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Thailand’s PAO Elections See Move Forward Party’s Rising Influence

In the countdown to Thailand’s local elections, scheduled for early 2025, political aspirants are gearing up for a crucial contest in the Provincial Administrative Organizations (PAO), with many eyeing the influence of the Move Forward Party to bolster their campaigns. This party, despite its victory in the national polls last year, could not ascend to governmental power but its rising popularity is now seen as a strategic advantage for local candidates.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a faculty member at Burapha University, has observed two distinct groups gravitating towards Move Forward: innovative politicians from developed regions with a strong middle-class presence, and lesser-known local figures aiming to unseat entrenched political powers. These dynamics highlight the evolving political landscape in Thailand’s provincial governance.

Provincial Administrative Organizations function as the apex of local administration outside Bangkok, orchestrating public services and government initiatives across Thailand’s 76 provinces. In the fiscal landscape, these organizations operate on significant budgets, with the 2021 allocations reaching over 28 billion baht, reflecting the varying needs and scales of the provinces they serve.

The structure of PAOs includes a chief executive and a council, both elected, responsible for local governance and legislative oversight. Their decisions and policies profoundly affect regional development and public services, underscoring the significance of the upcoming elections.

The political scene at the PAO level is traditionally dominated by influential families, with the Kunplome clan in Chon Buri being notably prominent. These elections are not just about local governance but also carry weight in national politics, where securing alliances with PAOs can substantially influence parliamentary prospects.

Despite the setback in the 2020 local elections, where the Move Forward Party’s forerunner, the Future Forward Party, didn’t secure any chief executive positions, Move Forward is poised for a robust campaign in the forthcoming elections. The party has been proactive in scouting capable candidates across Thailand, exemplified by their nominations in Phuket and Chiang Mai, where they hope to leverage their national electoral success to secure local governance roles.

This electoral endeavor represents a potential shift in Thai politics, challenging traditional patronage systems, especially in urban centers like Chiang Mai and Phuket, where voters increasingly prioritize candidate merit over historical political ties. However, in rural areas, the entrenched systems of patronage and familial connections may still dictate electoral outcomes.

The Move Forward Party, under the guidance of chief advisor Pita Limjaroenrat, emphasizes local elections as a means to decentralize power and promote equitable development throughout Thailand, aiming to mitigate pollution and reduce inequality.

Officials like Olarn Thinbangtieo and notable political figures, including those from Move Forward, underscore the evolving dynamics in Thai local politics, reflecting a broader trend towards scrutinizing the efficacy and integrity of candidates over their familial or political affiliations.

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