BANGKOK — If polls open in February – five years after the last election – it will be the first chance to cast a ballot for millions of new voters.
And while new players such as the Future Forward Party believe they are best positioned to win those young, first-time voters, the established Democrat and Pheu Thai parties say they will also court the demographic and shouldn’t be counted out.
At 60, Chamnan Chanruang is the elder statesman of the otherwise young and idealistic faces of Future Forward, something he believes gives it a natural edge to making first-time voters its base.
“When looking at both Pheu Thai and the Democrats, these parties will enjoy no increase in the votes and could only receive fewer due to their past performance,” Chamnan said.
Pheu Thai, he said, is tainted by its failed bid to pass a blanket amnesty bill in 2013 to absolve all sides the political violence of 2010, a bill that backfired by drawing street protests to overthrow the government it led. As for the Democrat Party, he said it sabotaged its chances when key leaders threw in with those protests, which led to the 2014 coup.
By February, roughly 7.4 million Thais will come of voting age since the last free and fair general election of 2011, according to population statistics.
The reliability of the youth vote is unclear. Three in four eligible voters cast ballots in 2011; no readily available data on youth turnout are available.
Parit Wacharasindhu, the 25-year-old Oxford-educated heir to Democrat Party leadership and nephew of its leader, said the party won’t ignore new voters. Parit said that if he has his way, the Democrat Party will transform into a “New” Democrat Party embracing old and young and promoting liberal democracy.
Parit said the such a New Democrat Party would not focus on a single demographic but seek to represent all age segments.
“New generations and old generations need to work together,” he said.
Pheu Thai Party secretary general Phumthum Wechayachai said his party will roll out a lineup of young-blood politicians that can readily connect with first-time voters. Phumthum also believes that Pheu Thai has a good record in delivering on its promises.
“We have a number of new generations within the party. When the time is ripe, we shall reveal them,” said Phumthum, noting that Preechapol Pongpanit, a 37-year-old Pheu Thai politician from Khon Kaen, was just featured among the next generation of political leaders by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.