The Nation


special report

Democrats to vote on party reform

Proponents say opposition party won't regain power unless it embraces restructure; members to vote on changes tomorrow

As long as the Opposition Democrats are divided on party reform, moves to return them to strength through restructuring seem doomed to fail. The Democrat Party will be branded as set for defeat and forever under the shadow of its arch-rival Pheu Thai.

The Democrat Party, which is pushing for national reforms, faces its own internal struggle to reform after repeated defeats in general elections for more than a decade.

Although the Democrats managed to seize an opportunity to form a government in 2008, they were heavily criticised as it was formed with the military pulling the strings to make it happen. Even though the party is credited as being the oldest political entity with established rules and structure, some key men such as deputy leader Alongkorn Polabutr believe the party has lost touch with fast-changing society and that this is the major reason it has never been able to beat its rivals, led by Thaksin.

Alongkorn has been pushing for reforms but has met with opposition from some Democrat heavyweights. The party, however, cannot withstand pressure to change and a plan to restructure it has been mapped out.

Tomorrow, the party will hold a party caucus to call a vote on whether the new party structure is approved.

The move to reform the party has come hot on the heels of calls for national reform, after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House and called a general election for February 2.

For the Democrats, the ultimate aim of a new party structure is election victory and winning the people's hearts.

Ongart Klampaiboon, Bangkok MP chairman, said the Democrats will elect a new party leader, five new deputy leaders, a secretary-general, and an executive board.

"The new board will decide whether the party will run in the general election,'' he said.

Selection of the new party executives will undoubtedly meet with opposition from some groups that feel they stand to lose power in the process of change. Opponents say the party should not change executive boards now as it has little time to prepare for the general election.

But those who support change said the party should turn crisis into opportunity by bringing about major change, as well as inviting high-calibre outsiders to join to boost the party's image and public support in order to beat Pheu Thai.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has been heavily criticised for being unable to achieve an election victory.

With the wind of change blowing at the top, the name of Surin Pitsuwan, former Asean secretary-general, has emerged as a leading candidate with his international standing, clean image and lack of political foes, although he has yet to accept an invitation to accept the post.

But party sources said bringing outsiders in to lead the party was not the Democrat way and that the party needs a person with strong clout and prestige who can control all undercurrents within the team.

Meanwhile, party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on has been criticised for not playing a leading role as efficiently as his predecessor, Suthep Thaugsuban.

Suthep cannot be overlooked as one of major forces for imminent change in the Democrats because even though he quit the party, he still has influence over some members. It can't be denied that Suthep can dictate the direction of the party at certain levels.

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