Mr Prasert doesn’t exactly command the poster boy image. But being secretary-general of the biggest party in the opposition bloc comes with a heavy responsibility and expectations.
In summing up his priorities, the 60-year-old Nakhon Ratchasima MP says the party needs to modernise, maintain its solidarity and work proactively in parliament. These qualities will propel the party to triumph in the next elections two years down the road.
Mr Prasert sprang to prominence when he was elected to the seat of party secretary-general in October last year when a wind of change swept through Pheu Thai.
Observers said stalwarts who sat on the party executive board were either replaced or sidelined, stirring such discontent that some members quit the party. New faces were introduced to the party and they filled senior positions.
Mr Prasert, a five-time MP and one of the founding members of Pheu Thai, does not believe confrontations will win the day. He can talk to all sides and is well-trusted by key figures in Pheu Thai.
Holding a master’s degree in public administration from the National Institute of Development Administration, he was chosen at the Pheu Thai’s general assembly to serve as party secretary-general.
“People have painted a picture of me as a protege of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. That’s not the case,” he said, referring to the founder of the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) which was dissolved over electoral fraud and was reborn as the People’s Power Party (PPP). Again, the party was disbanded for engaging in electoral fraud and from its ashes rose Pheu Thai.
Mr Prasert said he used to work for Thaksin, now in self-imposed exile overseas, whom he respects. However, it has nothing to do with him landing the role of secretary-general.
The restructuring of the party marked by the dissolution of some committees and appointment of new ones has generally shaped up party and improved internal unity.
Living through the TRT and the PPP era, he knows the culture and inner workings of Pheu Thai. Former TRT members are involved in managing Pheu Thai and have been its strength.
The new board has worked to decentralise power in the party and sees to its systematic delegation of various tasks among 10 panels including those in charge of political activities, law, registrations and academic contributions.
Mr Prasert insisted Pheu Thai refuses to be left behind in a fast-changing world of technological disruption. The party has introduced “The Change Maker” project where the young generation of politicians are given space to air their political views to formulate the party’s policies.
During the parliamentary recess, party members traverse the country and take stock of people’s grievances. It also sponsors forums to discuss local issues that matter to residents.
To remain connected to people, the party has offered a membership subscription costing B100 a year or B2,000 for life.
Alternatively, people can download a “Pheu Thai Family” application where they can participate in the party’s political activities both online and offline.
Turning to parliamentary duties, Pheu Thai has shown that because it is in the opposition, it does not have to be on the defensive all the time.
A glaring example was the government’s defeat in the crucial vote on Section 9 of the referendum bill in parliament last week. The opposition managed to convince some government MPs to vote on the section along its lines after the second-reading scrutiny stage.
The fine-tuning of Section 9, initiated by Pheu Thai’s legal expert Chusak Sirini, authorised the public to mount an effort via a mass sign-up campaign to call for a referendum to be held on critical issues, with approval from the cabinet. “We are reasonable and that was enough to get the government MPs on board. That’s to be on the offensive. What goes on in parliament will be more intense,” Mr Prasert.
He denied the Pheu Thai has played second fiddle to the Move Forward Party (MFP) which comes across as politically robust and forthright in pushing its agenda.
While the parties do not agree on everything, they have banded together on vital issues such as constitutional amendments. The opposition parties, including the MFP, moved in the same direction in pursuing the amendments put to parliament in a motion consisting of two bills - one sponsored by the government and the other by Pheu Thai.
The bills were supposed to have been combined into one before being voted on. However, the amendments were shot down in the third and final reading on the back of concerns by many lawmakers that pushing the amendments through would be unconstitutional. “We’re not subservient to the MFP,” the Pheu Thai secretary-general said.
Looking to the next election, Mr Prasert said Pheu Thai is fully prepared for the contest. It has found representatives for nearly all constituencies nationwide, as required by law. The party hopes complete the process next month.
In constituencies where the party is not represented, it has begun scouting for candidates. He said the timing of the next general elections depends on how committed the government is to the charter amendments. Once the charter is fixed, the House should be dissolved so an election can take place under new rules.
With two years left of parliament’s tenure, the amendments could be wrapped up in a year although some more time will be needed to rectify organic laws such as those governing the election method. Pheu Thai wants voters to be able to cast two ballots, one for selecting a party and the other for choosing a candidate, as opposed to a single ballot at present. If two-ballot election returns, the Pheu Thai stands a promising chance of winning 200 MPs or more, he said.
Pheu Thai says the single-ballot system is responsible for its failure to garner even a single MP from the party list in the previous election.