Google Trends shows that the term 'พรรคแมลงสาบ’ (Cockroach Party) has skyrocketed in Bangkok after Prinn Panitchpakdi, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party, announced his resignation on 14 April following allegations of sexual misconduct. The timing is not good for the age-old party as their candidate campaigns to be governor of Bangkok.
The derogatory term has been associated with the Democrat Party since 2002 when the party showed itself willing to use questionable means to get back into power after having lost in elections to Thaksin Shinawatra (then Prime Minister now in exile). Kanok Wongtrangan, who accidentally coined the term, has now resigned as deputy leader over the party's response to the allegations against Prinn.
Search data from 26 April over the past 30 days and the past 12 months show that searches for the term 'Cockroach Party' increased to 100 in Bangkok on 14 April, meaning that "interests over time" reached "peaked popularity". In the 7 days since 26 April searches for the term reached 100 on 19 and 21 April. This period coincided with party leader Jurin Laksanawisit's resignation from two parliament committees related to gender equality and national policies for women.
In the new series of allegations, the number of victims who have filed police reports has reached 15 despite allegations of interference by a high-ranking police officer from the victims' lawyer which the metropolitan police have denied. A Thai woman whom Prinn allegedly sexually assaulted in the United Kingdom also said she would reopen the case after a well-connected woman had threatened her into dropping the charge in 2002.
Jurin, a Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Democrat Party, apologized as he admitted that he took part in inviting Prinn to work for the party with the approval of the party's executive board. Prinn, the son of Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Deputy Prime Minister, was seen as young blood for an aging party which just commemorated its 76th anniversary on 6 April.
Jurin has promised reforms by setting up two committees to conduct internal investigations. The first will draft more stringent qualifications for people who want to work with the party and measures for supporting the victims of sexual assault. The second committee will look into inappropriate use of social media after alleged sexual affairs among party members were disclosed during an internal altercation.
Mallika Boonmeetrakool raised the issue of sexual affairs in a whataboutery argument to defend the inaction of the executive board over the allegations against Prinn. She resigned as a board member effective from 25 April, after the internal arguments via Line were leaked to the media and just as the internal investigation committees were empaneled.
Kanok Wongtrangan, a veteran Democrat politician, resigned over his "moral conscience" and because "the party's actions over this issue by the party leader run contrary to the public's expectations."
The other 7 women on the party's executive board announced that they would not resign because it would look bad on the party. They also said they would work to restore the public’s faith in the party. However, one of them, Onanong Kanjanachusak at a news conference on 29 April, handed in her resignation from the executive board, effective immediately.
The Google Trends result showed that the related terms which came up when searching 'Cockroach Party' included "Democrat Party", "Deputy leader of Cockroach Party", "Deputy leader of Democrat Party", and "Prinn Panitchpakdi." While searches for the term 'Cockroach' party increased only in Bangkok, the searches for the other related terms surged nationwide.
The increase in interest indicates one of many challenges for the Democrat Party in the upcoming Bangkok governor election on 22 May, the no-confidence motion in Parliament in June-July, and the general election which is expected to be held no later than March next year.
Prinn Panitchpakdi was a leader of the campaign team for Suchatchavee Suwansawat, the Democrat Party's candidate for governor. Prinn was also a candidate for the Bangkok Council before he resigned from all Democrat-related posts in wake of the sexual allegations. The people of Bangkok will cast their vote for the first time in 9 years on 22 May.
Suchatchavee said while campaigning on 25 April that he was shocked. Rejecting all forms of violence, he would make sure that sexual assault also counts as a severe disciplinary breach for all employees of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Earlier he had said that his campaign was not in any way affected.
Nikkei Review reports that the sexual allegations against Prinn, together with the recent resignation of government aide Seksakol Atthawong over a lottery corruption scandal, could damage the government coalition in the coming days. In the current House of Representatives, the defection of a few dozen members could remove the Prayut government before its term ends in March 2023.
The opposition Pheu Thai Party said that they were trying to use the no-confidence motion to convince 30 government MPs to change sides. While they were trying to talk with both opposition and government MPs, it would be inappropriate for government MPs to talk with Pheu Thai in the open.
The Democrat Party joined the government coalition led-by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in 2019 despite a promise to the contrary by its former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva during the election campaign. Searches of the term 'cockroach party' also surged at that time, as reported in Prachatai English's Thai Political Slang Explained.