Opinion: Political Parties Prepare for General Election Battle

Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul speaks to his supporters in Nakhon Phanom province on Dec. 4, 2022.
Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul speaks to his supporters in Nakhon Phanom province on Dec. 4, 2022.

Bhumjai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnveerakul has emerged as a serious contender to become the next PM after 34 MPs from various other political parties defected to join his party on Friday.

Anutin was already on the rise with many weed smokers, traders, and marijuana growers, supporting him after he had managed to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes, leading to the current de facto decriminalization of cannabis for recreational purposes.

These people will likely vote for him in the next general election in order to ensure that marijuana smoking and selling will not be re-criminalized by some parties like the Democrat Party or even the main opposition Pheu Thai Party.

Even the opposition Move Forward Party has softened its tone earlier this week with party leader Pita Limcharoenrat saying the party may support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes if it is properly regulated. The Marijuana Act may be passed or rejected by the next batch of MPs, thus the upcoming elections will be crucial and requires a joint effort by various groups of supporters to vote for Bhumjai Thai Party.

If plan A fails to make Anutin outright PM after the next election, there is also a much-speculated deal with incumbent PM Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha. Prayut can only stay for two more years after the general election due to the term limits set under the current junta-sponsored constitution as ruled by the Constitutional Court a few months ago.

Prayut still has 250 junta-appointed senators in his pocket and under the current charter, they will still have the power to jointly vote for the next PM together with MPs. Thus, a deal where Anutin’s Bhumjai Thai Party supporting Prayut as PM for the first two of the four-year PM term after the next general election then switching to Anutin cannot be ruled out as well.

As for the main opposition Pheu Thai, they are betting on nothing less of a landslide victory to ensure that they can form the next government. Their recent pledge to increase the minimum wage from the present, which is around 350 baht, depending on the area, to 600 baht by 2027 dominated news and social media discussion for a week and is their trump card over other parties.

The party’s choice of Paetongtarn Shinawatra as a PM candidate will continue to be most divisive as she’s a daughter of ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Like durian, many either love or hate Thaksin.

The ruling Phalang Pracharat Party meanwhile is in a state of disarray with MPs kept resigning and having no credible PM candidate beyond party leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, whose state of health casts doubt on how long Prawit could continue to work without being aided medically.

If there is no house dissolution, then there is still a good six months before the elections and parties like the Democrat will have to prevent its party from becoming irrelevant and stop the weekly brain drain of MPs resigning while the opposition Move Forward Party will need to galvanize its support base of reform-minded youth and expand their base beyond their core constituencies.

That will require fresh and captivating policies beyond reforming the controversial lese majeste law. Their support for political devolution may be the silver bullet but needs to hone the message to make it more convincing and allay fears by those who think this will lead to the disintegration of the unitary Thai state, however.