By THE NATION
Warong Dechgitvigrom explained that as an “underdog” in the contest, he would have to work at least three times harder than the “reigning champion”.
He added that from Sunday he will start travelling across the country to meet the party’s branch heads and eligible party voters.
“My policy is that we are going to decentralise power, with increased power for branch heads. They will work side by side with the party’s ministers and the party leader. I believe this will make the Democrat Party stronger. We did not have such a thing in the past,” Warong said.
He claimed support from many younger party members and senior colleagues who want to see changes in the party. However, he declined to provide an estimate on how many supporters he had, only saying that many did not want to back him openly.
The Democrat Party plans to sound out its 2.5 million or so members across the country about who should become the new party leader. The party is changing its regulations to require that votes are considered at the general party meeting to be held in November to select new party executives.
The Political Party Act only requires that a party leader be selected at a general party meeting.
Abhisit, who has served as Democrat leader since 2005, is seeking another term in office. Warong appears to be his only competitor, though media speculation points to former party member Alongkorn Ponlaboot as another challenger.
Warong said yesterday that he was not worried about Abhisit gaining support from most of the party’s 2.5 million members. “We believe party members will feel we are determined and sincere,” he said.
The politician said his slogan “Dare to change for the people” refers to changes for the better, within the party as well as in the country.
Yesterday, he joined Democrat politicians, who are part of the “Dr Warong’s Friends” group, to pay respects to a statue of Phra Mae Thorani (Earth Goddess) at the party’s headquarters.
Later they travelled to Phitsanulok province, where Warong officially launched his campaign for party leadership. There they bowed in front of the statues of the Buddha and King Naresuan.
The Democrats who openly support Warong include Thaworn Senneam, Supachai Srila, Sombat Yasin, Samran Sripangwong and Puttipong Sa-nguanwongchai. Warong, 57, is a three-time former Democrat MP for Phitsanulok. He was an obstetrician and deputy director of a hospital in the northern province before entering politics.
He earned a name for himself when, as a member of the opposition, he grilled members of the Yingluck Shinawatra administration about its rice-pledging scheme, which was mired in corruption.
When 54-year-old former PM Abhisit was asked yesterday about his policy platform for the leadership’s contest, he said he would now focus on doing his duties as party leader.
Meanwhile, Democrat rivals – the Pheu Thai Party – is also gearing up for the upcoming general election. Key party figures will start travelling to different provinces to meet local party supporters and branch executives, Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said yesterday.