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Phumjai Thai / Bhumjai Thai Party

"Phumjai Thai" translates roughly as "Thai Pride." The formal Election Commission Romanization of the name is "Bhumjaithai." The Constitutional Court's 02 December 2008 ruling left most MPs from the three dissolved parties adrift. Executive board members were no longer eligible to hold office, but other members who held seats in the House simply had to register as members of new parties. The Newin allies in PPP linked up with some other ex-TRT colleagues who, in 2007, had joined the Matchima Thippathai Party. Matchima had at its core northeastern politicians associated with Somsak Thepsutin, a former TRT faction leader who split from Thaksin immediately after the 2006 coup. Friction between Somsak and Thaksin had been evident even prior to the coup. Somsak's faction of TRT was, by some estimates, 100-strong, but Matchima, under the inept Prachai Leophairatana, turned in a dismal performance in 2007's election, winning only 11 seats.

Anticipating their party's dissolution, Matchima figures had formed a backup vehicle, the Phumjai Thai Party, which they formally registered with the Election Commission on November 5, 2008. Newin's loyalists found it convenient to join Phumjai Thai, and many announced their membership at a January 14 public ceremony. The current Party Leader is Phiphat Phromwaraporn, who ran for election to the House in 2007 as a Matchima candidate but failed to win a seat. Media accounts credibly claim a leadership change will take place in February, with Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul likely to take the party's helm.

Legislators from the dissolved political parties had until early February to join new parties; January 15 press reports claimed that Phumjai Thai was home to at least 30 MPs, making it the largest of the Democrat Party's coalition partners. Two other Democrat Party partners are sufficiently large as to also represent "swing votes" in the House, assuming that Democrat Party allies were to split along similar lines as in the December 15 vote for Prime Minister: the Motherland (Puea Paendin) Party should hold 27 seats, assuming preliminary results of the January 11 by-election are certified, though the party split in half in the December 15 PM vote, with 16 supporting Abhisit and 12 supporting the opposing candidate (then party leader Pracha); and Chart Thai Pattana should hold 23.

By some calculations, the legislators now in Phumjai Thai represent a critical "swing vote," and Phumjai Thai's defection to the opposition could bring down the Democrat-led government. To counter this possibility, the Democrats rewarded Phumjai Thai figures generously for their support in building the current coalition, with the top jobs at the Interior, Transportation, and Commerce ministries, and several other key Deputy Minister positions. Phumjai Thai force could leverage that power to challenge the Thaksin legacy brand, now claimed by the Puea Thai party, in parts of Isaan.




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