Palang Pracharath Party

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Palang Pracharath Party

พรรคพลังประชารัฐ
LeaderUttama Savanayon
Secretary-GeneralSontirat Sontijirawong
SpokespersonKobsak Phutrakool
FoundedMarch 2, 2018; 20 months ago (2018-03-02)
HeadquartersBangkok, Thailand
IdeologyConservatism[1][2]
Thai nationalism[3][4]
Pro–military[5][6]
Political positionRight-wing[7]
Colours     Blue
House of Representatives
116 / 500
Website
www.pprp.or.th

Palang Pracharath Party (Thai: พรรคพลังประชารัฐ, RTGSPhak Phalang Pracharat, literally "People's State Power Party"[8]), also spelled Palang Pracharat is a Thai political party with ties to the National Council for Peace and Order, the military junta that ruled the country after the 2014 coup. It was established in 2018 by Chuan Chuchan (ชวน ชูจันทร์) and Suchart Jantarachotikul (สุชาติ จันทรโชติกุล).[9][10]

The party is led by former Prayut cabinet ministers Uttama Savanayana, Sontirat Sontijirawong, Suvit Maesincee, and Kobsak Pootrakool.

In the 2019 Thai general election, Palang Pracharath's candidate for prime minister was incumbent prime minister and military junta leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha.[11] Although Palang Pracharath came 2nd in the polls, it successfully nominated Prayut and formed a coalition government with votes from 249 senators, and MPs from the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties.

Founding[edit]

Co-founder Suchart Jantarachotikul is a retired army colonel who was a classmate of Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School,[12] shortly served as a member of parliament of the New Aspiration Party representing Songkhla Province in 1992 and was a member of the junta-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly from 2015 to 2017.[13]

Palang Pracharath supports Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ruled the country as the head of the military junta since the 2014 coup d'état, in the upcoming election. While there are multiple parties that support Prayut, the party is seen as the "official pro-junta party" or "pro-Prayut party" because many party leaders are also junta cabinet members and advisors.[14][15] Additionally, the party's name, Palang Pracharath, is the same as the junta's key policy initiative.[16]

The party is supported by the Sam Mitr ("Three Friends" or "Three Allies") group of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's cabinet ministers: Somsak Thepsuthin, Suriya Jungrungreangkit, and current deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak. The group has tried to win over former members of parliament from the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party (and its predecessors Thai Rak Thai and People's Power Party), the Red Shirts movement, as well as the Democrat Party. The Sam Mitr, by operating as a group of friends, were able to mobilize politically while at the time, parties were not allowed to.

In November 2018, the Sam Mitr group and over 150 former members of parliament formally joined Palang Pracharath.[14][17] As of November, at least 44 were former Pheu Thai, People's Power Party (Palang Prachachon), and Thai Rak Thai Party MPs. Additionally, at least 14 came over from the Democrat Party.[18]

2019 Elections[edit]

Since its founding, the party has been widely criticized for its leaders' close relationship to the junta and alleged abuse of their cabinet positions to fundraise and campaign for Palang Pracharath.

In late January, after the publication of the royal decree formalizing the election, four Prayut cabinet ministers resigned from their positions to campaign full-time.[19] The following day, the party announced their three candidates for prime minister will be Prayut Chan-o-cha, Uttama Savanayana, and current deputy prime minister, Somkid Jatusripitak.[11]

Uttama, party leader, remarked that with Prayut as the PM candidate, Palang Pracharath would become "invincible."[20]

However, on February 8, the party announced that their only PM candidate will be Prayut.

While Prayut has strong ties to Palang Pracharath and is seen as its real leader, he is not an official member of the party. Under the new constitution, parties are allowed to name non-members as their prime minister candidates.

Notable members[edit]

Note: On 29 January 2019, all four Prayut cabinet ministers resigned from their government positions after months of criticism.[19]

Controversies and scandals[edit]

Potential conflicts of interest controversy[edit]

The Pheu Thai Party has complained to the Election Commission (EC), accusing the Palang Pracharat Party of enjoying undue support from government figures and agencies.[23][24] Democrat Party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and others have called current cabinet ministers who are also party leaders to resign, citing possible potential conflicts of interests such as abusing government resources and budget allocation to gain an unfair advantage in the upcoming election.[25][22]

In response, Palang Pracharat party spokesman and Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister, Kobsak Pootrakool, assured that cabinet members will behave ethically and not abuse their authority.[22]

In November 2018, Prayut's cabinet approved an 86.9 billion baht cash handout package.[26] Critics responded by alleging that the cash handouts are an attempt at "using people's tax money to buy votes" in the upcoming elections.[27] The Election Commission also responded by announcing that it is looking into whether or not to open an investigation into this matter.

Palang Pracharat leader and Industry Minister, Uttama Savanayana, denied the allegations and said that the cash handouts are intended to help the poor and the needy.

