The United Thai Nation Party’s Radical Conservatism

“What is an ideology?” This was a question that Dr. Trairong Suwankiri, a former deputy prime minister, rhetorically posed to the audience at the United Thai Nation Party event earlier this month where Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was unveiled as the party’s standard-bearer. “An ideology,” he explained, “is the general direction a political party wants to take the nation to safeguard its future for the next generation.” 

This is not the standard Oxford Dictionary definition of an ideology. But it is useful enough. In a country where several parties seem entirely devoid of guiding principles beyond the pursuit of power, and many politicians espouse only platitudes about development when asked about their own beliefs, it is helpful that Trairong is, at the very least, thinking in ideological terms. 

Then, however, Trairong commenced an epic polemic. 

He lashed out against the “great powers” that he accused of “trying to turn us into running dogs” and interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs. “They want to do anything they can,” he declared, “to indoctrinate our youth so that they hate this nation.” He decried a “crisis of morality” that he said was enveloping the bureaucratic and political system. Wearing a grey shirt and a black jacket, he said they represented the influence of grey money and dark money that bad politicians have allowed to run amok. And the reason that “low-quality politicians” get elected, he noted, is because “people do not use their brains” while voting. 

Trairong concluded with the pronouncement that he was supporting Prayut for a return to the premiership because he is “a good person, honest, and clean. No other party leader can be compared to him.”  

The automatic comparison we make of the role that UTN currently plays is to Palang Pracharath in 2019, for both were the vehicles of choice for Prayut in the respective general elections. Yet there is a key difference. PPRP has never been a truly ideological party, given its automatic designation as the natural party of government, albeit in a warped system, since its foundation. It attracted a motley crew of ex-Thaksinites and former Democrats, former enemies bound together by the knowledge that the Senate guaranteed them power. The PPRP cares about the preservation of a system that favors them, but what do its members have in common beyond that? We would be hard pressed to say. Hence the reason the PPRP is widely described as a phuk chapor kij — a “mission-specific” party.

This was an accusation that Trairong immediately sought to dispel for his new venture. A phuk chapor kij this is not; the UTN is very much an ideological project. Indeed, a glance at the party’s roster should not surprise anyone that it is much more coherent in its beliefs. The party’s secretary-general was a key PDRC protest leader and its executives were drawn from parties such as Democrats and Ruam Palang (founded by Suthep Thaugsuban). Of course, there are still some notable converts: Setsakol Atthawong is a member, a red shirt leader who once composed a song called “Loyalty to Thaksin” but is now a born-again diehard Prayut supporter. 

Indeed, there was not a shadow of doubt left about what ideology the United Thai Nation Party wanted to display by allowing Trairong to give this speech on their biggest stage so far. It was a rendition of the greatest hits of recent Thai conservatism.

Click here for the full piece at Thai Enquirer.

(Cover image credits)


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