Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chiang Mai By-Election

Chiang Mai will hold a by-election in Constituency 3 on Saturday June 2 to replace outgoing Puea Thai (PT) MP Chinnicha Wongsawat, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders for falsely declaring assets. Channicha is the daughter of former PM Somchai Wongsuwat and Thaksin's sister Yaowapha Wongsuwat. 

As PT won the seat in the general election last July, they are the likely favorite. In fact, in the last election Channicha won in a landslide, defeating the second place Democrat candidate 81,450 to 22,049. Chiang Mai is also the home of former Prime Minister Thaksin as well as his younger sister, current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 

Running for the Democrat party will be Kulliyakorn Jiamkittiwattana, aka "Ann". She is 28 years old and works at a community radio station. In the run-up to the poll, many of the party's big wigs have headed to Chiang Mai to lend their support, including former PMs Chuan Leekpai and Abhisit Vejjajiva, among others. Here is a campaign video with her making the rounds with Abhisit (wise strategy?)

Representing the PT party will be Kasem Nimmonrat, a 48 year old local politician, who is reportedly very close to Yaowapha. Yaowapha is not only Thaksin's sister but also a key player within PT party. He has also received the blessing of PM Yingluck and Deputy Prime Minister/Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit and several other ministers. Red shirt leaders close to the PT party like former MP Jatuporn Promphan and Deputy Agriculture Minister Nattawut Saikua have also given support. Kasem has previously served as an advisor to Chiang Mai PAO President Boonlert Buranapakorn. 

Anucha Rungtranon, 43, is the third candidate, representing the Puea Pandin party. He is listed as a farmer by the Office of the Chiang Mai Election Commission. 

Take Away: There has been much speculation recently about a growing split between PT leadership (and Thaksin) and various red shirt groups over the different paths to "reconciliation" and other issues such as candidate selection, which may be affecting local elections and resulting in losses. 

The concern, for PT party at least, is that red groups will either run their own candidates, resulting in a splitting of the vote, or they may just stay at home and not vote. In both cases, other parties would benefit at the expense of PT. It has also been suggested that reds may vote for another party to show displeasure. Bangkok Pundit has addressed this debate well here and here

On candidate selection, there is a worry that PT's leadership is selecting the wrong candidates. In Chiang Mai, some reds reportedly complained about PT's candidate selection process, feeling it was undemocratic, driven by nepotism (Thaksin>Yaowapa>candidate) and could lead to an election loss like in Pathum Thani. Instead, they called for a primary system like in the US.

Views on this issue, however, were mixed among three different red shirt leaders in Chiang Mai - interviewed here. Though, what they all did agree on was that the reds in Chiang Mai would fully back the PT candidate. 

This upcoming by-election may test some of these theories to a degree, as what better way to make a protest statement against Thaksin and PT than by withdrawing or shifting your support away from the party in its own backyard - especially given that the seat was previously held by a Thaksin relative and the contesting candidate is known to be very close to Yaowapha. Stay tuned ....

Note: Thaksin came out today to apologize for his earlier statements about reconciliation, which were deemed "self-centered" by many of his red supporters. Perhaps his apology will ease some of the underlying tension and animosity. 


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