Licking its post-poll wounds, PPRP faces downgrade to 'medium' status

Licking its post-poll wounds, PPRP faces downgrade to 'medium' status

Last week's gubernatorial and council races are bad omens for Palang Pracharath, which faces a drubbing at the next national poll

Palang Pracharath Party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon greets his party members in a meeting in Bangkok last November. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
Palang Pracharath Party leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon greets his party members in a meeting in Bangkok last November. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

The results of the gubernatorial race and the city council election on May 22 are troubling developments for the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) with political analysts agreeing the ruling party is unlikely to repeat its 2019 poll success in Bangkok.

Former Pheu Thai heavyweight Chadchart Sittipunt won the governor contest as an independent candidate overwhelmingly with 1.38 million votes, leaving his opponents far behind.

The Pheu Thai Party's victory in the city council election was also a phenomenon; it captured 20 out of the 50 seats up for grabs while the PPRP won only two seats. 

The Pheu Thai Party also defeated its arch rival the Democrat Party in this local poll with the latter securing only nine seats. The Move Forward Party (MFP) made inroads winning 14 seats and the remaining seats were shared by the Thai Srang Thai Party and independent groups.

Seeing connections between last Sunday's contest and the coming national election, political observers are convinced the PPRP is no longer in pole position and the party can go from being a major party to a medium-sized one.

Stithorn Thananithichote, a political analyst at King Prajadhipok's Institute, said despite the election loss, it is not yet the end of the road for the ruling PPRP, which did not field a candidate to vie for the governorship.

The number of votes cast for two independent candidates -- former Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang and former deputy Bangkok governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul -- should be taken into consideration when assessing the PPRP's support base, he said.

Both candidates received combined votes of 445,339 in an unofficial vote count and in his opinion the figure is "not ugly". The number is in keeping with the 464,450 votes cast for city council candidates running under the banner of the PPRP and the Rak Krungthep group of Pol Gen Aswin.

According to Mr Stithorn, political sentiment has changed from three years ago and city voters see no reason why they should root for the PPRP again.

Back then the PPRP nominated Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as the party's sole prime minister candidate and capitalised on his popularity to win the polls and lead the formation of the coalition government.

To come back from the latest defeat, the PPRP and Gen Prayut will need to bring together their political allies to build one solid support base and map out a new election strategy, he said.

Dogged by internal rifts, the ruling party has seen the departure of key figures who set up their own political outfits to challenge their old party such as the Sang Anakhot Thai (Building Thailand's Future) Party and the Setthakij Thai Party.

PPRP heavyweight Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said internal rifts within the party combined with economic hardship have eroded public confidence and contributed to the election loss.

This is not to mention local election laws which prohibit MPs and cabinet ministers from helping city council candidates in their election campaign, he said.

However, Mr Chaiwut insisted that it is not the end for the PPRP which is revamping its strategy to boost confidence. "Our party still has value. Gen Prayut still has public support although some may not like him."

PPRP's city base in danger

However, deputy Pheu Thai leader Sutin Klungsang said last Sunday's election indicates the coalition government's popularity has hit rock bottom.

In 2019, the PPRP won 12 House seats, so the party was expected to secure at least 12 seats in the city council. The PPRP's previous win was largely tied to the party's approval rating, not to candidates, he said.

Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham disagreed with an observation that votes cast for Mr Sakoltee and Pol Gen Aswin are from the PPRP's supporters.

In his view, Mr Sakoltee's votes are from supporters from the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement while Pol Gen Aswin, who was in office for five long years, is likely to have built his own support base.

Mr Sutin believed the Pheu Thai Party and the MFP would make more gains in the coming general election in Bangkok at the expense of the PPRP.

Deputy Democrat leader Ongart Khlampaiboon said the PPRP's election win in 2019 is linked to Gen Prayut's popularity and the party will have a tough job ahead in the next poll.

He also said the party's chance of winning more seats in the city council was cut by the Kla Party led by former Democrat heavyweight Korn Chatikavanij, after votes cast for candidates of the pair exceeded those of the MFP.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said the May 22 election outcome does not bode well for the PPRP and Gen Prayut.

"There is 80% chance the PPRP won't win a single seat in Bangkok. Several of their MPs were elected because of Gen Prayut's popularity. But the governor contest signals city voters' demand for a middle path and determination to solve problems," he said.

To stay competitive in the next poll, the PPRP will have to rebrand itself, find new political influencers and focus its election campaign in the northeastern and central regions, he said.

Even so, the PPRP will find it hard to keep its House seats at 118 and is predicted to get between 70-80 seats only, he said, stressing the ruling party may have to let go of Bangkok.

Mr Wanwichit said if Gen Prayut is determined to seek another term as the prime minister, he will have to engage with voters to lure their support and cannot avoid public debates like he did in the previous election.

Is Gen Prayut losing his edge?

Yutthaporn Isarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said the PPRP's popularity has dropped sharply and the party's chances of repeating its poll success in the next election are slim.

However, he pointed out that Bangkok is just one battlefield and the result of the mayoral election in Pattaya is more or less a representation of politics in the provinces.

"The election in the provinces will depend on whether key factions in the PPRP like the Sam Mitr faction will remain with the party. The situation within the party should be of prime concern," he said.

He said there is not enough time for the ruling party to find a game changer and its chance of bouncing back is smaller than that of Gen Prayut leaving politics.

Sukhum Nuansakul, a political analyst and former rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, said while the PPRP has confidence in Gen Prayut, the political landscape has already shifted.

He said the election is determined by many factors including organised support and the PPRP's rivals -- the Pheu Thai Party and the MFP -- expanding their bases. Even the Democrat Party, which did not win a single House seat in Bangkok, is deemed to be slowly recouping support, he said.

Pichai Rattanadilok Na Phuket, political science lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration, said votes cast for the PPRP in Bangkok in the 2019 election will be distributed among the Democrat Party and the Kla Party in the next contest.

In the provinces where elections are dependent on organised support and a patronage system, the PPRP still has a chance, he said. The national poll will be fiercely contested by the PPRP, the Pheu Thai Party, the Democrat Party and the Bhumjaithai Party.

However, Mr Pichai sees no chance of Gen Prayut returning as PM. His approval rating in the Nida poll in March fell from 30% to 12%.

"Gen Prayut will no longer lure votes for the PPRP and he has no connections with MPs unlike PPRP leader Gen Prawit. I believe the PPRP will become a medium-sized party in the next poll, finishing third or even fourth in the race," he said.

He said the Pheu Thai Party has a strong chance of winning the coming election but by how much will depend on its policies and canvassers.

"If the Pheu Thai wins the majority it still has to face the senate. If the senators go with the majority in the House, the Pheu Thai Party can form the government. If not, it may result in another political crisis," he said.

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