The Debunking of Thailand’s Election: A Pivotal Moment in The Country’s Political Landscape

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Thailand’s political landscape has been characterised by a history of military coups, political turmoil, and disputed electoral procedures. The 2023 national elections were considered a crucial turning point in the political course of the country, eliciting considerable expectation. The election has yielded several noteworthy observations, including the emergence of young voters who are advocating for democratic principles and questioning the monarchy’s authority, the substantial influence exerted by the media in shaping the populace’s viewpoints, and the regional ramifications of Thailand’s political metamorphosis.

The ongoing 2023 election in Thailand bears significant significance, not only for the nation’s internal affairs but also in the context of the geopolitical dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region. The significance of Thailand’s cooperation with its neighbouring countries has escalated, bringing forth potential advantages and obstacles. The ramifications of the election results and the subsequent policy decisions made by the newly formed government will have a significant impact on Thailand’s regional affiliations and its capacity to effectively navigate intricate geopolitical circumstances.

Moreover, the Thai youth’s call for democracy has attracted the interest of diverse regional and global stakeholders. The heightened geopolitical manoeuvres in the Indo-Pacific region have amplified the importance of Thailand and its role therein. Consequently, certain stakeholders, such as Western nations, have assumed a compelling role in endorsing the aspirations of the youth and their democratic pursuits throughout the electoral process.

To encapsulate, the 2023 electoral event in Thailand bears significant significance owing to its potential impact on the nation’s regional affiliations, its capacity to manage intricate geopolitical dynamics, and the participation of regional and global stakeholders who espouse the aspirations of Thai young people for democratic governance.

Road to Election: The Mass Protest for Establishing Democracy

After the military coup in 2014, Thailand experienced a period of military rule led by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) under the leadership of Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army commander. The 2019 national election faced delays and resulted in the formation of a coalition government led by the Palang Pracharath party, which was supportive of the military junta. Prime Minister Prayut assumed office, despite the party not securing a majority of seats. This autocratic government faced extensive protests demanding democratic reforms and limitations on the monarchy’s power.

In the midst of the COVID-19 era, the Thai people initiated a protest movement against the military junta, advocating for a fair and participatory election. The protests also brought attention to Article 112 of the Thai constitution, which grants the monarchy an immense amount of power. Essentially, the protests aimed to challenge the monarchy’s rule, the military’s authority, and emphasized the importance of democratic principles. After years of demonstrations, Thailand’s regime published the election calendar in 2023 and conducted a significant vote on May 14th, 2023. However, before the election results are known, it is essential to comprehend the complexity of Thailand’s election process and legislative system as they are the key factors contributing to the uncertain future of the country.

The complex electoral system of Thailand: why the uncertainty?

The electoral system in Thailand is composed of a bicameral legislature, which is made up of 500 elected members in the lower house and 250 senators who are appointed to the upper house. The appointment of the prime minister entails a collaborative voting mechanism between the two legislative chambers, mandating a minimum of 376 votes in aggregate to secure the candidature. The presence of senators appointed by the military in this particular political framework confers an advantage to political parties aligned with the established order. The trend of electoral outcomes deviating from parliamentary seat distribution was evident in the 2019 election, as evidenced by the re-election of Prayut as prime minister despite his party’s diminished representation in parliament.

Major stockholders of the election 2023: establishing a new wave in Thai politics?

The 2023 Thai elections marked an important moment in the country’s political landscape. Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ran for re-election under the United Thai Nation Party, a relatively new party formed in 2021 with the aim of securing his continued leadership. Despite facing numerous challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, pro-democracy protests in 2020, and internal conflicts within his government, Prayuth’s administration managed to stay in power.

On the other hand, the Pheu Thai Party, led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, emerged as another significant player in the electoral race. Paetongtarn is the daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra and the niece of Yingluck Shinawatra, both former prime ministers of Thailand. Until the 2023 elections, the Pheu Thai Party, or its previous incarnation Thai Rak Thai, had won every popular election since 2001. The party was seen as a frontrunner in most pre-election polls.

However, as the race progressed, the Move Forward Party gained momentum and its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged as a popular choice for the prime ministerial position, particularly among students and younger voters, especially in Bangkok.

