Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Despite the flawed nature of the coming Thai election, the voting process provides an opportunity for citizens to express a vote of no confidence in the dictatorship by voting for Pua Thai, Pua Chart, Pracharchart, Future Forward and Commoners parties. The details of the candidates and make up of these anti-military parties is of secondary importance here. What is needed is a strong vote for the anti-military parties. The election needs to be treated like a referendum.
It should also be understood that the junta’s election rules are biased against large civilian parties winning a majority of seats. This was an anti-Taksin measure. Under these circumstances spreading anti-military votes between various parties can potentially win more seats than voting for a single party. But the number of seats won by various parties is also of secondary importance.
If a majority of the electorate express a vote of no confidence in the junta, it will be a strong legitimising force for those who wish to continue the struggle for democracy. It is the popular vote that matters.
Given that the junta has fixed the elections, providing Prayut with huge advantages through the appointment of 250 senators, we must have few illusions in the election process. But if we do not get a strong majority of the popular vote for anti-military parties it will seriously weaken the democracy movement. Egypt is a stark reminder of the dangers of this.
Lumping the Pua Thai, Pua Chart, Pracharchart, Future Forward and Commoners parties together as “anti-military” parties is an approximation, given the divergent nature of these parties. However, unlike the so-called Democrat Party, these parties have not cooperated closely with the military or sought to overthrow elected governments. They are also known for their opposition to the junta in various ways.
Pua Thai Party is a right-wing pro-business party which is part of Taksin’s network. It has a history of policies which help the poor. However, it has a number of extremely unsavoury characters among its key “party list” candidates. Mafia type politicians like Sanoh Thienthong and Chalerm Yubamrung come to mind. Pua Thai’s party list candidates also include retired general Pallop Pinmanee, the “butcher of Krue Se” in Patani. Among some of the prominent policies is a wish to cut the military budget in order to use the money to stimulate small businesses. They propose a state retirement pension of 3000 baht per month. They also propose cancelling the junta’s plans to buy Chinese tanks and use the money to buy non-polluting electric buses instead.
The Future Forward Party, as a newly formed party, does not contain candidates with unsavoury backgrounds from the past. It is a centrist, pro-business, liberal party with an abstract commitment to a future welfare state at some point. Yet its policies do not include any super-tax on the rich or plans to amalgamate the various health insurance policies into a single national health service. It has a few trade union candidates, but is not committed to strengthening trade union rights. Since the party is headed by a rich businessman, any benefits for working people are conditional upon businesses making profits. It has made some progressive statements about migrants and asylum seekers and solving the problems in Patani. It promises a state retirement pension of 1800 baht per month. It’s most prominent and progressive policy is to reduce the military budget to fund welfare and to end the legacy of the present military junta.
Pua Chart Party, another party in Taksin’s network, is not strong on policies with vague promises about reducing inequality and promoting a “digital” future. It has promised to fund medical students from local rural communities. It has prominent Red Shirts among its candidates.
Pracharchart Party, yet another party closely allied to Taksin and made up of politicians who used to be in Thai Rak Thai, has its base in the south. Its main policy is to promote justice in a multi-ethnic society. Yet it has unclear policies on how to bring peace and justice to Patani. It also proposes a state retirement pension of 3000 baht per month.
The Commoners Party is a left-leaning party which is too small to win significant votes or seats, but it has some progressive policies. These include plans to amalgamate the various health insurance policies into a single national health service. It claims to be in favour of a welfare state without clear policies on progressive taxation. This NGO-backed party stresses environmental and rural issues and is influenced by “rural community economics”, closely linked to the ideas of “Small is Beautiful”. It therefore claims that workers must make sacrifices to achieve measures to reduce climate change. However, it also supports the strengthening of trade unions and reform of oppressive labour laws. It has made noises about amnesties for Thai exiles abroad. Another plus for this party is that it is in favour of banning the use of Paraquat, which the junta has refused to do.
In late February, the Commoners Party was hauled over the coals by the ridiculous Electoral Commission for using the word “military dictatorship” to describe the junta. The Future Forward Party also faces legal sanctions, mainly because they are very clearly against the dictatorship and have a large following.
None of the mainstream political parties mentioned here have a policy to abolish or even reform the lèse-majesté law or to immediately establish a fully functioning and universal welfare state through progressive taxation of the rich and big business.
A strong vote for anti-military parties will act as a vote of no confidence in the junta and its destruction of democracy. That is the best outcome to expect.
If Prayut installs himself as Prime Minister against an anti-military popular vote, it will be a golden opportunity to build a mass movement to bring down the dictatorship.