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Democrat Party (DP) / Phak Prachathipat

Founded in 1946, the Democrat Party (DP) is Thailand's oldest party, with well established traditions. This is unusual, since as Allen Hicken notes, "Thai political parties tend to be short-lived alliances of convenience. Forty-three parties competed in at least one election between 1979 and 1996, and of those, only ten survived to compete in the 2001 election alongside more than twenty new parties. On average, parties competed in fewer than three elections before disbanding. Nearly half (twenty parties) competed in only one election."

Of the seven seats at stake in five by-elections held in 1985, the Democrats won five, four of them in Bangkok, where they also captured thirty-eight seats in the election for the fifty-four-member city council. One of the winning Democrats was General Harn Linanond, a former commander of the Fourth Army Region who quit the army in 1984 in a dispute with General Arthit. In 1985 Harn, who was deputy leader of the Democrat Party, and his party colleagues opposed a one-year extension of service for Arthit, who was due for retirement in September 1985. The army had reportedly ordered its personnel in Bangkok to vote for former Lieutenant General Vitoon Yasawas, Harn's rival, running on the Social Action Party ticket.

Tensions between the army and the Democrat Party also surfaced in Thailand's first gubernatorial election for Bangkok in November 1985. This contest was won handily by former Major General Chamlong Srimuang, a devout Buddhist, former chief aide to Prem and former leader of the Class Seven military academy graduates. Chamlong ran as an independent but was strongly supported by Arthit, who publicly urged his subordinates and their families to vote against any party that had an antimilitary orientation. His urging was directed particularly against the Democrat Party. Arthit's support would have made little difference in the outcome of the contest because of Chamlong's immense personal appeal to nearly every segment of the Bangkok electorate.

The Democrat Party devoted more human and material resources to branch development since its inception than any other political party in Thailand. In 2006, the Democrat Party had approximately 200 local branches around the nation. Other major parties, such as the Thai Nation, which survived for 30 years, had 14 branches, while the Thai Rak Thai Party (1998-2006) had 10 branches. When the DP last held the reins of government (from 1997-2001), a capable, technocratic team helped Thailand to recover from the Asian financial crisis. Some Thais view the DP as too rigid, bureaucratic, and elitist.

Of the four ruling coalition parties in 1987, the Democrat Party was considered to be somewhat liberal, despite its beginning in 1946 as a conservative, monarchist party. Seni Pramoj, prime minister in 1946 and again in 1976, led the party from its inception until 1979. In 1974 the party suffered major fragmentation and lost some key figures, including Kukrit, Seni's brother, who formed the Social Action Party that year. In the 1979 election, the Democrats suffered a major setback but rebounded in 1983. Over the years, this party consistently opposed military involvement in politics and actively sought to broaden its base of support across all social segments and geographical regions. In recent years, particularly after July 1986, the Democrats were racked by internal strife. Their leader Bhichai Rattakul, deputy prime minister in Prem's coalition, was reconfirmed in a factional showdown in January 1987. Afterward, retired Lieutenant Colonel Sanan Khachornprasart was named secretary general, in place of Veera Musikapong, whose faction had been backed by wealthy Bangkok businessman Chalermphan Srivikorn.

The Democrat Party (DP), under the leadership of Banyat Bantadtan and DP Secretary General Pradit Phaktharaprasit, appeared likely remain as the main opposition party after the February 2005 election. DP had deep roots in modern Thai democratic history, a current registered membership of 3.8 million, and a parliamentary strength of 128 MPs. Its regional strength was in Bangkok and southern province constituencies. In the four years leading up to the 2005 elections, the DP had a decidedly difficult role - partly because the TRT-led majority coalition in the House of Representatives prevented DP from ever censuring the Prime Minister directly and even hampered its ability to open "no confidence" debates against ministers.

The DP struggled to come up with new approaches to better confront Thaksin and the TRT, which seemed to outflank and humiliate the Democrats at every term, which has given the DP an air of ineptitude. Persistence of the bitter party rifts which have historically plagued DP did not help. A party split widened in 2003 when power broker MG Sanan Khachonprasat, who was banned in August 2000 from holding political posts himself for 5 years for asset concealment, collided with then DP party leader Chuan Leekpai over Chuan's successor. Sanan's faction won this conflict and put veteran southern politician Banyat Banthatthan in as the new DP leader, marginalizing Chuan's preferred heir, the young and charismatic Bangkokian Aphisit Vejjajiva. In July 2004, reportedly disgruntled over his failure to sufficiently influence Banyat, Sanan led several MPs out of the DP and established Mahachon, a new political party built on the remnants of the Rassadon (People's) Party of Watthana Atsawahem, a notoriously "dirty" politician.

The DP seemed likely to be able to hang on to most of its traditional parliamentary seats in Thailand's South, and few constituencies elsewhere. However, under the stodgy and uninspired leadership of Banyat, it has no chance of extending its base or beating TRT nationwide.

