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New Politics Party (NPP)

The New Politics party (NPP), led by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, was in 2009 the newest entry into Thailand's political sweepstakes. Built on the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose leaders comprise the NPP leadership, the NPP aspires to channel the energy and nationalistic spirit of the "yellow-shirt" movement into an effective formal political machine -- with a new light green color scheme -- capable of advancing its policy objectives. The New Politics Party (NPP) was founded on June 2, 2009 as the political arm of the PAD. The NPP was established to complement, rather than supplant the PAD; and the party and street movement enjoy a substantial overlap in terms of membership, funding, and objectives.

Sondhi Limthongkul, the media mogul who had previously been a staunch supporter of Thaksin, played a major role in the 2005-2006 crisis through the establishment of the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy. The PAD aligned itself with several state-enterprise unions (who were against Thaksin's privatization plans for state enterprises), supporters of the controversial monk Luang Ta Maha Bua (who opposed the Thaksin government's appointment of Somdet Phra Buddhacharya as acting Supreme Patriarch in place of the critically ill Somdet Phra Yanasangworn), prominent socialites and members of the Thai royal family (who claimed that Thaksin frequently insulted King Bhumibol Adulyadej), various factions in the Thai military (who claimed that Thaksin promoted only those who were loyal to him), and various civic groups (who criticized Thaksin for not paying taxes during the sale of Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings, although the capital gains from the transaction were legally exempt from taxation). The movement was highly controversial.

In a development that surprised no one, party loyalists overwhelmingly elected Sondhi as the party's first party leader during the NPP's inaugural general assembly on 06 October 2009. Sondhi, who has almost fully recovered from the spring assassination attempt that nearly killed him earlier in the year accepted the job, despite the fact that he once famously told his admirers to "slap my face with your shoes if one day I take any political position."

The transition also involved a change in color, from yellow (of the PAD, in honor of King Bhumibol) to light green (of the NPP). The party's symbol contains four yellow interlocking arms (representing unity among the Thai people in all four regions) set against a green backdrop, with the green scheme representing the party's commitment to clean governance. The party has also embraced an environmental agenda, which it believes is consistent with its other goal of promoting sustainable development.

Sondhi's political gambit represents a belief that the established Democrats cannot represent PAD interests within the formal political, parliamentary-based process. Despite lofty rhetoric and ambitious electoral goals, however, most analysts suspected the NPP will have only modest success in the next round of elections, and inflict only minimal damage on the Democrats. Perhaps even more troubling for the NPP's prospects moving forward, the party -- as well as "the yellow shirts" more broadly -- also appears to be riven by internal disagreements about core party orthodoxy, namely whether to promote fealty to the institution of the monarchy, or simply to the current King himself.

Realistically, the party would be fortunate to capture 10 seats in the next election. It is not clear how such a small foothold in the Parliament would allow Sondhi and company to fundamentally restructure the Thai political system, one of NPP's stated objectives. Moreover, the ascension to the thrown of the widely-disliked Crown Prince could splinter the PAD and NPP, if prominent members of the party openly question the presumed heir to the throne's fitness to assume the monarchical reins. Either way, Sondhi and company appear to have hedged their bets by keeping the PAD in play while building the NPP as a party. If, as expected, the NPP underwhelmed on election-day and finds the business of winning votes more complicated than the business of occupying airports, Sondhi and crew can always fall back to the streets and cyberspace to make their messages heard.

By and large the PAD supporters who constituted the NPP party base have traditionally cast their ballots for Democrat candidates. With the NPP now in the political arena, most analysts believed the NPP will be pulling votes away from the Democrats rather than introducing new voters into the political process or attracting votes from other constituencies. According to the party, NPP supporters are largely comprised of -- but not limited to -- educated, relatively affluent people in urban areas. NPP Sec-Gen Suriyasai predicted the NPP is likely to do the best in Bangkok and the Bangkok suburbs, in Pichit (in the lower north), and upper north. The party could also steal a seat here and there through Democrat party defections. MP elections generally turn on personalities and individuals rather than party affiliation.

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