BANGKOK — Since its inception earlier this year, the Pheu Chart Party has been seen as a clone of Pheu Thai, the political powerhouse associated with former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
But the party took it one step further today, when nine Pheu Chart candidates announced they had legally changed their first names to Thaksin, while two female candidates now calls themselves Yingluck, after Thaksin’s sister who served as premier until 2014. Explaining his motive, one of the politicians said he’s a fan of the ex-prime minister.
“I changed my name to Thaksin because Thaksin brought progress to Thailand. Every world leader knows Thaksin,” said Thaksin Kuenkhoksoong, who’s running for a seat in Korat. “Thaksin is in the heart of all people.”
Another said it’s a gimmick for name recognition.
“I want people to remember me,” Yingluck Phetraksa said. “It’s also inspiring for myself to have the same name as a female leader.”
Thaksin was ousted from power by the military in 2006; Yingluck went much the same way in 2014. Both fled the country and live in exile in the face of criminal convictions they say were politically motivated.
Party spokeswoman Ketpreeya Kaewsanmuang said she hasn’t talked to the name-changers but believes it shouldn’t matter.
“People may change their names based on personal preference. It’s an individual freedom under the law,” Ketpreeya said by phone. “People don’t elect someone based on their names.”
Seemingly innocuous mentions of the Shinawatras could affect a party’s fate this election season. Under voting regulations, a party can be disbanded if it is found to have campaigned in collusion with individuals not directly related to the party.
In another Election Commission rule seen as deterrence against invoking the twice-elected leader by Thaksin-allied parties, posters can only show images and names of candidates and party leaders.
When reached for comment, commissioner Charungwit Phumma said he would see if the name changes violate any election laws.
An MP candidate for Phayao province admitted it’s a way to get around those restrictions.
“This election has regulations and prohibitions from the Election Commission that make our canvassing difficult,” Thaksin Kittisakworakul told reporters today. “Therefore, changing my name to Thaksin might help people recognize me easily.”
Although Pheu Chart and its allied parties publicly insist they are not influenced by or tied to Thaksin, the former prime minister is clearly a selling point.
Thaksin’s only son, Panthongtae Shinawatra, appeared at a rally in Khon Kaen today to show support for a Pheu Thai candidates who registered there.