In this webinar, Dr Daungyewa (Hong) Utarasint discussed the evolution of Wadah, from its beginnings as a political faction to its current status as the political party Prachachart. Her focus was on how Prachachart utilised ethnoreligious rhetoric to garner support from the Malay-Muslim majority in Thailand’s Deep South provinces during the 2023 Thai general elections, as well as an evaluation of the outcome of this strategy.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Monday, 26 June 2023 — ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar moderated by Dr Norshahril Saat (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) titled “From Wadah to Prachachart: The Emergence of an Ethno-Religious Party in Thailand’s Deep South”. The webinar featured Dr Daungyewa (Hong) Utarasint’s research findings on the Prachachart Party’s use of ethnoreligious rhetoric during the recent 2023 Thai general election. This strategy included utilising religious campaigns to attack policies other Thai parties proposed, such as legalising same-sex marriages and cannabis.
Dr Daungyewa began her presentation by examining the Malay-Muslim majority demographics of Thailand’s Deep South and exploring the history of the Wadah faction, founded in 1986 as the first ethnoreligious Malay-Muslim political faction in Thailand. She discussed key events such as the 2004 Krue Se incident and the Tak Bai massacre, which significantly influenced the political landscape of the Malay-Muslim majority in the Deep South. These incidents eventually led to Wadah members leaving Pheu Thai to form the Prachachart Party in 2018.
In analysing the 2023 general election, Dr Daungyewa evaluated Prachachart’s use of short TikTok videos in their political campaign, likely influenced by the election successes of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) in Malaysia using a similar strategy. These videos invoke ethno-religious rhetoric imploring that their voter base, as Malay-Muslims, should not vote for parties that work against Islam. The videos also specifically criticise the same-sex marriage legislation promoted by the Move Forward Party. However, rather than winning the party new seats, this strategy only secured seven single-party constituency seats for Prachachart, similar to the party’s election results in the prior 2019 Thai general elections.
Dr Daungyewa attributed this outcome to a growing belief among the electorate, especially the youth, that the Move Forward Party could better represent the Thai Deep South nationally. Many Deep South voters strategically vote for the Prachachart Party as their constituency candidate while voting for the Move Forward Party in the Party List. This unique voting pattern was reflected in the 2023 Party List General Election Result, where the Move Forward Party obtained the second highest vote percentage, only behind the Prachachart Party, despite the former holding no constituency seats in the region.
Dr Daungyewa also highlighted that despite their election campaign strategies vilifying the progressive policies of many pro-democracy parties, Prachachart maintains close ties with them on a national level, even signing a Memorandum of Understanding with those parties and supporting Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party in becoming the next Prime Minister. Dr Daungyewa suggested this may be due to the party’s pragmatic approach to political alliances and policy promotion, having historically worked with many Thai-Buddhist political parties. However, she warned that this divergence in political affiliation and campaign rhetoric could create a dilemma for Prachachart when voting on contentious issues like same-sex marriage in parliament.
The webinar concluded with an engaging Question-and-Answer segment that addressed various topics. These included the nuances among different Deep South provinces, the role of Haji Sulong’s legacy, the influence of Islamic scholars, and the significance of the independence movement on the region’s politics. Additional discussion focused on the impact of TikTok on political campaigning, the relationship between the Prachachart Party and PAS, and Tawee Sodsong’s suitability as a Prachachart party leader, given his former role in Thailand’s state security authority. The potential implications of Pita Limjaroenrat’s premiership on the Deep South Peace Dialogue were also considered, underlining the significance of leadership transitions in peace processes.