The Move Forward Party, established in 2020 as the successor to the dissolved Future Forward Party, garnered significant support and played a prominent role in the protests that took place in 2020 and 2021. Their platform resonated with many Thai citizens, particularly those seeking progressive change and greater youth representation in politics.

Another noteworthy party in the elections was the Bhumjaithai Party, led by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirarkul. Considered a conservative party, Bhumjaithai has positioned itself as a potential political kingmaker, capable of working with both pro-military and pro-democracy coalitions.

The results of the 2023 election: a ground-breaking result?

The Move Forward Party, under the leadership of Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged victorious in the 2023 general elections by obtaining the highest number of seats (151), thereby becoming the largest political party in the parliament, contrary to initial expectations. Paetongtarn Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party secured the second position by winning 141 seats. The Bhumjaithai Party secured the third position in the election with a total of 71 seats. Political parties that received backing from the military, such as Palang Pracharat and the United Thai Nation, exhibited suboptimal performance in the elections, securing 40 and 36 seats, correspondingly. The aforementioned election outcomes denote a noteworthy alteration in the political terrain and imply a potential transformation in Prayut’s political prospects.

Key takeout from the election

In contemporary times, a significant occurrence that has been observed is the rise of youth activism and opposition towards conventional modes of governance. The 2023 election in Thailand saw a notable increase in youth activism, specifically in relation to their dissent towards the monarchy. A significant number of young people hold the perception that the monarchy is an antiquated and non-democratic institution, which has resulted in demonstrations and the emergence of alternative political ideologies such as republicanism and anarchism. The recent surge of youth activism in Thailand has brought about a significant transformation in the political discourse, emphasising the necessity for enhanced democratic values and all-encompassing governance.

On the other hand, the media’s impact on election campaigns is of great importance, as it exerts a substantial influence on the formation of public attitudes and the shaping of voter conduct. The emergence of social media and digital platforms has fundamentally transformed the conduct of political campaigns. Social media platforms, such as TikTok, have emerged as popular channels for political parties to engage with voters directly, circumventing conventional media channels. Despite the emergence of new media platforms, such as social media and online news outlets, conventional forms of media, such as print, television, and radio, continue to exert significant influence over public perception.

The media’s coverage during election campaigns has the potential to exert both favourable and unfavourable impacts on candidates. Favourable media portrayal has the potential to enhance a candidate’s public appeal and garner increased backing, whereas unfavourable media portrayal can have detrimental effects on their standing and likelihood of triumph. The issue of biases in media coverage is a matter of concern, as certain candidates are favoured over others by some news outlets.

In this particular context, it is imperative for voters to take into account various sources of information in order to arrive at well-informed decisions. The employment of social media platforms has facilitated an increased scope and interaction with the youth electorate. However, the impact of conventional media sources continues to be a crucial element in moulding the storyline and consequence of electoral endeavours.

Nevertheless, the 2023 election in Thailand has garnered attention from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, particularly Myanmar, in light of ongoing regional concerns, such as the Rohingya crisis. The pivotal position of Thailand within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led the organisation to closely monitor the outcome of the election. The transition towards democratic governance in Thailand bears noteworthy ramifications for the stability of the region and the prospect of political metamorphosis in adjacent nations.

To summarise, the upcoming 2023 election in Thailand represents a noteworthy juncture in the nation’s political chronicles. Thailand’s progression towards enhanced democratic governance holds the capacity to serve as a catalyst for transformative developments in the surrounding area, while also aiding in the resolution of regional predicaments. The electoral process plays a pivotal role in determining the trajectory of Thailand’s future and exerting an impact on the broader regional dynamics over an extended period. The regional implications of the election are of great interest to neighbouring countries, who are closely observing Thailand’s democratic transition and its potential impact on regional stability and political transformations. Thailand’s adept of unwavering dedication to democratic tenets can potentially serve as a model for other countries in the vicinity, prompting them to re-evaluate their own political frameworks and endeavour towards enhanced inclusiveness.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Modern Ghana [Link] and Eurasia Review [Link]