Election fever grips nation

Huge turnout of politicians and supporters for first day of candidate registrations ahead of March 24 poll, writes Dumrongkiat Mala

Pheu Thai Party member Saranwut Saranket dressed in a warrior suit and arrived on horseback at the MP candidacy registration office in Uttaradit. He vowed to wipe out dictatorship. (Photo by Boonnum Kerdkaew)

A huge number of supporters of different political parties gathered Monday at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre in Din Daeng district, where the registration of MP candidates for all 30 Bangkok constituencies was taking place, to show support for their parties.

Although the Election Commission (EC) banned candidates from organising extravagant parades as in the past, the atmosphere was still very cheerful.

Most supporters wore colourful outfits to match their parties' colours and held up posters and banners promoting candidates for their constituencies.

In addition to the dress-up shenanigans, there are the names - like Thaksin and Yingluck.

Thaksin-aligned Pheu Chart Party currently has over a dozen registered candidates who legally changed their first names to mimic the siblings.

"Right now, there are 15 members who changed their names ... 10 men who changed to Thaksin and five women to Yingluck," said party spokeswoman Ketpreeya Kaewsanmuang, adding the party was surprised to hear of the name changes.

"It's their personal choice ... you can call it a gimmick as well."

The theory is that the move could attract votes from hardcore Thaksin supporters in certain parts of the country, where the billionaire is still revered for the populist policies he enacted as premier, such as universal healthcare and debt relief for farmers.

Only around 100 supporters for each party were allowed to go inside the Keelawes 2 building, where applications were being logged. The rest had to wait outside the building.

"I'm not lucky enough to get inside as the stadium can only accommodate 1,500 people. However, I'm still happy to be here because I've waited for the junta to return the country to democratic rule for five years," Jintana Kongchupol, a supporter of the Thai Raksa Chart Party from Thung Khru district, told the Bangkok Post.

Ms Jintana and her friends had arrived at the sports complex at 5am and all joyfully held up and waved posters featuring a photo of Thai Raksa Chart's candidate for Thung Khru district throughout the day.

Nucharee Dadden, a supporter of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) from Saphan Sung district, said that promoting economic growth will be the most important issue for the next government, and she believes that the PPRP is the best equipped to do that.

"The PPRP's policies are the next phases of the current government's policies, such as the welfare card for the poor project and one-million-unit housing project, which I really like," she said.

Rampoei Chokepaisarnsup, a supporter of the Democrat Party from Lad Krabang district, said apart from economic issues, she wanted the next government to deal with environmental problems.

"Actually for me, the economy comes second. Now I just need clean air to breathe," she said.

The leader of the Phalang Prachatipatai (Power of Democracy) Party dressed as the Lone Ranger and supporters adopted a cowboy theme for their candidate registration on Monday.

Kittikorn Somjitr, a supporter of the Future Forward Party, said he wanted to see the Thai armed forces reformed so they could no longer interfere with politics or seize power to govern the country.

"These are good signs, today. The political hype is building and supporters of different political parties can be together without any conflict or violence occurring. Let's just hope that everything will be fine, so Thailand can move forward peacefully," he said.

Only minutes after getting their numbers, each party added them to their posters and representatives and supporters gradually filtered out of the venue to promote them.

MP candidate registration will run until Friday; then the list of constituency and party-list MP candidates will be announced on Feb 15.

Across the country, most candidacy registration stations saw a large number of high-profile candidates turn up to register and receive their number.

Despite the number of candidates and supporters who turned out, registration ran smoothly and everyone appeared to strictly abide by the election regulations.

In Chiang Mai, for instance, three key parties -- the Democrat Party, Palang Pracharath Party and Pheu Thai Party -- presented their election candidates in all nine constituencies.

With 1.3 million eligible voters out of a population of 1.74 million, the northern province used to have 10 constituencies before the EC redrew the boundaries for this poll.

Chiang Mai recorded the country's second-highest voter turnout at 83% in the 2011 general election.

In Rayong, a total of 51 candidates from 15 political parties registered for races in four constituencies. They were both former MPs and new faces who are either well-known figures in the eastern province or young politicians.

Former Democrat MP for Rayong Sathit Pitutecha, who registered for the election in Constituency 1 of the province, vowed to campaign for what he described as "creative politics".

He said he would seek talks with every other party about the need for all candidates to strictly abide by the election laws and stamp out vote buying.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, former science and technology minister Suvit Maesincee, now a deputy leader of the PPRP, gave an electioneering speech calling for support so that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can make a return as premier after the election. The party registered candidates for all eight constituencies.

In Sa Kaeo, family members of veteran politician Sanoh Thienthong registered candidates to run in all three constituencies, two representing the Palang Pracharath Party and the other running for Pheu Thai.

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