Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s hope of creating a domino effect to knock over the razor-thin majority of the Phalang Pracharat-led government may have been shattered after his party failed to claim victory in a Nakhon Pathom by-election on Wednesday (October 23).
Instead, the by-election result strengthened the government’s stability as the winning votes went to veteran politician and former Nakhon Pathom MP Padermchai Sasomsap from coalition party Chartthaipattana Party.
Now the government has added one more seat to its name in the Parliament, now holding 253. The opposition, meanwhile, has lost one and is down to 243 seats, while two are with independent opposition members.
Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said the by-election result reflects the state of both national and local politics. On the national front, it shows that voters were dissatisfied with the political role Future Forward played over the past six months, he said.
Critics also pointed out that Future Forward’s controversial behaviour may have led to the defeat. One obvious incident was when 70 Future Forward Party members last week voted against an executive decree to transfer some Army troops and budget to the Royal Security Command.
The party’s secretary-general, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, spoke up in Parliament questioning the issuance of the decree.
“This objection [to the decree] gave rise to a lot of criticism. People who disagree with this stance may have turned away from the party,” Yuthaporn said.
Another factor for the defeat was Thanathorn’s remark while delivering his testimony at Constitutional Court, when he referred to fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s “conflicts of interest”. Thanathorn was in court to defend himself in relation to his shareholding in a media company.
During his defence, Thanathorn said he wanted to pursue a political career which is free from conflicts of interest, so he would not face the same fate as Thaksin.
“That comment may have upset some of the former PM’s supporters,” Yuthaporn said.
Thanathorn, a 40-year-old billionaire, rattled Thailand’s establishment since seizing the political limelight with his criticism over the Army’s role in Thai politics and society.
Founded only 12 months before the March election, Future Forward became Thailand’s third largest political party in an election that ended five years of outright junta rule. The party was backed by millions of young people wearied by the dominance of the conservative old guard.
“But there is no more Thanathorn fever and the party’s popularity has also declined due to those factors as well as some rifts among the party members,” Yuthaporn said.
The by-election for Constituency 5 of the province northwest to Bangkok was held after Future Forward MP Jumpita Chandarakachorn gave up her seat due to health issues.
In Wednesday’s contest, Padermchai garnered 37,675 votes, while the runner-up, Future Forward’s Pairatchote Chantharakachorn, received 28,216 votes. Democrat candidate Surachai Anutto came in third with 18,425 votes.
Pheu Thai decided not to field a candidate because it did not want to split votes with Future Forward. The core coalition party, Phalang Pracharat, also skipped the by-election to pave the way for its coalition partners Democrat and Chartthaipattana.
In the March 24 election, Jumpita won 34,164 votes, followed by Democrat Surachai with 18,970, Rawang Netphokaew of Palang Pracharat (18,741) and Padermchai (12,279). Future Forward’s huge win in March had resulted from the dissolution of Thai Raksa Chart Party.
If the results of the two elections are compared, Padermchai gained 25,000 more votes, while Future Forward lost 6,000 votes.
If this figure is analysed, Yuthaporn said, Padermchai’s 37,675 votes would have come from his supporters (12,279 votes), plus 18,741 from backers of Palang Pracharat, which skipped the by-election, and 6,000 votes from Thaksin supporters who were upset by Thanathorn’s remark.
However, Padermchai’s comeback also reveals something new about local politics, the academic said.
Padermchai’s defection from Pheu Thai to Chartthaipattana last year upset his supporters, causing him to lose out in the March election. Yet his win in the latest by-election proves that the influence of the Sasomsub family, a powerful political clan based in Nakhon Pathom, remains strong, Yuthaporn said.