Police General To Lead Thailand’s Main Opposition Party

Pheu Thai, the main opposition party to the current military government in Thailand, picked a new party leader on Sunday, October 28. The election was the first time the party had convened since it was overthrown in a coup by the military in 2014. Following the coup, the new government banned political gatherings of over five people but in September, the ban was partially lifted to allow basic functions of political parties in the country. The voting was carried out by several hundred Pheu Thai party leaders who attended the meeting.

Viroj Pao-in, an 86-year-old senior Pheu Thai party member, was elected its official leader following the voting. Viroj, a police lieutenant-general, was the only name on the ballot for leader, and the party said it will decide later whether he will be sent to the poll for prime minister. The current ruling military government is expected to send current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to the poll. They have been criticized due to claims that new elections laws are weakening the existing democracy and there has been the creation of an unfair advantage towards them. February 24, 2019 is the tentative date for the election, although it has not yet been officially announced and could be any time from then until May.

Pheu Thai, under variations of the name, has won the past five elections, only to eventually lose power, either by military force or through the courts. The party was founded by Thaksin Shinawatra in 1998 and has been overthrown by military coups two times. Thaksin is alleged to be actively overseeing Pheu Thai from abroad after self-exiling, which the party worries could get them into legal trouble. The government could find them guilty of being run by an outsider, which is outlawed in Thailand.

There remains a political party ban in which parties cannot campaign or hold rallies. A concern is whether Pheu Thai can capitalize on previous successes without participation of Thaksin and his younger sister, Yingluck, who managed to takeover the military government in 2006. However, much of the society in Thailand has begun to doubt the current military rule and longs for economic equality and a return to democracy.

Along with Viroj being elected leader, Sudarat Keyuraphan was named chief strategist of the Pheu Thai party on Sunday. “People vote for us not because of the party’s name or how we look like but … because we can fix their problems. So we are confident about the success in the upcoming elections,” Sudarat told Al Jazeera. Those who believe in the Pheu Thai party appreciate how its policies reflect people’s needs, while those who criticize it say their policies sound appealing, but are not practical.

The current four-year period of military rule is one of the longest stretches in recent history.

Hallie Kielb