Asia Pacific / Politics

Ahead of promised election, Thai political party jigsaw attracts new faces, veteran names

AFP-JIJI

Famous golfer Thongchai Jaidee, a former beauty queen and veteran politicians were among those who flocked to new parties in Thailand on Sunday as a jigsaw of alliances formed ahead of the country’s much-anticipated poll in February.

The Thai junta that seized power in 2014 partially eased restrictions on electioneering ahead of the promised vote, allowing parties to spring up and recruit members but withholding the right to campaign.

The deadline to join and be eligible to run closes later this month and Sunday saw a flurry of activity as the closing date nears.

Golfing great Thongchai, 49, added some star power to Thai Raksa Chart, which formed in recent weeks and is believed to be a spin-off of the country’s largest political party, Pheu Thai.

The army toppled the Pheu Thai-led administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

But parties associated with Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin, another former prime minister toppled in 2006, have won every election since 2001 by relying on populist policies.

“In the beginning, I want to help. And I will see in the future what more I can do,” Thongchai said at a recruitment drive for Thai Raksa Chart in Bangkok, adding that he is still on tour and does not have time to run as a candidate right now.

Nahatai Lekbumrung, the 2006 Miss Global Beauty Queen competition winner, also signed up to Thai Raksa Chart.

Meanwhile the Palang Pracharat party, believed to be a military proxy, attracted some 50 former members of parliament to join its ranks the same day.

Another new party, Prachachart, is being led by veteran politician Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, who has held Cabinet posts in several governments.

He said his party will focus on multiculturalism.

“Violence in the south is not a problem for (just one) particular area,” he said, referring to years-long clashes between Muslim Malay insurgents and security forces loyal to the Buddhist majority state.

“To solve this, we have to get rid of the distrust among people.”

Joining him were figures with long-standing ties to the police, army and border forces.

The 2017 military-drafted constitution makes it difficult for any one party to win a majority in elections, making the jumble of alliances key to shoring up support.

Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has also expressed interest in recent weeks about entering the political fray, though he has stopped short of declaring intentions to run.