The Nation



Uneasy times for Democrats, and Pheu Thai

While the current ruling party sees decline in its popularity, the opposition must decide whether to contest election

It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation for the Democrat Party while the ruling Pheu Thai is faced with dropping popularity.

The Democrats have to make a difficult decision on whether to contest or boycott the general election on February 2, while caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is reportedly feeling disheartened and is unsure about continuing her political career. Moreover, both parties admit their popularity will decline in the upcoming election.

The Democrats could delay their decision until the last day of registration of party-list candidates on December 27. Currently, the party is seeking the opinion of its 178 party branches nationwide on the issue. Their opinions, including the size of the mass rally of anti-government protesters called on Sunday, will be considered by both the new and old boards at its meeting on Saturday.

A new member of the Democrat executive committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would propose to the meeting that the party conditionally field candidates.

"I'd suggest that we campaign under the slogan 'vote for the Democrats, vote for political reform'. After the elections, we may opt not to take any political position, to pave the way for real political reform. Now we are creating the best condition that we can," the source said.

Following such a course would show that the party respects the rule of law and is trying to protect democracy under the Constitution, which is what Democrat voters really want, he said.

Democrat leaders estimate that 70 per cent of Thais believe an election is the best way to end the current political conflict, while 30 per cent do not want an election now, the source added.

"Most of the group [the 30 per cent] are Democrat supporters. So if the party decides to run in the election, it is hard to imagine what will happen next. We might become the party hated by the protesters. We might get less than 100 seats in the election," the source said.

"Now is the right time for the Democrat Party to seize the advantage as a political reform leader. This can make the anti-government protesters our supporters and vote for us," the source said.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said the current atmosphere is not suitable for the election and people have doubts about the use of power by the government. Therefore, the election should be postponed.

"The validity of the election is not determined by whether the Democrats will run in the election but whether the people will boycott the election," Abhisit said.

Since dissolving the House, Yingluck has not yet revealed whether she will run in the next election. However, Pheu Thai will plead with her to run as a party-list candidate again as she is still popular, a party source said. But they may choose another MP to become the prime minister after the election. Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, who is in charge of national reform, and caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang are emerging as PM candidates if Yingluck decides not to return to politics.

Pheu Thai, which is preparing to field all 125 party-list candidates and 375 constituency candidates, estimates the party would win 200-230 seats, down from 265 in the last election, the source said.

An internal poll conducted by Pheu Thai found the popularity of a Thaksin Shinawatra party to be the lowest in 12 years since his first government came to power under Thai Rak Thai, a Democrat source claimed. The party has lost many supporters in Bangkok and the Central region. This could help the Democrats win more party-list MP seats if the party decides to contest, the source said.

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