Prime Ministerial Candidates
The 2019 elections are unlike any prior election in Thailand due to a constitutional provision that states that the prime minister A). does not have to be an elected MP, and B). is to be chosen by a majority of both legislative houses. The current senate (250 members) is an unelected body, appointed by the junta. The House will be made up of 500 members. That means, that 376 members are need for a majority to back any prime ministerial candidate. Parties are allowed to nominate up to three candidates for the post of prime minister. We do not cover every party’s candidate, but focus on the most prominent ones in the news:
Palang Pracharat, current prime minister
The current prime minister came to power on the heels of the 2014 coup. As the former head of the Thai army, Prayuth was leader of the junta that staged the coup and formed the NCPO. The NCPO appointed Prayuth as Prime Minister in August, 2014. A month later, he officially stepped down as head of the army to more fully concentrate on his political duties. Prayuth has been a controversial figure in Thai politics. Though the country has seen numerous coups over the past few decades, his rule is generally seen as one of the harshest. He routinely rounded up the political opposition, took away political and civic freedoms, re-wrote the constitution, and held onto power for longer than any junta for several decades. Prayuth’s rule has also been more overtly nationalistic and paternalistic than most past coup leaders. He penned the 12 Values, a set of traditional Thai values he deemed as necessary for the country to return to unity, mandating that they be recited daily in Thai schools. And he frequently refers to himself as a father-like figure of the nation. Governance-wise, he has overseen moderate economic growth figures and low inflation, but the highest fiscal deficit since 2001. Prayuth was instrumental in creating the political vehicle of the 2014 junta, the Palang Pracharat party, for whom he stands as prime ministerial candidate.
Sudarat first came to political prominence as the health minister under Thaksin Shinawatra, following the Thais Love Thais (predecessor of Pheu Thai) electoral victory in 2001. The 30-baht co-pay health policy was the party’s flagship policy, and it, along with other policies that created a safety net and microfinancing for the rural poor, were central in sustaining the widespread popularity the party enjoys to this day. Sudarat has a reputation as an able administrator, perhaps exactly what the party needs to restore its policy reputation following the disastrous rice scheme that the junta used as a primary reason for the coup in 2014.
The former Transport minister in Yingluck’s government, Chadchart is a popular figure amongst Pheu Thai supporters and neutrals alike. However, he is associated with the failings of the former Yingluck government, including the disastrous rice scheme. The National Counter Corruption Committee (NCCC) is rumored to be preparing aprobe against him as a member of Yingluck’s government. Yingluck herself was found guilty of criminal negligence, not corruption, charges which could be revived in an attempt to hamper Pheu Thai’s electoral chances.
Abhisit is the leader of the main opposition party to Pheu Thai, the Democrat Party. An Oxford graduate, Abhisit is an intelligent and articulate leader, but who even his supporters feel has not lived up to his full abilities. Abhisit has repeatedly failed to come out strongly against non-democratic interventions in Thai politics, and has failed to lead the Democrat Party in developing an attractive party brand to compete with Pheu Thai’s policy reputation. On March 10th, Abhisit publicly stated that he will not support Prayuth as Prime Minister. A couple of days later, he stated that he could enter a coalition with Pheu Thai on the condition of Pheu Thai becoming free of the domination of a few people, an implicit reference to Thaksin. Some observers feel his statement was not sincere and that he will eventually cave and support Prayuth as prime minister, in exchange for lucrative ministerial posts. Others say he is positioning himself as the compromise candidate.
Future Forward Party
Thanathorn has quickly sealed his place as the most outspoken critic of Prayuth and military rule over the past five years. Although his party, Future Forward, is not likely to pick up the most seats, numerous polls suggest he is the most popular choice for Prime Minister. Only a grand coalition of the non-military parties could form a majority to pick the prime minister. If that is the case, he could well be the best compromise between the two main parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, for the post of prime minister.
(now defunct) Thai Raksa Chart Party
In one of the most shocking events in Thai electoral history, a member of the royal family accepted the nomination of a political party for the post of Prime Minister. This was quickly condemned by her brother, King Vajiralongkorn, as the monarchy is constitutionally above politics, and subsequently ruled out by the Election Commission. The nominating party was later dissolved by the Election Commission for violating the constitution.