Rookie parties to redefine poll strategies

Rookie parties to redefine poll strategies

special report: The election may not be a two-horse race after all

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, centre, gestures while passing the campaign poster of the Palang Pracharath Party showing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, its prime ministerial candidate, near Phahon Yothin Road in Bangkok on Thursday. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, centre, gestures while passing the campaign poster of the Palang Pracharath Party showing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, its prime ministerial candidate, near Phahon Yothin Road in Bangkok on Thursday. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The race to the election's finish line on Sunday will see the position of the reigning titans -- the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties -- undercut by the Future Forward (FFP) and Palang Pracharath (PPRP) parties, political analysts say.

Observers are also speculating it is likely the new prime minister will come from a party that does not win the most seats in the election.

Sunday's general elections -- the first in seven years -- have also set a number of precedents never been seen before in Thailand's election history.

First of all, the turnout for the March 24 election is expected to hover between 80-90%, which means that a candidate will need to get more votes overall to win a seat in the House.

To put things into perspective, if 51 million voters, which is equivalent to about 85% of all eligible voters, turn out at the booths on polling day, a constituency candidate would need to get at least 90,000 votes to secure a seat. This is significantly higher than the 70,000 votes needed for an MP candidate to win a House seat in the previous election held on July 3, 2011, when turnout was estimated at around 75%.

However, if voter turnouts exceeds 90%, then constituency candidates would need over 100,000 votes each to secure their seats in the House.

The majority of analysts agree the majority of votes across most constituencies will be distributed mainly between Pheu Thai, Democrats, PPRP and FFP. As such, they say, the likelihood of a landslide victory for a single party -- especially in highly-contested constituencies -- is slim to none.

In reality, a constituency candidate can win without meeting the minimum vote requirement -- however, this would mean their party-list compatriots wouldn't be getting any spillover votes under the new system.

Since the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties look set to claim victories in most constituencies, their party-list candidates are at a disadvantage because they are likely to receive very little, if any, spillover votes from their fellow candidates running under the constituency system.

This does not bode well for leading figures such as Democrat chief Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is the party's highest-ranked party-list candidate, and Pheu Thai's chief strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who is placed second on her party's list. Both parties would be dealt an embarrassing blow if their core figures were to lose in the polls.

Secondly, analysts are saying the emergence of FFP on the scene under its billionaire party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit -- who is seen as a breath of fresh air by first-time and undecided voters, but criticised by others for proposing "radical" changes to the status quo -- will redefine the race like never before.

If the voter turnout forecasts turn out to be accurate, FFP may be able to benefit from the 7.3-million-strong first-time voters who are drawn by the the party's policy promises.

Mr Thanathorn, 41, who comes across as a progressive-thinking, strong leader, may also rake in votes from those in the 25-45 age bracket, who make up about 20% of all eligible voters.

Political experts believe FFP has what it takes to win about 50 seats, which would immediately make it a medium-sized political party.

The party is also thriving on strategies that hinge on openness and transparency.

For example, recently Mr Thanathorn made a pledge to transfer 5 billion baht worth of assets under his name to a trust to prevent conflicts of interests if he becomes an MP.

As a new party, FFP may be seen as less likely to win big under the constituency system -- but its rapidly growing popularity may be enough to generate sufficient votes for the party to claim at least a quarter of the 150 seats under the list system.

Jade Donavanik, chairman of the Faculty of Law at the College of Asian Scholars, told the Bangkok Post that as a new party, FFP can already be said to be on par with the more established Pheu Thai, which is considered an ally in the "pro-democracy" camp.

He also said that "silent" voters -- those who have been disillusioned by the military regime but are reluctant to vote for Pheu Thai -- are likely to shift their support to FFP.

At the same time, there are also those with lingering distrust of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who are hesitant to vote for the Democrats, out of fear the party might be unable to keep the country safe in the event of a political crisis.

These voters, said Mr Jade, would be more likely to vote for PPRP, which many believe has the ability to maintain law and order as the party is backed by the military.

Given the circumstances, the Democrat Party is now trying to portray itself as an alternative to lead the next coalition government.

Such a move was made very clear by Mr Abhisit, who vowed not to form a government with a party with no track record of "honest democracy", an apparent reference to Pheu Thai, or support Gen Prayut's bid to hold on to power.

Smaller parties, such as Bhumjaithai, Chartthaipattana and Chartpattana, are also upping their efforts to tap silent voters through different means.

However, Mr Jade said that while FFP is turning into the party to watch in Sunday's polls, PPRP remains likely to lead the next government.

But to do so, it would have to win enough seats to be able to balance out Pheu Thai's domination, he said.

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