Pheu Thai milking all campaign strategies, but online presence doesn't top MFP's
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Pheu Thai milking all campaign strategies, but online presence doesn't top MFP's

The Pheu Thai Party is milking all its campaign strategies, but its online presence doesn't top that of the MFP's v Political observers and supporters alike are having a field day over why PM Prayut isn't going all the way with the UTN Party

The Pheu Thai Party unveiled the policies and also introduced the candidates who will be running for House seats in 400 constituencies at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on March 17. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
The Pheu Thai Party unveiled the policies and also introduced the candidates who will be running for House seats in 400 constituencies at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on March 17. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Party comms styles differ

If there is any party deserving of an award for being most adept at electioneering strategies and milking it for all its worth, the Pheu Thai Party must be up there among those in the top league, according to observers.

The main opposition party has employed every trick in the book to excite voters and keep them enthused by its election campaign, observers say.

Parties competing for the House seats in the May 14 general election resort to different tracks in canvassing for votes, starting with the conduit used for reaching out to voters and getting across the campaign messages on a repeated basis for the best coaxing effect.

The Move Forward Party (MFP), for example, has stood out with its longstanding dominance on social media platforms where it has reigned supreme in disseminating political messages to followers, having won their loyalty since before the last general election in 2019.

In the previous poll, Future Forward Party (FFP), which is the predecessor of the MFP, grabbed a whopping 81 House seats, instantly propelling it to the spot of the third largest party. Credit was attributed in large part to the 'homework' it had done establishing a firm foothold in its new-found support base.

A year after the election, the Constitutional Court ruled the FFP guilty of procuring an illegal loan from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and ordered it be dissolved.

A communication expert said the FFP, and now the MFP, have broken the convention of poll campaigns which were, and still are, largely dependent on addressing large crowds at various constituencies as a primary means of wooing voters.

But such campaigns are vigorously demanding and to organise large gatherings costs a lot of money.

For emerging parties like the FFP in the previous poll, communication technology came into play as a ready-made tool for cashing in on the "dormant" and almost untapped pool of voters -- the young and first-time voters who are tech-literate.

The expert said the MFP may have exceeded its own expectations by capturing more than 80 MP seats in the 2019 election. However, it may be a great deal tougher to even maintain such a tally in the next poll.

This is because the next election will revert to the dual-ballot system where voters elect a constituency MP on one ballot and choose a political party on another. Essentially, they are able to pick a constituency MP of one party and choose a different party on the second ballot.

The split votes could hurt the MFP whose predecessor, the FFP, benefitted tremendously from the previous, single-ballot system.

The FFP capitalised on the method in which 'loser' votes in the constituencies were not thrown away but counted toward list MP seats. The FFP, as it happened, fared quite strongly in several constituencies, although they failed to make the cut as winners. They came mostly in second place.

Fast forward to the May 14 election, the advantage is forecast to swing in favour of large parties with firm and large support bases distributed across population segments. With more votes needed to win constituency and list seats in the next poll than in the previous election, voters will feel compelled to cast the two ballots for the same party in order to be sure their favourite parties win as many seats as possible.

The Pheu Thai Party is one of the major players benefiting from the dual-ballot system. The party has trumpeted its goal of bagging at least 310 of the 500 MP seats in both the constituency and list methods in a bid to subdue the Senate's influence in co-electing a prime minister.

According to a communications expert, the main opposition is not as savvy at penetrating social media and harnessing its power for its electoral gain as the MFP is.

Pheu Thai has tried to make inroads into the MFP's support base of young voters and to win over the undecided voters with its promises of economic prosperity so it can expand its turf to meet the 310-seat target.

The expert said Pheu Thai has figured it must maintain the election campaign momentum and seize the limelight, which is necessary for buoying its poll popularity.

The party broke into the pre-election scene with Paetongtarn "Ung Ing" Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, being handed the helm of the so-called "Pheu Thai Family".

She immediately hit the ground running as a star speaker at campaign rallies around the country. The expert said Ms Paetongtarn was apparently positioned as a "breath of fresh air" for the party, who could also connect with the younger-generation and female voters.

She came across as Pheu Thai's presumptive prime ministerial candidate.

In the build-up to the next election, property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, a political luminary, Ms Paetongtarn's adviser and also poised to be nominated as Pheu Thai's second prime ministerial candidate, was introduced to double the party's election campaign magnetism. He is hoped to be the new wow-factor offering voters what Ms Paetongtarn cannot -- his supposed acumen in economic affairs.

