August 7, 2023
BANGKOK – The Democrat Party yet again failed to hold a party caucus to elect a new leader and executive board, in what appears to be a clear sign of a serious rift.
The party had to adjourn its general assembly on Sunday because only 223 voting members had shown up, instead of the 250 required by the party’s charter.
This is the second time that the assembly has collapsed due to the lack of quorum.
A similar caucus was called on July 9, but had to be adjourned after fewer than 250 people attended.
The collapse of the assembly twice is believed to be a tactic of some Democrats who want former party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to return to the helm and pull the party out of the current crisis.
Non-MP party members have been calling on the party to amend its charter or waive the rule that gives weight to MPs over non-MP voters at a ratio of 70:30 in the party election.
Many former Democrat MPs who support Abhisit believe that acting party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on will be elected as new leader if the rule is not amended or waived.
Most of the 25 Democrat MPs are known to favour Chalermchai, who reportedly plans to make the party a member of the Pheu Thai-led coalition.
However, several former MPs, who are among the non-MP party voters, regard Pheu Thai as their biggest foe and believe their political DNA does not match enough to be part of the same coalition.
They reportedly want the Democrats to shine in the opposition bench under Abhisit’s leadership – much like the Move Forward Party, which has been thrown out of the Pheu Thai coalition.
The Democrat Party needs to elect a new leader and executive board after Jurin Laksanawisit stepped down to take responsibility for the party’s defeat in the May 14 election. The party saw its number of MPs fall from 53 in the 2019 election to just 25 on May 14.
Jurin had succeeded Abhisit who also stepped down to take responsibility after the number of Democrat MPs fell from 159 in the 2011 election to 53 in 2019.
Under Abhisit’s leadership, the party won 165 MP seats in the 2007 election – the highest in the party’s history. However, it was still defeated by Pheu Thai, so instead the party shone on the opposition bench.
Before attending the party caucus on Sunday, Chalermchai said it would depend on the party members’ spirit on whether the assembly will collapse again.
“If they have the spirit, everything will be fine,” Chalermchai told reporters before entering the meeting room at Miracle Grand Hotel in Bangkok’s Laksi district.
However, he appeared irritated when asked to comment on several party members’ reported concern that the Democrat’s ideology will be compromised if it joins the Pheu Thai coalition.
In response, he said, nobody has said that the Democrat will join the Pheu Thai coalition yet as the issue must first be decided by the executive board and 25 MPs.
“Let me ask, who does not have democratic ideologies? Tell those who have said this to speak clearly and point out who doesn’t have ideologies, instead of just saying things for kicks and to portray themselves as better than others,” Chalermchai said irritably.
“Who doesn’t love democracy? Who doesn’t love Democrat ideologies? If you dare, then announce clearly that you love the Democrat Party more than anyone else and even more than me.”
He added that it was not his fault if Democrat MPs preferred him over other party leader candidates.
After the caucus collapsed on Sunday, former party leader Chuan Leekpai said that though the new executive board has not been elected yet, a caretaker one can still run the party with no problems.
He added that the executive board, the caretaker leader, the secretary-general and MPs could hold meetings to discuss the party’s stance on key issues, such as joining a government.
Chuan explained that the Democrat Party is an institution because it has rules, and any decision of the party is made by the votes of executives and MPs.
He said the executive board must hold talks on how to iron out the rifts, adding that nobody can talk to any other party about joining the coalition without seeking a party consensus first.
He said that at a Democrat meeting, he had asked which MPs had spoken to Pheu Thai about joining the coalition, but nobody confessed.