the whistle-blowing People’s Democratic Reform Foundation (PDRF).
Akanat, whose membership of the party ended when he joined the monkhood in 2014, confirmed that he and the PDRF members would have no problem working with the Democrat Party, despite Suthep’s support for Prayut.
“We won’t have a condition of support for Prayut. I affirm to stay with the party and continue with our will to reform and make the party truly belong to the people,” Akanat said.
Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party yesterday held a merit-making ceremony to bless its 10th anniversary and to start the reaffirmation of its members.
Leader Anutin Charnvirakul said his party was ready to work within the current constitution and avoid any action that would create “further hurdles” for the country.
“We don’t believe prosperity can be brought about by conflicts. We view that every side has to respect the rules and the majority,” he said.
He did not rule out his party cooperating with the military blocs or even supporting Prayut remaining in the premiership.
“We will join with any party with the same ideology for the country’s peace and security,” he said.
“However, we don’t need to say anything to bind ourselves now.”
Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul receives a blessing from guests to the party's merit making ceremony yesterday