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'We are Stronger now'
Chalerm on the NAP's future prospects

Battle of the Big Shots:
The race for the prime ministership is on
Other People's Money:
A conspiracy case in Hong Kong involves Marcos bank accounts

Bronzed and slimmed down from working the ground in his New Aspiration Party's northeastern bastion, Chalerm Yubamrung, 53, is as effervescent and punchy as ever. And why not? His soulmate, Samak Sundaravej, just won a whopping victory in the Bangkok governorship election. Chalerm helped him out by delivering his own fiefdom in Thonburi district to Samak. It proved that, despite his sons' run-ins with the law, an old-style rabble-rouser image and a lousy press, the populist Chalerm remains a formidable vote-winner. And it showed that the NAP, led by former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, is no spent force. Chalerm recently spoke to Asiaweek's Roger Mitton at the party's spiffy new Bangkok headquarters. Excerpts from the interview:

Are you happy that Samak won?

In the past, we've had a very good relationship. So even before Samak announced he would stand, I said I would support him and I spoke up for him in Thonburi. He was in the government of Chavalit. People love to see Samak and Chavalit together on television. They like to see them working together.

You are similar to Samak: loud, aggressive, forceful.

The kind of politician who is very aggressive, who speaks his mind, is the kind who does not have a hidden agenda. I am very open. I can be critical and forceful, but that's because I am sincere and untainted.

What does Samak's win mean?

It will affect the coming general election. His party is an ally of ours, so what seats he gets, we also get. I am very confident that in Bangkok my party will win 10 seats. Thai Rak Thai lost to Samak in Bangkok because they are too rich and they used too much radio and television advertising, too many posters. The same will happen to them in the provinces. Their motto is supposed to be: Think new things, do new things. But in reality, they have recruited all these old MPs to do old things. Our MPs who joined them are the less-educated ones, the B and C grade if you like. The A grade are still with us.

Can Thaksin Shinawatra become prime minister?

That is a very good question. Thaksin's party is new and he has recruited a lot of MPs from other parties. He assumes they will regain the votes of the people and become MPs again. I don't think this will happen. Money is not the only thing that will decide who will win or not. It will also be the philosophy and discipline of the party.

Why should people vote for the NAP?

We will do better for agriculture. We are better at campaigning. The party that wants the advantage in the campaign will have to debate better and deliver better speeches. People like to hear my speeches. If I am on television there are no traffic jams, because people stay home to watch me. Maybe the newspapers don't like me but that's only because I don't have a company that pays to put advertising in them.

So how will the election play out?

The NAP, the Democrats and Thai Rak Thai will each win about the same number of seats — 140, plus or minus five. I don't know which one, but one of them will be the top party. We are going to do well because our candidates have better qualities than the outgoing ones. We have restructured, and our party is stronger now.

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