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New faces not assured of success in Thai politics

Mar 17. 2018
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By Political Desk

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NEW POLITICAL parties and fresh faces often emerge ahead of a general election but only a handful of them actually succeed.

Thaksin Shinawatra was one of the rare success stories. In 1995, the-then telecoms businessman in his early 40s contested a general election for the first time in his life as the new leader of the Palang Dharma Party, which won 23 House seats in the national vote. 

At that time Thaksin received the blessing of party founder and popular Bangkok governor, Chamlong Srimuang, who would later become one of his staunchest critics.

However, after the Palang Dharma’s popularity declined, winning only one House seat in Bangkok in the following general election, Thaksin left it to form his own political party called Thai Rak Thai, which literally means “Thais Love Thais”, in 1998.

The new party led by a political novice gained a landslide victory in the 2001 election, winning 248 out of the 500 House seats up for grabs.

In the next general election four years later, Thai Rak Thai won as many as 375 MP seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, becoming the first party in Thai political history to gain an absolute majority in the Lower House.

However, only a year later in 2006 a Thaksin-led government was overthrown in a military coup following allegations of corruption and power abuses. Thaksin’s party was later dissolved by court order for electoral fraud.

His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was another political debutante who enjoyed big success, managing to get elected in the 2011 election after only a little over a month in politics. 

After Thai Rak Thai’s reincarnation, Pheu Thai Party, won 265 House seats in that national vote, Yingluck became prime minister – the country’s first female head of government – although she was not the winning party’s leader. This was mainly thanks to the influence of her brother Thaksin among Pheu Thai politicians, many of whom today still call him the “big boss”.

However, Yingluck’s government faced the same fate as that of her brother and was overthrown in the May 2014 military coup. 

Like Thaksin, Yingluck later fled the country and has lived in self-exile overseas, escaping a jail term at home for negligence in connection with her government’s corruption-plagued rice-pledging scheme.

Another new face in politics who enjoyed rare success was Chuwit Kamolvisit, the former massage-parlour tycoon who is now a media celebrity.

Portraying himself as a victim of the authorities’ alleged abuse of power, Chuwit gained 334,168 votes in the Bangkok governor’s election in 2004 when he made his political debut. The votes were not enough to land him the governor’s job, but the expectedly high support earned him respect and served as a springboard for his subsequent political career, albeit short-lived.

Chuwit later served two years in jail for ordering the dismantling of business booths from his coveted land plot on Sukhumvit Road. After being released from jail last year, he changed his career path to the media, becoming a television journalist and commentator.


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