Late last month, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) announced that Prawit Wongsowan would take the helm of Thailand’s ruling party.
The decision, coming amid an already challenging period for the PPRP, did little to abate the political turmoil and the uncertainties surrounding the government’s upcoming cabinet reshuffle, expected later this year. Five days earlier, on June 22, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, leader of the Thai Civilized Party (TCP), formed a grouping of seven single-seat parties, members of Thailand’s governing coalition, to ask for a cabinet post once the reshuffle happens.
Mongolkit had led a coalition of 11 single-seat parties after the Thai general election last year to similarly bargain for a cabinet post, but a year later, none have progressed to prove themselves as true representatives of the Thai people. Instead, they form a coalition of zigzag political parties, seizing every opportunity to pursue their own interests. Mongkolkit failed in 2019 and it remains unclear if the bloc of seven single-seat parties will be successful this time.
A review of the evolution of Thai politics over the past year, reflecting the role of the single-seat parties, could provide some insight.
Immediately after 2019’s election, the single-seat parties played a critical role in assisting the PPRP to secure the absolute majority it needed to form a government. Even with this support, the PPRP-led coalition government only narrowly secured 254 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives.
This slim parliamentary majority put the PPRP-led coalition government at a high risk of instability, with the opposition parties having the power to call a no-confidence vote at any time should they find the government responsible for mismanagement. Therefore the loyalty of the single-seat parties was extremely important for the PPRP to survive and maintain stability in the House.
With the passing of time came the changing of the Thai political climate, with opposition parties severely weakened in recent months. On February 21, the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled to dissolve the Future Forward Party (FFP), the country’s second largest opposition party, and banned the party’s leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit along with 15 of its executive members from politics for 10 years. Of the 15 banned executives, ten were sitting MPs.
Soon after FFP’s dissolution, nine of the party’s MPs defected to the Bhumjaithai Party. Pita Limjaroenrat, a former FFP MP, was able to re-group the remainder of the disbanded FFP MPs under the new Move Forward Party, but several former colleagues had already left. By March 8, when Limjaroenrat officially announced the new party, it was clear that the damage had already been done, with the Move Forward Party retaining only 56 MPs, down from FFP’s 81.
The most pressing problem is that Thailand’s political and economic crisis continues to spiral, thanks to endless internal power competitions within the ruling PPRP, as well as the outbreak of Covid-19
In contrast to its fractured opposition, the PPRP has grown in size thanks to three successful recent by-elections. On December 22, 2019, the PPRP beat the Phue Thai Party in the Khon Kaen by-election, before beating them again on February 24 this year in Kamphaeng Phet to gain a further seat. A third by-election victory came over the Seri Ruam Thai Party in Lampang late last month on June 21. With this latest victory, the PPRP increased its MPs to 120.
The PPRP has also continued to absorb more MPs from a number of single-seat parties. Paiboon Nititawan, leader of the People’s Reform Party (PRP), dissolved his own party to join the PPRP last August. The recently on June 22, Prachaniyom Party leader General Yongyuth Thepchamnong, along with Thai Nation Power Party leader Major General Songklod Thiprat, announced they would dissolve their own parties to join the PPRP, replicating the self-dissolution strategy initially manipulated by Nititawan.
By mid-June, the PPRP-led coalition government controlled no less than 276 out of 500 MPs in the House of Representatives, and with the opposition parties totalling only 212, the risks associated with their once-slim parliamentary majority have become obsolete.
And although the support of the single-seats parties remains useful for the PPRP, the prospect that those small parties may walk out to join the opposition if their demands are not met now looks less concerning as their significance in maintaining the ruling coalition has diminished. Therefore, as the role of the single-seat parties has become less significant, the possibility that the Mongkolkit-led bloc of seven single-seat parties may get a cabinet post is relatively slim.
Given the political uncertainties surrounding the PPRP, the return of Mongkolkit and his coalition partners looks more like the return of desperate opportunists, than that of crusaders. Whether Mongkolkit’s small bloc will get cabinet posts is not the main concern. The most pressing problem is that Thailand’s political and economic crisis continues to spiral, thanks to endless internal power competitions within the ruling PPRP, as well as the outbreak of Covid-19.
The upcoming cabinet reshuffle will likely invite more political instability, rather than national reconciliation.