'Care' already being taken for next poll

'Care' already being taken for next poll

Veteran politician Phumtham Wechayachai, third right, is seen with key members of the newly formed group Care during the launch last month at Voice TV station. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
Veteran politician Phumtham Wechayachai, third right, is seen with key members of the newly formed group Care during the launch last month at Voice TV station. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The emergence of Care, a new political group in the political arena under a Pheu Thai breakaway faction, gives a strong impression that politicians are gearing up for the next election.

Although its founders have not clarified if Care will escalate into a political party, observers are quite sure, saying it is just a matter of time.

Under the 2017 Constitution, small political parties have a big role as the law is designed to favour small parties, while the big ones could be left out in the cold as they cannot keep their list MPs. A case in point is Pheu Thai, which lost all its list MPs in last year's elections.

As Care (Creative, Action, Revival and People Empowerment) was formed by a group of high-calibre politicians close to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, some strongly believe it will eventually evolve into a new political party in a strategy known in Thai as taek bank pan or "breaking a 1,000-baht note into small change," a concept adopted by Thaksin. The name likens the role of small parties to branches that support the main Pheu Thai Party in elections.

Besides, there are reports that key politicians in Pheu Thai circles are also making a move. Among them are Pichai Naripthaphan, a close aide of Thaksin, and Chaturon Chaisang, acting leader of the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, who are said to be preparing to set up a new party.

This is a new game to accommodate the charter that seeks to dwarf big parties.

The founders of Care -- Surapong Suebwonglee, Prommin Lertsuridej and Phumtham Wechayachai -- were even touted as Thaksin's "brain" when he formed Thai Rak Thai (TRT) in the early 2000s. They played a key role in making the TRT a big winner in the 2001 election and each then rose to power as ministers. The three men belong to the progressive "October generation", while Pongsak Ruktapongpisal, a tycoon-turned-politician with dozens of MPs under his control, also has a hand in this political enterprise.

Undeniably, they are branded as "Thaksin I" men and their insistence that they are free from Thaksin's shadow seems unconvincing. Apart from their Pheu Thai connection, the fact that they used the Shinawatra family's Voice TV Channel to introduce the group speaks volumes about where their true loyalties lie.

Insiders said the creation of Care is precisely the same strategy adopted previously by Thaksin when he established Thai Raksa Chart (TRC) for the 2019 election. Had it not been dissolved, the TRC would have won 20-30 seats. The number, when combined with the seats grabbed by Pheu Thai, would have allowed them to win a majority and thus a mandate to form a government. The plan was aborted with the TRC dissolution, however, giving Palang Pracharath a chance to gather other smaller parties under its wings.

Since the charter remains unchanged, small parties will be a key factor in the next election and Care is likely to play the same role as was designated for the TRC.

Apart from serving the "1,000-baht note" strategy, Care will help solve rifts within Pheu Thai. It is an open secret that the party's top figures are at odds with Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party's chief strategist.

Experiencing the same problem are Mr Chaturon and Mr Pichai, who couldn't get along with Khunying Sudarat and were then assigned to take charge of the TRC, grouping younger generations of Pheu Thai core figures. TRC was then branded as a party for the young.

When Mr Phumtham started to form the new group, he engaged in a war of words with Khunying Sudarat through the media. Neither named names but their intentions were obvious.

Khunying Sudarat said publicly she agreed with the new group's formation because if those core figures had remained in the party, they would not have gained power as list MPs. They would have a better chance in the new party, she said, while hinting at a rift, saying: "Some who are unhappy have no choice but to go to a new party."

She is right. No list MPs from Pheu Thai made it to parliament in the last election and it is believed that the next election will end up with a similar result. Even Khunying Sudarat believes it it necessary to run in the election as a constituency MP. Hence, relocating to Care seemed to be her best option.

The rift in Pheu Thai is deep-rooted. The chief strategist is accused of a power grab, interfering in party management and even of crossing the line into the sphere belonging to key figures who report directly to Thaksin.

Politics is an uncertain enterprise, however, and those in it must remain alert for a snap election. Ongoing party bickering will put Pheu Thai at a disadvantage when compared to the government, which has both power and a greater budget. Under such circumstances, Pheu Thai could be challenged by the Move Forward Party, the reincarnation of the Future Forward Party, which is under Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's shadow.

At the moment, Care is tasked with attracting young people, Mr Thanathorn's staunch supporters. This is the area where Pheu Thai is weak. Care leaders have tried to make room for these young people, organising political events and forums. They could not do that if they were still with Pheu Thai.

Such a move is vital, as Move Forward is becoming stronger each day. With support from FFP sympathisers, the party has widened its base. If Pheu Thai is idle, it may lag behind.

Besides, Move Forward is distancing itself from Pheu Thai. It is fielding its own candidate in the upcoming Samut Prakan by-election, unlike the past four by-elections, when it left Pheu Thai to challenge the government on behalf of the opposition bloc. By fielding its own candidate, Move Forward has effectively abandoned its alliance with Pheu Thai.

We can now expect to see opposition coalition partners in confrontation with each other. If Care becomes a political party, which is very likely, a fight among the opposition coalition parties, not the opposition vs Palang Pracharath, will become tense.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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