🇹🇭 Thailand, get ready to hit the polls!
New faces and parties, but old battle lines
It’s time in Thailand. After the dissolution of parliament earlier this week, the Election Commission announced polls will be held on May 14. A week later than the best odds but nothing surprising.
The full Mekong read will come out tomorrow for premium readers — just wanted to get this one out asap. Let’s go!
I always stick close to Thai Enquirer but I’m going to be all over those guys for the next two months. This morning the team published what I hope is one of many pieces comparing and contrasting policies of the four major parties contesting in every province: ‘main opposition Pheu Thai Party, the ruling pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), the oldest party the Democrat Party and the possible kingmaker Bhumjaithai Party.’
Pheu Thai Party is looking to up the minimum wage while Ruam Thai Sang Chart, which is fielding incumbent Prayuth Chan-o-cha for PM again, is looking at extending concessions for welfare card holders. Future Forward successor Move Forward Party already have a lot of interesting ideas (click through!) but I imagine Pheu Thai fielding Paethongtarn “Ung-Ing” Shinawatra, daughter of Thaksin, will take the bulk of foreign media coverage this time around.
Parties and candidates will firm up and formally register in early April. Thai voters have their say mid-May and by the end of the month the military-appointed Senate and the lower house pick the leader from a list of candidates. Patpicha Tanakasempipat has a fantastic primer in Bloomberg this week, where she reports Prayuth has fallen to third spot in the polls while Paethongtarn Shinawatra has extended her lead in a NIDA survey published over the weekend. Intriguingly, Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party is sitting on second with just .10% on Prayuth.
I think it’s important here to be absolutely explicit about expectations. Patpicha puts it bluntly: “Although pre-election surveys project opposition parties holding an edge, the rules are stacked in favour of military-backed groups. That’s because the 2017 constitution gives the 250-member Senate, comprising mostly of establishment allies, the power to vote alongside the lower house until 2024 to pick the next prime minister.”
BBC’s Jonathan Head and Nicholas Yong published an analysis yesterday that further tempered my personal tendency to get carried away. This one, like all the others, is really worth reading in full but my two key takeaways are that a lot is riding on the military-written constitution to keep aligned in — and Pheu Thai out. But how Pheu Thai fares is the major question here. As polling shows, the party continues to dominate — ‘as it has been in every election for the past 22 years’ — and the military will certainly be hoping urban conservatives will show up in droves to balance out Pheu Thai’s immense popularity elsewhere.
With voters only given a day so far to sleep on it, much of the reporting has been straight. I did find this one from Al Jazeera very interesting, however. For the million Myanmar nationals living in Thailand, the election could bring hope that a new, less military-aligned government could shake up relations with the Myanmar junta. “If the Thai opposition forms a government, they will likely support Myanmar’s democratic movement, probably in cooperation with the US. But I worry that China, who’s supporting Min Aung Hlaing, will pressure the new Thai administration,” one young Myanmar national told Al Jazeera.
There’s a lot that goes unsaid in politics across this part of the world. It’s not so much reading tea leaves as it is reading turns of phrases, body language and history. These very high-level Thai politics is not something I’m overly familiar with so will be relying strongly on the brilliant journalists in Bangkok and further afield as well as the academics who have built careers in parsing the little moments that reveal a lot.