In February 2005 national elections, then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's TRT Party won an absolute majority of 377 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament and formed a government without entering into a coalition. On 24 February 2006, amid massive antigovernment street demonstrations and growing calls for his resignation, Thaksin dissolved the lower house of parliament and called for elections to be held on April 2. The three main opposition political parties, including the Democrat Party, abstained from the snap election on the grounds of fraud by the ruling party. The April 2 election and subsequent by-elections did not result in a full lower house. Election laws required candidates running unopposed to garner the votes of at least 20 percent of the electoral base in their constituency. TRT candidates running unopposed in at least 13 constituencies were unable to reach the 20 percent threshold. As such, the lower house was unable to convene an opening session or elect a new prime minister. On May 8, the Constitutional Court ruled that the April 2 election was unconstitutional.

The 23 December 2007 general election saw the People Power Party emerging as the largest party, followed by the Democrat Party, the Chart Thai Party, and other parties. No party gained more than half of the 480-member House of Representatives. The People Power Party had a chance to form a coalition government, with Mr. Samak Sundaravej as the 25th Prime Minister of Thailand, after the election, while the Democrat Party served as the Opposition. On 17 September 2008, Mr. Somchai Wongsawat of the People Power Party was voted the 26th Prime Minister of Thailand, replacing Mr. Samak, who stepped down because of a court decision that he had violated the Constitution by hosting a television show, which was considered a conflict of interest.

Prime Minister Abhisit was voted the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand at a special session of the House of Representatives on 15 December 2008. He was supported by 235 votes, against 198 votes. The House session was called after the Constitutional Court ruled that three coalition parties, namely the People Power Party, the Chart Thai Party, and the Matchimathpataya Party, were guilty of election fraud in the 23 December 2007 general election. As a result of the ruling, Mr. Somchai Wongsawat of the People Power Party lost his premiership immediately.

The Democrat Party, or Phak Prachathipat in Thai, Thailand's oldest political party, was the main coalition government party since December 15, 2008; its leader was Abhisit Vejjajiva. On 8 April 2009, about 100,000 people attended the demonstration called by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. The demonstrators made three main demands – for the resignation of the President of the Privy Council and certain Privy Council members, for the resignation of the Prime Minister, and for the amendment of the Constitution and political reform.

The Democrat Party’s 2011 campaign platform included: income guarantee scheme for farmers, increasing the minimum wage by 25 percent; narcotic drugs crackdown; issuing community title deeds for 250,000 households; and granting education loans for a quarter million university students, among other things. The Democrat Party said they will maintain seven social welfare programs, including free electricity for households with 90 units of usage or less, and subsidies on diesel and cooking gas. The party will also extend the 15-year free education program to the university level. Moreover, the Democrats also intend to achieve seven new projects, including the Chinese-Thai joint development of a high-speed rail route that will link China with Thailand and Malaysia.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader, expressed his belief that the competition between his party and the Pheu Thai Party will be intense in the 2011 election. In other words, the competition would be between two political giants, the Democrat and the Pheu Thai Parties, and the result of the election should be neck and neck, according to Mr Abhisit. He also added that the party’s policies were an important instrument to win the people over.

However, both parties’ policies seem to have been a copycat of each other. The Democrat party and Pheu Thai party have accused each other of copying its policies; ranging from the high-speed train project to government employees’ salary and minimum wage increases. One major difference in their policy was the amnesty law proposed by the Pheu Thai party for all politicians claimed to have been wrongfully accused of committing offences; one among whom was former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who has been in exile since the 2006’s coup. The Democrats clearly oppose the move, reasoning that the amnesty would only heighten political tensions, which could plunge the country into another quagmire of violence.

The Pheu Thai Party won a majority of the 500-member House of Representatives in the general election on 3 July 2011, and it has announced the formation of a new coalition. According to unofficial results of the election, the Pheu Thai Party came first in the election, winning 265 seats, while the Democrat Party ranked second, gaining 159 seats. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on July 4 announced his resignation as party leader, saying that he must show responsibility as his party gained fewer seats than in the previous general election in December 2007. In the previous election, the Democrat Party won 165 seats.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that he would like to see the new government move forward to ease the people’s problems, without bringing in disturbances that might affect national stability. His resignation as party leader was to show responsibility, as his party gained fewer seats than in the previous general election in 2007, when the Democrats won 165 seats. He affirmed that the Democrats were ready to be in the opposition, saying that the outcome of the general election was proof that Thai democracy is advancing forward. The Prime Minister warned the new government not to reconsider the corruption case of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, saying that the reconciliation issue must not be merged with the amnesty issue. He believes that the election is a process to bring back normalcy to the country and he respects the people’s decision.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:16 ZULU