But a party with at least 25 MPs can field up to three such candidates, and for months voters have been awaiting the announcement of Pheu Thai's third prime ministerial candidate. The Paetongtarn-Srettha campaign partnership has kept voters engrossed with the party as political watchers believed Pheu Thai's third prime ministerial candidate would deliver even more of a punch.

However, when news came that Chaikasem Nitisiri, Pheu Thai's chief strategist, would land the third spot, all eyes immediately reverted back to Ms Paetongtarn and Mr Srettha. Mr Chaikasem was among Pheu Thai's prime ministerial candidates in the previous 2019 general election. He was nominated alongside Chadchart Sittipunt, who has since been elected Bangkok governor, and Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, now the leader of the Thai Sang Thai Party. Both have cut ties with Pheu Thai.

Prayut stays out of UTN's MP list

Prayut: Aiming for PM, not MP

The United Thai Nation Party (UTN) has unveiled its list-MP candidates, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, its chief strategist and first prime ministerial nominee, not among them.

In the lead-up to the disclosure of the 100 party-list candidates, speculation was rife whether Gen Prayut's name would be in the hat to show UTN members his full commitment to the party.

According to some observers, by opting out of the race, there is no guarantee Gen Prayut would stick with the party, particularly if it was unable to capture enough seats to secure his bid for another term.

Under the constitution, a political party needs to win at least 25 out of 500 House seats to nominate a prime ministerial candidate.

UTN member Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana has rejected criticism that Gen Prayut has not committed to the party, pointing out he is both a party member and the chief strategist who is spearheading its election campaign.

Some pundits thought he would contest the polls and get his hands dirty in the May 14 election in part due to his experience with the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

Throughout his time with the PPRP, Gen Prayut was often chided by party insiders for keeping his distance from the party. A key party figure turned against him and engineered a plot to oust him as premier during a censure debate.

"If he doesn't run for a House seat, he could face the same problem he did with the PPRP," Jade Donavanik, dean of the law faculty at Dhurakij Pundit University, was quoted as saying before the party-list candidates were revealed.

Now that Gen Prayut has decided and while his omission from the polls is not necessarily a shock, it is giving analysts a field day speculating as to why he has chosen to stay out.

One theory is that Gen Prayut has an image to maintain. He has term limits and based on the Constitutional Court's ruling he can only serve as prime minister for about another two years.

"Even if he deeply wants to become a full-time politician, he is afraid of losing face. He must have thought where he will end up after his term expires. If he wears only one hat, he just fades away from politics," said Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

Gen Prayut's supporters have also weighed in on this. Some suggest Gen Prayut may not want to be an MP to avoid attending tedious House meetings and engaging in lengthy debates, while some say he wants to leave a spot open for others.

Mr Yuttaporn believes the move will not deal a blow to the UTN when the big day comes. People who will vote for the UTN will do so because the party backs Gen Prayut as the prime minister, not because of whether or not he will stand in the polls.

In the 2019 election, the PPRP defied opinion polls and won more than 8.4 million votes. While the PPRP's victory relied on former MPs with a high chance of getting re-elected, Gen Prayut's popularity was believed to have secured House seats in Bangkok.

In Mr Yuttaporn's view, Gen Prayut's move could hurt the UTN's image because it indicates Gen Prayut is not ready to go all the way with the party and probably sees it as a political vehicle only.

This is not to mention criticism from people who subscribe to the idea that the prime minister must be an MP and are demanding charter changes to make this a constitutional requirement, according to the academic. The current charter does not require a prime minister to concurrently be an MP.

According to Mr Yuttaporn, if Gen Prayut succeeds in his latest prime ministerial bid, he will face similar obstacles he faced in the House of Representatives over the past four years.

However, the academic says Gen Prayut's reason for staying out of the upcoming polls is plain and simple.

Based on a series of opinion polls, Gen Prayut is trailing in third spot behind Pheu Thai's Paetongtarn "Ung Ing" Shinawatra and Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat in the popularity stakes and it is anybody's guess as to how many seats the UTN will capture.

"It isn't about him staying aloof or being non-committal. He needs flexibility and an exit strategy if he doesn't become prime minister again," said Mr Yuttaporn.

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