Pheu Thai tipped to prevail in Isan
But with support waning, victory will not be as decisive as before
The Pheu Thai Party will continue to dominate in the Northeast, but is unlikely to pull off a landslide victory like it did in the 2011 general election, according to veteran politicians and academics in the region.
The former ruling party has maintained a solid following in the region since its predecessors -- the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party and the People Power Party -- were dissolved. Its popularity remains intact despite an exodus of politicians joining a pro-military party.
At the last poll, Pheu Thai captured 104 seats out of 126 in the region.
This Sunday, 116 House seats are up for grabs. Bigwigs from Pheu Thai and the Democrats agree that the former ruling party is likely to capture as many as 80 constituency seats.
Prayut Siripanich, a key Pheu Thai figure, confirmed the party is looking to grab 80 seats and hopes to win all those available in Udon Thani, Maha Sarakham, Nong Khai, Bung Kan, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom provinces.
He doubts the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) will win more than 10 seats in the Northeast, noting that voters in the region are weary of the PPRP's prime ministerial candidate and the government's poor economic performance.
Suriya Juangroongruangkit, in charge of the PPRP's election strategy in the Northeast, earlier said the party was looking to win 60 seats, which is not impossible given the defections from Pheu Thai.
Democrat deputy leader, Witoon Nambutr said the party expects to win 10-17 seats, considerably more than the three at the last election.
The Democrats' policies are well-liked by the electorate and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit the constituencies the party expects to win this week to secure support, he said.
The Democrat Party has a strong chance of winning in Ubon Ratchathani, Amnat Charoen, Yasothon, Roi Et and Maha Sarakham.
Mr Witoon admitted Pheu Thai is likely to pick up about 80 seats, while the PPRP and the Bhumjaithai parties are looking at 20 seats each.
The prospect of Pheu Thai doing well in the Northeast was reflected in an opinion survey released on March 10 with 43% of respondents saying they were likely to vote for the party.
Assistant Professor Suthin Wianwiwat, who heads the E-Saan Poll project at Khon Kaen University, said Pheu Thai may be leading but its popularity has declined by almost 20% since the last election.
In the same survey, 23% said they would vote for the Future Forward Party (FFP), 11% for the PPRP, 6.6% for the Democrats and 6.2% for Bhumjaithai.
According to Mr Suthin, the PPRP's popularity rose at the end of 2018, possibly due to economic measures introduced to help low-income earners. But when candidacy registration opened in early February, Pheu Thai and the FFP's popularity shot up.
He said it is widely speculated the use of single ballot papers in the election on Sunday will prompt voters to cast ballots based on the political party they support, not candidates.
"The voters are likely to go for the party unless candidates from rival parties really stand out," he said.
Adisorn Naowanon, acting rector of Rajabhat University's Nakhon Ratchasima campus, said voters in the Northeast tend to be loyal to parties. In his view the PPRP could be in for a tough contest.
During the campaign, political parties and their candidates have tended to focus on small rallies and going door-to-door to meet voters, he said. Even if they do not win constituency seats, votes will be tallied for allocation of party-list seats.
He said the FFP, which is popular among young voters -- especially first timers -- is likely to attract supporters in Nakhon Ratchasima and increase that party's chance of winning many party-list seats.
Choengchai Jongsomchai, dean of the College of Politics and Governance at Mahasarakham University, said Pheu Thai will win the poll in the region but with fewer votes. He said the party is banking on the success of the now-dissolved TRT's policies and the prosperity it brought to the region.
Mr Choengchai said the FFP is also going strong in the race and is likely to crush the Democrat Party, which still fails to impress people in the region.
A source in the PPRP said the party expects to win 30-40 seats in the region, noting that the party's chances were boosted by the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart Party.
The source said Pheu Thai's popularity seems to be in decline in this election and its target of 80 seats may be ambitious.
Chartthaipattana Party director Nikorn Chamnong said his party has received better-than-expected support.
Among the provinces to watch on Sunday are Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, and Loei where former Pheu Thai members defected to the PPRP, according to political analysts.
In Nakhon Ratchasima where 14 seats are up for grabs, the contest is fierce even though the PPRP hopes for a clean sweep as its candidates are veteran politicians who defected from various parties.
However, political pundits here predict the PPRP to win just four to five seats while Pheu Thai is predicted to grab up to six in rural constituencies. The Chartpattana Party is predicted to capture two seats and Bhumjaithai may pose a threat in some constituencies.
In Ubon Ratchathani where 10 seats are available, the race is between Pheu Thai, the PPRP and the Democrats. In Khon Kaen with 10 seats, Pheu Thai is favourite but the PPRP may snatch one or two. Bhumjaithai is expected to take all eight seats in Buri Ram.