Prayuth Makes Political Comeback as Ruam Thai Srang Chart Gains in Polls
Executive Summary: According to recent polls, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha is experiencing a political comeback, aided in part by his decision to join the Ruam Thai Srang Chart party. The Bhumjai Thai Party and its leader, Anuthin Charnvirakul, have also gained in popularity for the first time, according to the polls. It is likely that the election result in May will be a hung parliament, with the decisive faction being the senators, who will be influenced by both Pravit and Prayuth. This political uncertainty makes the formation of a new government unclear.
Photo from พรรครวมไทยสร้างชาติ : Ruam Thai Srang Chart announced several new high-profile members, including Trairong Suwankiri, Chumpol Kanchana, and Chachaval Kongudom
The recent political popularity poll released by NIDA in the fourth quarter of 2022, which was published on Sunday, appears to show a comeback for Thailand's Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha. On Friday, December 23, Prayuth announced his intention to be a candidate for the new Ruam Thai Srang Chart Party (United Thai Nation) in May's general election, which is being led by a former senior member of the Democrat party and former Justice Minister, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.
The Ruam Thai Srang Chart and the Palang Pracharat are both political parties that aim to elevate Prayuth to the position of Prime Minister. Both terms are derived from Prayuth's soliloquies on patriotism and are thought to be inspired by the Thai national anthem. The term "Pracharat" (nation for the people) appears to be a counterpoint to the term "Prachaniyom" (populism), which has been used by scholars to criticize the policies of the former Thai Rak Thai party (Thai Love Thai). Thai Rak Thai was the predecessor to the Palang Prachachon (the People Power) and Phue Thai (the For Thais) parties, both Thai Rak Thai and Palau Prachachon were dissolved by the constitutional court.
Prayuth has served as Prime Minister since August 24, 2014, having been appointed by the national legislature, which had previously been appointed by the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order), or military junta, of which he was the leader following the coup d'état on May 22, 2014. He was re-elected as Prime Minister on June 5, 2019, despite a hung parliament, with the help of senators, all of whom had been appointed by the NCPO.
(Graph shown for candidates with 5% popularity or higher only)
Normally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative effects on the political careers of leaders around the world, including in Malaysia, Japan, and the United States. The recent election of Bangkok's governor reflects this trend. However, the Thai government's handling of the pandemic has been mixed - not the best, but not the worst. The policy impacts will likely be delayed, not mentioning the returning of 11 million tourists which will have a direct positive impact on the grassroots economy and thus a natural multiplier effect to the national economy. According to our internal discussion, the NIDA Poll in December will determine whether Prayuth's approval rating, which hit a low of 10.12% in the last quarter, will pick up in this quarter.
Prayuth's decision to join the Ruam Thai Srang Chart on Friday seems to have also clarified the situation within the Palang Pracharat party. Although the party's members include many former members of the The People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which toppled Yinglak's administration, it also includes key former leaders of the redshirt movement.
During the first phase of his premiership (2014-2019), Prayuth shared power with only the military's leaders. In the second phase (2019-present), he has had to share more power with politicians. However, he still retains control over five key ministerial portfolios: finance, foreign affairs, energy, interior, and defense. This distribution of power has been a source of political conflict within the Palang Pracharat party, and the prime ministerial candidate for the party had not been clear until Prayuth's announcement to join the Ruam Thai Srang Chart.
(Graph shown for parties with 5% popularity or higher only)
Yesterday, the Ruam Thai Srang Chart announced several new high-profile members, including Trairong Suwankiri, Chumpol Kanchana, and Chachaval Kongudom, all of whom are heavyweight politicians from the Democrat Party and Thai Local Power Party. According to the NIDA Poll, not only has Prayuth's popularity increased, but so has that of the Ruam Thai Srang Chart, while both the Paethongtarn Shinnawatra and Pheu Thai parties continue to lead in the polls.
It is important to note that the NIDA Poll does not reflect popularity among local electorates, but rather across the country as a whole. Under the new revision of the constitution, there will be two ballot papers: one for the party list and one for candidates in local constituencies. The NIDA poll will therefore be more reflective of the number of 100 out of 500 seats gained from the party list results. While the Phue Thai party performs poorly in the Southern provinces, it does well in the North and Northeastern provinces. Prayuth's popularity may help to boost the strong support in the Southern provinces, which were previously a stronghold of the Democrat party.
It is notable that this is the first time that the Bhumjai Thai (The Thai Pride) Party and its leader, Anuthin Charnvirakul, have gained more than 5% popularity according to the poll, which the party is the strong rival of Phue Thai in the southern part of the Northeastern provinces. The indecisive voters also significantly decline. Given that the political climate in Thailand is still largely polarization, it is likely that the election result in May will be a hung parliament again, and the decisive faction will once again be the senators, who will be influenced by both Pravit Wongsuwan (the leader of Palang Pracharat) and Prayuth. This political situation makes the formation of a new government uncertain.