Thai pro-military party gets another boost with by-election win

Two police officers set up the Thai flag at the voting station in Bangkok on March 24, 2019. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

BANGKOK - The pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), the powerhouse that leads the government coalition, scooped up another seat on Sunday (Feb 23) in a by-election in the central province of Kamphaeng Phet, one day ahead of the no-confidence parliamentary debate.

The expected victory will give the party and the coalition another boost in the light of this week's censure debate targeting six top government officials, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, said political scientist Wanwichit Boonprong at Rangsit University, although the winning candidate will not be able to vote in Parliament at the end of the week until the Election Commission clears his MP status.

"This may even encourage some MPs from other parties to join Palang Pracharath and strengthen the party further," said Asst Prof Wanwichit.

The winner, Mr Petchpoom Aponrat, 27, beat his main rival, Mr Kampon Panyakul from Pheu Thai, the biggest opposition party, with 45,687 votes against 37,989, according to the Election Commission's unofficial results.

Of the four by-elections held so far, it was the second win for Palang Pracharath and the third for the government coalition, which now enjoys a comfortable majority of 264 seats in the 500-member Lower House, against 224 seats in the opposition.

On Friday, 11 Future Forward Party MPs were banned from politics for 10 years by the Constitutional Court over "irregular" loans party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit issued to the now-disbanded party.

Mr Petchpoom is the son of Mr Vipot Aponrat, 61, the winner in the same constituency in the March general election last year. He was disqualified as an MP after a court sentenced him to four years' jail in September for his role in a violent protest at the Asean Summit held in Pattaya in 2009, which injured over a dozen people and forced the meetings to shut.

A former core member of the Red Shirt, a group of supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, Mr Vipot was an MP in Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party, and the party's successor Pheu Thai, before joining the newly founded Palang Pracharath.

Although Mr Petchpoom had no political experience before the election, his victory was largely thanks to the deep connection the locals have for Mr Vipot and Dr Varathep Rattanakorn, a Kamphaeng Phet-born former minister.

"People are generally more attached to individuals than parties," said Asst Prof Wanwichit.

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