Banyat emerges as new Democrat leader
Bangkok, April 20, (TNA):,/b> The popular favourite to win today’s Democrat Party leadership election, Mr Abhisit Vejavija, was forced to concede defeat when he lost in a close-run contest to Mr Banyat Bandadthan, who beat him by less than three percent of the vote.
Before the vote this morning, Mr Abhisit’s chances had looked extremely hopeful, with polls showing that the majority of Bangkokians backed the youthful, educated image of the man whom Thais have come to know as ‘Mark’.
The party’s annual general meeting started predictably enough with a farewell speech from outgoing leader Chuan Leekpai, who said that after three terms in office it was time to pass on the leadership mantle to a younger man. But he said that he would remain a Member of Parliament, while relishing the chance to act as a more ordinary member of the public.
But it was clear from his speech that here was a man whose youthful political days were over. The former prime minister, who led his party to victory in two general elections, described the Democrat Party as an old man which had clocked up both successes and failures, but which would be continually judged on the basis of its mistakes by the political opposition. He nonetheless urged the party to counter any references to the party’s failures with notes of its successes, and said that the party now had to look forward to the future.
He also made a tacit admission that the party’s chances of forming a government in the near future were slim, given the current political climate overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Thaksin Shinawatra’s populist Thai Rak Thai party, saying that the Democrats should be equally prepared for a role in opposition as a role on the government benches.
Mr Chuan called on the party to carry out its role as a check on government power, saying that without a proper check on the balance of power, anything could happen.
As he finished his speech, the moment came that all the party members had been waiting for. The names of three of the party’s deputy leaders, Mr Abhisit, Mr Banyat and Mr Arthit Urairat, were formerly proposed as leadership candidates, and the candidates were given five minutes to put across their views to the 337-strong electorate.
Mr Abhisit admitted that he felt nervous trying to compete with the two old-time party heavyweights, and said that the campaign had tired him out. “Over the past three months I’ve learnt to feel what tiredness is, but the fatigue has been worth it”, he said, expressing pleasure that so many party stalwarts had given him backing. “Today I’m ready. Ready to lead the Democrat Party as an Opposition which remains strong, which checks the government with strength, working for the benefit of the people”.
His optimism found little echo among the words of Banyat, whose confidence of becoming party leader had no doubt been dented by recent opinion polls which showed him trailing far behind Mr Abhisit.
In his address to the delegates he promised that one of the first things he would do if he became party leader – and he introduced the word ‘if’ where Mr Abhisit had not – would be to table a censure motion against the government. He also brushed off concerns that the leadership election would open up rifts within the party, saying that he understood what it was like to be part of a team cheering a contestant on.
Like Mr Abhisit, he called on the party to be strong, and act as a check on government power, saying that a one-party democracy without checks was a dangerous one. And he promised that despite the unfavourable polls, he was capable of acting as party leader. “Despite the fact that the burden of a party leader seems a heavy one, because the fact that I am 100% behind the Democrat ideology, and because of the wealth of my experience both inside and outside the party, I am confident that if I am backed as party leader I am capable of doing it, and doing it well”.
After Mr Arthit had given his speech, the voting began, with Mr Chuan casting the first vote. After a tense 45 minutes, it emerged that Mr Banyat had won with 48 percent of the vote, with Mr Abhisit on 45 percent and Mr Arthit on only 4.7 percent.
Speaking after the vote, Mr Banyat reiterated his pledge to continue checking the government, saying that he would table a censure motion as soon as it was appropriate.