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Modernizing politics with a start-up

Setting up a political party using this new business model is a sound idea, academics say. The challenge will be to keep it going until the next general election

Jintana Panyaarvudh

Setting up what is known as a “political start-up” could find success in Thailand thanks to the recent changes in the political landscape, political analysts say. However, some believe it might be too early for the country to have such a party given that the next general election is unlikely to be held soon.

Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij resigned from the Democrat Party on Wednesday and is planning to set up a new party or “political start-up” in the hope that it would attract support from a wide section of society, especially the new generation. His plan is to gather experts in various sectors to join the new party while keeping the number of politicians low.

Korn’s idea to set up such a party using the start-up model and position it as the third political force is the right decision and has the chance to be successful, said Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist from King Prajadhipok’s Institute.

“The idea is becoming a trend and proved successful in Thai politics once before,” he added.

Stithorn pointed out that the election results last year showed that there would be no longer a big party winning 200 seats or more so it’s an opportunity for small- and medium-size parties with 15-30 seats to gain more bargaining power.

In last election, the country’s two biggest parties won the most seats, with Pheu Thai landing 136, albeit greatly down from the 265 it won in the previous election, and Phalang Pracharat taking 116.

“All political parties see it as an opportunity. So the trend is to build a small or medium empire that has high leverage. Or becoming small but more powerful. With that size, they can choose which side they can join [to form a government],” he added.

The academic said that founding a party using the start-up model would make it more flexible and easier to adapt or change even if it were to become an institution in its own right.

This was very different from the old and established Democrat Party, which is rigid and hard to change.

“I think Korn was trying to bring change to the Democrats but failed [to change the attitude of other party leaders]. So it’s better to set up a new brand,” Stithorn said.

That allows for combining the start-up business model with a digital platform to build engagement with party members, he added.

A successful case can be seen in Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward Party, which was founded on the same idea, according to Stithorn.

Future Forward made a successful debut in Thai politics in the March 2019 elections. The brand-new, youth-oriented party, which sold itself as a party of liberal values and political dissent, won third place in Parliament after Phalang Pracharat and Pheu Thai with 81 MPs. The party has over 60,000 members with a huge number of young voters its biggest fans.

Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, shared Stithorn’s view, citing the success of Pirate Party in European countries or the Green Party as examples.

“Political start-ups are good because the future survival of political parties will depend on how they can handle political disruption,” the academic said.

However, Yuthaporn thinks that founding such a party right now might not be so easy.

“It will happen, I believe, but it will take at least five years or until the next general election. It would also be better to wait for a 100-per-cent change in the new generation,” he said.

In his view, the timing is not right for Korn to set up a new party as the next general election will not be held any time soon.

Moreover, unlike Thanathorn or former Pheu Thai member Chadchart Sittipunt who will contest the Bangkok Governor election, Korn still lacks political support, especially from young generation voters.

“I’m not sure Korn would be able to keep his new party going until the next election,” he said.

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