Gerrymandering controversy[edit]

Per the new constitution, the Election Commission was tasked with redrawing the country's constituency boundaries. However, as the EC was about to announce the new boundaries, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked Section 44 to issue an order extending the announcement.[28][29][30] The order also exempted the new constituency boundaries from existing laws and guidelines. Previously, each district are only allowed to be drawn three different ways to prevent partisan gerrymandering. However, under Prayut's new order, the EC would be allowed to draw boundaries in any matter they wish.

This has prompted criticism from the Pheu Thai and Democrat Parties, as well as from a watchdog organization, Open Forum for Democracy Foundation.[31] They argue the delay's purpose is to enable the EC to draw maps that favor pro-junta parties, namely Palang Pracharat. Some journalists and commentators have compared this to gerrymandering in the United States, while others opined that the junta has already won the election.[32]

Election Commission chairman, Ittiporn Boonpracong, denied the allegations, citing his eye surgery as the cause of the delay.[33]

On November 29, the EC completed and released the new district constituencies.[34] Following the release, political parties and watchdog organizations stated that they found many instances of gerrymandering that would benefit the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party.[35][36]

Dinner fundraiser scandal[edit]

On December 19, Palang Pracharath held a 200-table dinner fundraiser raising 600 million baht.[37] During the event, an Isranews journalist obtained a photograph of the floor plan and confirmed its authenticity with event organizers. The map detailed the number of tables purchased by various individuals and organizations.[38] Among the organizations on the floor plan were the Finance Ministry, Tourism Authority of Thailand, and "Bangkok," which is widely believed to be the Bangkok municipal government.[39][40] This has raised concerns that state agencies were using taxpayers' money to aid the pro-junta party. Concerns were also raised that Palang Pracharath leaders, who are also currently serving as cabinet ministers, used their government positions to solicit funds, which would be illegal.

Others pointed out that the fundraiser was organized within a week after the ban on political activity was lifted. This would not have been possible unless the organizers had insider knowledge of when the ban would be lifted because the venue would have needed to be booked at least a month in advance.

According to the map, party leaders also purchased multiple tables at the fundraiser, also raising concerns. At 3 million baht per table, this would mean that leaders contributed more than the legal maximum of 10 million baht per individual to the party. Additionally, this raised concerns regarding the source of the money.

On this issue, former EC commissioner, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, stated that if the party leaders used their personal funds to purchase the tables, they would need to be investigated for their unusually high wealth.[39][41][42] However, if they purchased tables for other individuals, in effect, hiding their identities in financial disclosures, they may be breaking election, bribery, and money laundering laws.

The Finance Ministry and Tourism Authority of Thailand has denied any links to the fundraiser dinner.[43] Meanwhile, party secretary-general and commerce minister, Sontirat Sontijirawong, stated the map is inauthentic and accused Isranews of spreading false news.[40]

After public outcry, the Election Commission confirmed that they are looking into the matter.[42]

Due to regulations, Palang Pracharath had to publicly release records within a month of the fundraiser. In late January, the party released records accounting for 90 million baht raised at the dinner.[44] The records revealed that most of the donations were either from recipients of government concessions (such as airport duty-free conglomerate King Power) or government contractors.

Palang Pracharath declined to answer questions on the floor plan names suspected of being government entities: Finance Ministry, Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Bangkok municipal government.

According to the party, the other 532 million baht raised were paid for after the fundraising deadline, so those records will be published in the party's donors list at a later date.

State welfare card scandal[edit]

In December, a Yasothon province resident alleged that people attempting to collect their state welfare cards were given documentation and forced to join the Palang Pracharath Party. Officials told them that if they refused to join the party, they would not receive state welfare cards. However, if they did, they would also be given 100 baht to assist with transportation.[45][42]

Palang Pracharath denied any links to state welfare card distribution. The Election Commission stated that they are also looking into this matter.

In late January 2019, Nattawut Saikua, a Thai Raksa Chart politician raised concerns about Palang Pracharath using state welfare cards to solicit support from voters. He cited several reports of state welfare card owners receiving phone calls from individuals asking them to vote for Palang Pracharath to ensure continued support for the program. Nattawut believes that these individuals are either government workers or linked to the government in some manner because of their access to records of card holders.[46]

In popular culture[edit]

Although Palang Pracharat is a newly established political party, it is quite well-known because of its perceived relationship to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the junta. This has resulted in the party being depicted in popular culture and political cartoons.

In a November 2018 Prachatai cartoon, Palang Pracharath leaders are depicted alongside ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in a meme format inspired by the musician Drake.[47][48] The cartoon pokes fun at junta supporters' staunch disapproval of Thaksin and Thaksinocracy, while simultaneously approving of Prayut's cabinet and Palang Pracharath leadership consisting of several former Thaksin cabinet ministers such as Somkid Jatusripitak, Suriya Jungrungreangkit, and Somsak Thepsuthin.

Election Results[edit]

Election Total seats won Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election Election leader
2019
116 / 500
8,433,137 23.73% Government Prayut Chan-o-cha

References[edit]

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