New poll rules upset Pheu Thai Party

New poll rules upset Pheu Thai Party

Party splits into offshoots to hoover up party-list seats at general election

The Pheu Thai Party is struggling to circumvent the ''headaches'' posed by a new voting system which will put it at a disadvantage in the next general election.

It has come up with a ''multi-pronged'' strategy which involves the party diversifying into offshoots to secure as many votes as possible in the next poll, as well as setting up fall-back parties should it be dissolved ahead of the poll, a party source said.

The new constitution stipulates a mixed-member proportional representation voting system and the use of a single ballot for both constituency and party-list MPs.

This will likely result in major parties, particularly Pheu Thai, winning fewer House seats, dashing its hopes of grabbing a parliamentary majority and forming a single-party government.

Critics say the new system could lead to smaller parties forming a coalition government while undermining the major parties. Under the new voting system, it is unlikely that any one single party will be able to obtain an absolute majority of votes to form a government.

At the next election every vote will count, and therefore the setting up of back-up parties is being seen as a tactic to secure votes, according to observers.

The more votes a party wins in the constituency system, the less votes in the party-list system it will get. In light of this, a party may need to set up additional parties to gain party-list votes.

The total number of MPs will be capped at 500, of which 350 are elected from constituencies and 150 from the party lists which will be proportionally allocated to each party based on the number of votes from constituencies.

However, in this election, the votes cast for losing constituency candidates will still be used to calculate the number of party-list seats, rather than being thrown away under the old first-past-the-post system.

Candidates who win the most votes in each constituency will still automatically become members of parliament, while the parties of unsuccessful candidates still have a chance of securing a party-list seat in parliament.

Had the new rules been used for the 2011 election, for example, Pheu Thai would have won no party-list seats at all, according to party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai.

Therefore, Pheu Thai is having to be creative with its ''multi-pronged'' strategy which involves the offshoots and fall-back parties, a party source said.

The strategy has been designed to circumvent the constraints of the new system, the same source said.

As the new electoral method means Pheu Thai might not capture any party-list seats, it will need allies to collect these valuable "loser votes" that will translate into party-list seats, said the source.

Pheu Thai will work with these "allies" to capture the most seats from both the constituency and the party-list systems in the next poll, the source said. Among ithese allies is the Thai Raksa Chart Party.

Under the strategy, Pheu Thai will focus on securing constituency seats, though the party does not plan to stand in all 350 constituencies nationwide, the source said.

In fact, it will contest only 250 constituencies mostly in the North and the Northeast which are its major strongholds, leaving Thai Raksa Chart to differentiate itself from its unpopular cousin and run in the 100 other constituencies in the South, the East and the Central Plains region in order to pick up "loser votes", which will translate into party list seats, the source said.

According to the source, if and when the two parties, as well as others which share the same political ideologies form an alliance after the poll, they hope to have more than 250 MP seats between them, which will hand them a parliamentary majority.

Thai Raksa Chart is marketing itself as a gathering of "political young bloods".

While most of the party's core members are young, they largely come from prominent political families known to have close affiliations with the Shinawatra family, whose political and bloodline connections run deep in the Pheu Thai.

Lt Preechapol Pongpanich, the party's leader and a former MP for Khon Kaen, is the son of former senator Rabiabrat Pongpanich and former deputy interior minister Sermsak Pongpanich. Party secretary-general, Mitti Tiyapairat, is the son of former parliament president Yongyuth Tiyapairat.

Lt Preechapol said Thai Raksa Chart's policies focus mainly on making the most of technology and innovation to improve people's lives and boost the country's competitiveness.

The party brings together a new generation of talented politicians with modern ideas, he said, adding that the party will not leave any Thai people behind.

''We will apply technology in the best interests of the country. We believe we will come up with policies which respond to the people's needs. We are confident we can change the country for the better,'' Lt Preechapol said.

The source said some key Pheu Thai figures such as Chaturon Chaisang, and former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan were making decisions about whether to join Thai Raksa Chart. The party will hold an activity on Nov 19 to unveil its policies, candidates and key members who have joined from Pheu Thai.

Mr Phumthum said the new constitution was designed to stunt the growth of parties so some Pheu Thai members have decided to defect to Thai Raksa Chart. "However, this will not affect Pheu Thai because it is already a major party with a lot of personnel," Mr Phumtham said.

Another party which is known to be aligned with Pheu Thai is Pheu Tham, headed by former justice minister Sompong Amornwiwat. It is likely to serve as a "fall-back" party for Pheu Thai members who are worried about the possible dissolution of Pheu Thai amid allegations fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, considered a party outsider, is pulling the strings.

Another ally of Pheu Thai is the Pheu Chart Party which is reportedly backed by Mr Yongyuth and Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.

Mr Jatuporn has pledged support for Pheu Chart, saying the party is part of a ''pro-democracy" camp comprising Pheu Thai, Pheu Tham and Thai Raksa Chart parties. He said these parties will compete in the election without any collusion and will let the people decide to vote for their preferred parties themselves.

Virot Ali, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said that the Pheu Thai has devised this multi-pronged strategy to prepare for the next poll as a result of the new voting method. Another reason for the emergence of these so-called sister parties is the competition for leadership roles between some key party members, Mr Virot said.

For example, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who was recently named as chairwoman of Pheu Thai's election strategy committee, is flexible and able to make compromises with all sides, but some party members who have strongly-held beliefs such as Mr Chaturon are not keen to work under her, so they may break away and defect to Thai Raksa Chart, Mr Virot said.

Competition among party members vying to run in the constituencies must also be factored in, Mr Virot said. The Thai Raksa Chart may accommodate those who are seeking to contest the constituency system but are unable to find space to do so under the Pheu Thai's banner. But the Thai Raksa Chart and the Pheu Thai are still allies, Mr Virot said.

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