Thailand’s Progressive Movement that has enjoyed strong national support from the country’s younger generation learned that the oldest rule in electioneering remains true: All politics are local.
In Sunday’s provincial administrative organization elections, Move Forward, the successor to the now-banned Future Forward Party, suffered a crushing defeat across the 52 provinces where it fielded candidates for PAO presidents and council members.
The party ran more than 1,000 candidates but lost every one of its 42 races for PAO president and won only 55 seats in 18 provinces for provincial councils.
Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit on Monday apologized to Move Forward’s young supporters and blamed his own candidates and campaign officials for the wipeout.
“We were unable to win the chairmanship of a single provincial administration organization because we did not work hard or efficiently enough,” he said in a Facebook post.
The election results will be finalized after claims of fraud or irregularities have been received by the election authorities.
This was the first local election to be held since the 2014 coup. Move Forward was supported by the youth taking part in the pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, and the nationwide election was seen as a bellwether of the movement’s popularity.
But while Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party surprised many by emerging as the third-largest party in the 2019 Thai general election, it couldn’t spark the same magic at the local level, which is dominated by local political clans or supported by major political parties.
Nowhere was that more true than in Chonburi, where Move Forward’s Progressive Movement to Change Chonburi had set its sights on taking down the entrenched Kunplome dynasty that has run the province and its key city, Pattaya, for decades.
Following the party’s national PAO strategy, 42 candidates campaigned on a platform of decentralization and “shaking up local politics by bringing “true democracy” to Thailand’s cronyism-filled backwaters where political monopolies or use of political positions for financial gain was commonplace.
Carrying Move Forward’s banner was Ploylapas Singtothong, advisor to the secretary for the current commerce minister whose father served in the Thaksin Shinawatra cabinet.
Her opponent was PAO President Wittaya Kunplome, the second son of the late “godfather of Chonburi” Somchai Kunplome, a convicted murderer and organized crime boss who died in 2019 after installing relations near and far or cronies in nearly every political office in Chonburi.
The message failed to resonate, however, and Wittaya crushed progressive candidate Ploylapas by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in Sunday’s vote.
Wittaya’s group – the We Love Chonburi Party – also won all but one of the 14 seats in Banglamung District which is home to Pattaya, where his elder brother Sonthaya – another former Thaksin minister – is mayor.
Thaksin’s shadow loomed over Sunday’s election elsewhere, as well, with his hand-picked candidate winning the PAO presidency in Chiang Mai.
Pichai Lertpongadisorn of the Pheu Thai Party beat his closest rival and old friend Boonlert Buranupakorn, who was backed by the red-shirt anti-government movement, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.