Chalermchai promises unity as he takes over as Democrat chief
The Democrat Party brought months of uncertainty to an end by naming acting leader, Chalermchai Sri-on, as its new chief.
he decision was reached after achieving a quorum at around 10am on Saturday, with four candidates in contention, namely former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Lt-Colonel Thita Rangsitpol Manitkul, Watanya Bunnag and Chalermchai.
Chalermchai, nominated by acting deputy leader Dech-it Kaothong, secured 88.5% of the total votes as he was the only contender left.
In a surprising turn of events, Abhisit withdrew his candidacy and resigned as a party member after talks with Chalermchai.
Proposed by veteran politician Chuan Leekpai, Abhisit asked Chalermchai to halt the meeting for discussions, expressing worries about internal discord within the party. Chalermchai is believed to lead one faction of the party.
Meanwhile, both Thita and Watanya were found ineligible to vie for the top position as they did not serve as Democrat MPs or had been with the party for a minimum of five years.
Normally, an exception can be made for a candidate who gains approval from more than three-fourths of the members attending the meeting (196 in this case). However, they both fell short of the required votes.
After his victory was officially declared, Chalermchai expressed his unwavering commitment to Democrat ideology throughout his 22 years with the party.
“If I draw my blood, it will come out blue with no other colours present,” he said, referring to the colour of the party.
He said his decision to take the party’s helm was very “painful” as it would “destroy what I have made my whole life”.
Chalermchai had earlier vowed to give up politics if his party won less than 52 House seats in the May 14 general election. The party only won 25 seats in the House of Representatives.
But now, he said, he was marching forward as the party needed him, adding that he would work on fostering unity within the party.
The Democrats displayed signs of internal discord when their past two meetings to elect a leader collapsed.
Chalermchai also dismissed notions that the party is a “spinoff of any other party”.
Political observers believe that under Chalermchai’s watch, the party has a greater chance of aligning with its formidable foe – the ruling Pheu Thai party.
Meanwhile, some believe that this outcome is unsurprising, given Chalermchai’s purported control over 21 MPs.
In the party, MP votes have a 70:30 ratio of influence over those by non-MP members.
In the prime ministerial election in August, 16 Democrats voted in favour of Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin.
Chalermchai, a two-time minister and four-time MP, now assumes the role of the ninth chief of the Democrat Party.