- Title: THAILAND: Political parties intensify their campaigns ahead of the July polls
- Date: 28th May 2011
- Summary: BANGKOK'S MUSLIM COMMUNITY
- Embargoed: 12th June 2011 13:00
- Location: Thailand, Thailand
- Country: Thailand
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA24YW4X2JCEDZWXMUYO5NA7FBX
- Story Text: Thirty parties will take part in a July 3 election in Thailand seen as a two-horse race between the ruling Democrat Party and the opposition, Puea Thai.
Neither is expected to win a majority and will probably need to form a coalition, increasing the significance and bargaining power of smaller parties.
Puea Thai is the latest incarnation of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party, which won an unprecedented two election landslides in 2001 and 2005.
The party chose Thaksin's youngest sister Yingluck, 43, for its prime ministerial candidate while Thaksin controls Puea Thai from exile in Dubai and its marketing strategy is built around his image and his famous populist policies.
If the party won, she will become the first woman prime minister in Thailand.
"So I learn from his logic and his thinking and vision so I think I can apply both business and politic to apply with the professional team in Puea Thai so we believe and confidence that we can deliver all the policy as fast as we can," Yingluck referred to her 61-year-old brother Thaksin.
Puea Thai's stronghold is the vote-rich north and northeast and it has the backing of the powerful "red shirts" protest movement, however, that association could be a stigma that turns swing voters away, especially those tired of political upheaval.
Kan Yuenyong, an analyst from Bangkok's Siam Intelligence Unit, said it will be almost impossible for Puea Thai to form the government unless they win a landslide election.
"If it's a normal election, I think Puea Thai will possibly win the election and can form the government by asking their former coalition parties to join them," said Kan.
The party has powerful enemies, especially among the military and conservative elite, and might have difficulty forming a coalition.
"But this is the transition period of Thailand, so we can't just analyst like that we have to look at the power behind each parties or each side so what I see is, the opposition side of Puea Thai party, they don't want Thaksin to be back," said Kan as Puea Thai has launched its campaign with the slogan "Thaksin Thinks, Puea Thai Acts".
This time, there will be 375 constituency seats available and 125 seats assigned by voter allegiance to a party, rather than a local representative.
The number of the latter has been increased, which would help the two main parties.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat party is Thailand's oldest, but has not won a general election in two decades and came to power only after the previous ruling party was dissolved in late 2008. It won 165 seats in the 2007 poll.
The Democrats have sizable support in the south and Bangkok and are popular with middle-class voters.
"I insist that The Democrat Party have the clear policy view to move our country forward and to answer what people's needs. As I've been visited many provinces, so far, we have a very good feedback," said Abhisit.
The Democrats is seen as the most capable party at handling the economy and the $25 million it earned at a recent fundraiser suggests business bigwigs are firmly behind it.
While the Democrats have powerful backing from conservative elites and the military top brass, they have struggled to win over the poor, which constitute the majority of Thai voters.
Hence, the party has launched a series of populist programmes to try to broaden its support.
As for Matabhum Party, led by 2006 coup-maker, General Sonthi Boonyaratakalin, the party wants to appeal to ethnic Malay Muslims and seek eight of the 11 seats available in the violence-plagued deep south.
A former army chief that led a coup to topple ex-premier Thaksin said the party's platform is to bring unity to politically polarised Thailand.
Sonthi is accused as a man who destroyed Thailand's democratic system but now he agreed to lead the medium-sized party with members including military officers and some former members of parliament from the country's restive deep south.
He said he wants to see a real democracy in Thailand but will allow the coup to happen again if it is for the people.
"If they are going to stage the coup without people's support, I won't agree with that but if they stage the coup with people's approval, then I think they are right to do so," said Sonthi Boonyaratakalin during his election campaign.
A survey by Suan Dusit University on Sunday (May 22) showed 41 percent of those polled backing Yingluck's Puea Thai party, with the ruling Democrats at nearly 37 percent.
A Bangkok Poll on Tuesday (May 24) showed 25.8 percent of the polled residents in the capital backed Puea Thai, with only 14.7 percent for the Democrats in their traditional stronghold. Half of those polled were undecided.
About 47.3 million people are eligible to vote for the July 3 election.
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