Are landslide dreams receding?
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Are landslide dreams receding?

ABOUT POLITICS: Pheu Thai appears not so hot on the campaign trail as Paetongtarn Shinawatra greets empty seats | Pundits are divided over whether a Democrat gamble to turn to former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will pay dividends at the polls

Paetongtarn: Greeting less-packed audiences
Paetongtarn: Greeting less-packed audiences

The main opposition Pheu Thai Party has embarked on an early start in the pre-election campaign, which should give it plenty of time to prepare for the next poll.

Time may be on the party's side, but it is not the only factor electoral success rides on.

Pheu Thai sprang a surprise when it introduced the country to its presumptive prime ministerial candidate, Paetongtarn "Ung Ing" Shinawatra, a blood relation of its most respected figure, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The party installed her in the powerful yet little-known positions of chief adviser on public participation and innovation and head of the Pheu Thai family.

Thaksin's youngest daughter has been leading the party's election landslide mantra in campaign rallies in several provinces, including in the Northeast, the region most abundant in constituencies, where Pheu Thai has high hopes in a bid to realise its landslide goal.

However, the party's falling out with some factions of its red-shirt traditional support base is believed to pose a major hindrance to any clean sweep it was hoping to achieve in many "sure-bet" provinces.

Scenes that could add more credibility to claims the party may be on shaky ground emerged last week when video clips circulated on social media showing people filing out of a Pheu Thai campaign rally while its star speaker, Nattawut Saikuar, was delivering his rousing address on stage in the northeastern province of Kalasin.

At another rally site, a video was also released online of a half-full campaign venue in Roi Et, also in the Northeast. This time, though, it was Ms Paetongtarn taking to the stage and speaking to supporters seated in the front, while row after row of empty chairs were visible behind them.

Observers agreed Pheu Thai has some show-stopping campaign speakers with the likes of Mr Nattawut, whose speeches have riveted audiences.

Although Ms Paetongtarn's skill as an orator may not rival those of the party's more seasoned speakers, her stature in Pheu Thai and the Shinawatra clan, as well as her possibly being on course to become the next prime minister, should give the party reason to ensure she rules the rally stage whenever she appears.

That means a packed audience, according to the observers.

But the semi-deserted rallies in those two provinces had many searching for an answer as to why Pheu Thai appeared to have lost its magnetism on the campaign trail.

Analysts say Ms Paetongtarn's role in the main opposition party may have partly contributed to a change of tack in its election manoeuvring and the methodology it adopts when reaching out to younger voters.

Young herself and head of the Pheu Thai "family", Ms Paetongtarn, 36, may find it useful to recruit more new-generation staff with a common interest, who also operate on the same wavelength and could serve her well if and when she occupies the seat of prime minister.

An infusion of new ideas advocated by younger people is expected to play a key role in the party's formulation of election policies and key decision-making processes, which could cause Pheu Thai's conventional campaign strategy and practices to be given a lower priority, despite them effectively being wooed by a large swath of voters in past elections.

Adopting new election policies to win over younger voters would pit Pheu Thai directly against the Move Forward Party (MFP), favoured by a younger demographic of new voters.

To the MFP, Pheu Thai is both its closest ally and a quiet foe in the election. In order to win big, Pheu Thai would need to collect all the votes it can lay its hands on and resort to all of the tactical formulas in its playbook, including undercutting friends, according to observers.

Certain party stalwarts have also reportedly grown complacent, secure in their belief that enough voters have already fallen under Pheu Thai's spell.

Some core members think the prevailing sentiment is so favourable to the party that anyone it fields as its MP candidate should have an overwhelming chance of winning the next poll.

This could explain why several groups belonging to the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have severed ties with the party. They were apparently upset it refused to let its members stand on its ticket in the next election.

Some of those who parted company have opted to run as MP candidates under the banner of the Bhumjaithai Party, which is predicted to be Pheu Thai's most formidable election rival.

Back from the shadows?

Abhisit: Wants Democrats to be independent

The Democrat Party appears to be at its wits' end trying to woo voters and retain House seats by showcasing three former party leaders in its campaign leading up to the general election.

Chuan Leekpai, Banyat Bantadtan and Abhisit Vejjajiva are the three names that Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit hopes will bring the campaign to life and help the country's oldest political party emerge from one of the darkest periods in its history.

It suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2019 polls under Mr Abhisit's leadership, winning only 53 seats -- less than half of those it won in 2011. Mr Abhisit resigned to keep his promise to quit if the party backed Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister.

He was said to prefer the party assuming the role of an independent opposition party.

Mr Jurin stepped in as party leader, and over the next four years, the party saw veteran politicians defect to other parties, including Bhumjaithai and the United Thai Nation (UTN). The Democrat leader, however, did not appear bothered by these defections.

In the upcoming election, the Democrats are said to be targeting 50 House seats -- a number that some pundits believe rather ambitious due to the party's waning popularity.

Last month, Mr Jurin announced he needed all hands on deck and would approach his predecessors -- all highly capable with vast experience -- to be list candidates and take an active role.

Mr Chuan, regarded as the party's patriarch, spoke in support of Mr Jurin's opinions while Democrat deputy leader Sathit Pitutecha even suggested that Mr Abhisit should also be named the party's second prime ministerial candidate after Mr Jurin.

However, some analysts believe this strategy of depending on former leaders to reverse the party's political fortunes will fall flat because Mr Jurin's predecessors have lost their allure with voters.

According to the analysts, the Democrats have already lost Bangkok, and the South and what's worse is that the move indicates a loss of confidence in Mr Jurin among party members.

"It's like a rerun of an old movie that no one cares to watch. The UTN has penetrated the Democrats' base in Bangkok while Bhumjaithai has established a foothold in the South," said Yuttaporn Issrachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

It is widely believed that the Democrats will use Mr Chuan and Mr Banyat to recapture support in the southern region, the party's traditional stronghold, and Mr Abhisit to reconnect with voters in the capital.

Mr Abhisit may have had a large following in Bangkok, but his best days are behind him, according to Mr Yuttaporn, who believes the Democrat Party is in need of structural changes and a revamp of organisational culture.

"Mr Abhisit had to quit as a party MP when he disagreed with party members joining the coalition government [led by the Palang Pracharath Party]. The party wanted to be part of the government so bad that it abandoned its ideology," he said.

However, other pundits argue that the party still has a shot in the capital, and Mr Abhisit's return to politics may lure some voters back from the Move Forward Party (MFP) and win some seats in Bangkok.

Mr Abhisit has not committed yet and said he would have to consider whether the party's goals are the same as his when asked about a political comeback at the party assembly last month.

"We'll have to wait and see if his supporters, the middle-class liberal voters, will get behind the Democrat Party again. After Mr Abhisit stepped away, they switched to the MFP," said Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at the King Prajadhipok's Institute.

Mr Stithorn also predicted a leadership change in the Democrat Party after the general election, saying the party is unlikely to meet its target and Mr Jurin will be forced to step down.

In his view, Mr Abhisit may be re-elected as party leader and under his leadership, the Democrats may end up in the opposition camp if either the PPRP or the UTN emerges as the ruling party in the next government.

Mr Abhisit is not keen on being part of a government led by either party.

Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political science lecturer at Nida, agreed, saying Mr Abhisit's return would be better than nothing because it may at least help the party make up some lost ground.

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