Pheu Thai moves upset Move Forward
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Pheu Thai moves upset Move Forward

'Strategic vote' call risks upsetting potential coalition partner

A Pheu Thai Party campaign poster is seen on Suthisan Winitchai Road in Phaya Thai district, Bangkok, in February. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
A Pheu Thai Party campaign poster is seen on Suthisan Winitchai Road in Phaya Thai district, Bangkok, in February. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

The Pheu Thai Party has adjusted its strategy, calling on voters to vote Pheu Thai to keep the other lot out, much to the displeasure of the Move Forward Party (MFP) whose campaign appears to be gaining traction.

In asking voters to "vote strategically", it is telling supporters to cast ballots for the party which has the best chance of defeating the 250-member Senate in its vote for prime minister in parliament. At the moment, that's Pheu Thai, the frontrunner in many polls.

It hopes to prevent the return of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the top prime ministerial candidate of the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party, to power.

Pheu Thai is aiming for 310 seats in a landslide victory. Without it, there is no guarantee that Pheu Thai can muster enough support to secure the premiership for one of its three candidates and put together a coalition government, even if it finishes first in the May 14 polls.

Following the 2019 general election, the coup-appointed Senate overwhelmingly voted for Gen Prayut, nominated by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to be prime minister, clearing the way for the PPRP-led bloc to form a coalition.

If Pheu Thai's candidate is to be voted in as prime minister without the need for the Senate's support, a bare minimum of 376 seats, more than half of the combined 750 members of both chambers, is needed.

But Pheu Thai's calls for tactical voting is upsetting MFP, its ally in the self-proclaimed democracy camp.

According to recent Nida poll findings, the gap between the two parties which are competing for support from the same voter base is narrowing, and Pheu Thai's "vote strategically" campaign will be at the MFP's expense.

According to Suan Dusit Poll findings on Saturday, Pheu Thai Party leads all other parties, followed by the Move Forward Party.

The poll was conducted on April 10-20 among 162,454 people aged 18 and over. Asked which party is gaining popularity among Thais before the election, 41.37% said the Pheu Thai Party and 19.32% the Move Forward Party.

'The only solution'

Strategic voting has been put on the table because it is the only way to keep Gen Prayut from returning to power, said Pheu Thai deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai.

There is no guarantee the winner will lead the next government unless the party secures at least 250 seats, and even better 300 seats, to control the 500-member House of Representatives, he said.

The UTN is widely believed to have the senators in its pocket, so the party needs only 25 seats -- the minimum number required for a party to be able to nominate a prime minister -- to get the ball rolling, he said.

Mr Phumtham admitted the MFP's campaign is gaining momentum, but it is not enough for the party to emerge victorious. He is also doubtful the MFP's popularity on social media is genuine and equals votes.

Even without the party's calls for strategic voting, MFP will not capture enough seats to be a core party in forming the government, said the Pheu Thai heavyweight.

"It is an election strategy. We're not being selfish but we have the best chance. If voters don't vote this way, we'll see a repeat of what happened in previous polls. That's why tactical voting is important," he said.

Mr Phumtham said it was unlikely the MFP would win 100 seats and help the Pheu Thai-MFP alliance secure a majority, saying both parties share the same support base and the numbers do not add up.

"How can the MFP get 100 seats and we get more than 200 seats when we are competing for the same base?" he said.

Phumtham: Plot to stop Prayut's return

Tactical voting will also prevent formation of a minority government being floated by some political analysts, said the Pheu Thai deputy leader, who believes the other bloc will proceed to set up a minority government and consolidate its coalition by luring political "cobras" (those who change parties at a whim).

The "vote strategically" campaign also comes at a time when the MFP's approval rating is on the rise especially among urban communities.

Based on the second Nida Poll [April 3-7], the contest between Pheu Thai and the MFP, even though Pheu Thai is leading the survey, is tightening.

Pheu Thai remains the frontrunner with 47.2% support in the constituency system and 47% in the party-list system, but that is down from 49.75% and 49.85% respectively compared with the first survey in March. The popularity of the MFP has increased to 21.2% in the constituency system and 21.85% in the party-list system from 17.4% and 17.15% in the March survey.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, one of Pheu Thai's prime ministerial candidates, has seen her popularity drop to 35.7%, from 38.2% in the first poll. MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat is more popular than he was previously with 20.25%, up from 15.75%.

'Don't give in to fears'

Rangsiman Rome, spokesman of the MFP, is sceptical about strategic voting, saying voters should not be scared into switching party allegiances because the election outcome is far from certain.

The findings of polls are often inaccurate and if this line of thinking is pursued, Bangkok voters should cast ballots for the MFP because it is the most popular, he argued.

Pheu Thai is not the only party that has adopted a stance against the Senate's power to co-elect the prime minister and the Gen Prayut-led camp appears to be weakening because they also share the same support base, he said.

"People should vote for their desired party and candidate. They shouldn't be seduced or scared into abandoning their support.

"In the end the candidates they pick out of strategic voting may not represent their values," he said.

Mr Rangsiman is confident the party can win as many as 100 seats from both the constituency and party-list system and insisted the party's popularity on social media platforms can be turned into votes.

The MFP politician shrugged off fears about the UTN-led camp forming a minority government, saying while there is a likelihood of that happening, he would still bet against it.

"Forming a minority government is the wrong move to make. The Senate's five-year term is coming to an end and it is quite a risk for the senators to challenge the people's voice. How could they face the public?" he said.

Mr Rangsiman said he is not certain that being part of a minority government is a risk worth taking by other parties because it is close to cheating the people and they will face a public backlash, which could ultimately mean a loss of support.

The opposition camp can still topple the government on the first day by forcing a censure debate, not to mention a budget bill debate that is expected to take place in July, he said, adding he can't see how a minority government can lure away political cobras in such a short period and push for the bill's passage.

"If a minority government is formed, political unrest is likely. People won't stand it and they may hit the streets," he said.

If that scenario materialises, the party will put up a fight in parliament to stop any attempts to rob people of their power.

Rangsiman: Don't believe fearmongers

A painful dilemma

Stithorn Thananithichot, an analyst at King Prajadhipok's Institute, said Pheu Thai is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to forming a political alliance with the MFP.

On one hand, it is reluctant to form a pact with the MFP out of fear of losing support and failing to score a landslide victory. On the other, if it does not form partnership and does not win big enough, its chances of putting together a coalition will slip away.

He said the MFP is going from strength to strength but it is difficult to determine if the MFP's popularity is genuine because of its clear and straightforward election strategy, or fabricated to stop Pheu Thai from clinching a landslide victory. According to Mr Stithorn, Pheu Thai should not alienate the MFP but keep the door open for both parties forming a coalition government after the May 14 polls. However, the analyst said the opinion polls put the MFP behind Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai and the PPRP.

Stithorn: Pheu Thai Party in a quandry

Nida Poll director Suvicha Pou-aree said the MFP is pulling votes away from every party in the party-list system and the most affected is Pheu Thai.

However, in the constituency contest, the party is lagging behind others because its candidates do not have organised support. The MFP is projected to capture no more than 40 House seats under both systems combined, he said.

Suvicha: MFP will scoop list votes

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