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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Thailand’s 24th March National
Election
Carlyle A. Thayer
March 9, 2019

We request your assessment of the outcome of the forthcoming national election in


Thailand to be held 24 March 2019.

Q1. What is unique about this particular election?


After the 24th March the Thai Parliament will have two chambers, a 500-member
elected Lower House and a 250-member Senate wholly appointed by the present
National Council for Peace and Order, comprising 244 military junta appointees and
six from the military and police. Members of the Lower house will serve a four-year
term, while members of the Senate will serve for five years.
Under the terms of the 2017 Constitution the next prime minister will be chosen in a
ballot comprising 750 members of both chambers (or 376 votes to win). Any political
party that garners over five percent of the popular vote is entitled to nominate a
candidate to stand for election as prime minister. In sum, the next prime minister will
not be popularly elected.
For the first time in five years political parties that oppose military rule will have legal
status to register, to contest the elections, campaign, and have their representatives
serve in the Lower House of Parliament.
Members of the Lower House will be chosen by an electoral system comprising 350
single member constituencies and 150 proportional representation through a party-
list system. Single member constituencies favour the large established parties, while
the party list system favours small parties. Forty-five parties have registered to contest
the election
For the first time voters will be given only one ballot paper to elect Members of
Parliament from both single constituencies and mix-member party-lists.
In November 2018 the military junta gerrymandered Thailand’s electoral districts by
redrawing their boundaries.

Q2. What demographic factors are in play that will likely influence the election results?
Two demographics are important in this election – regions and youth. The opposition
Pheu Thai Party is a direct descendent of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party.
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Many of its candidates were Members of Parliament (MPs) who served when Thaksin
or his sister Yingluck were prime minister. The Pheu Thai Party is expected poll well in
the North and particularly in the Northeast. The Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest, is
popular among its supporters in the South with some appeal among royalists and the
elite in Bangkok.
There are 50 million enrolled voters for this election. Approximately twenty-five
percent are aged between 18 and 25. Many turned eighteen during military rule.
Seven million, or fourteen percent, are first-time voters.
Thai analysts assert that Thai youth are more politically engaged than any generation
since the mid-1970s. Their cri de cœur has focused on calling for elections (the junta
postponed the election date five times since 2014) and opposing military rule. A poll
by the King Prajadhipok Institute found that ninety percent of young voters (aged 18-
24) surveyed said they would vote this year.
Thai analysts are unable to determine the political loyalties of Thai youths and which
political parties they are likely to favour. One minor party, Future Forward, has
attracted youthful progressives with a platform of opposing compulsory military
service and an end to economic monopolies for wealthy families.

Q3. What is the likely outcome? Who will form the next government?
There are 45 parties that have registered to contest the 24 March election. Three
parties are expected to dominate: the pro-regime Palang Pracharat Party, the
Democrat Party and the opposition Pheu Thai Party. None of these three parties are
expected to win 251 seats or a majority in the Lower House. A multiparty coalition is
the most likely outcome.
There are three likely scenarios. The first scenario is that the Pheu Thai Party will form
government in coalition with minor parties but without sufficient votes to elect its
candidate as prime minister. That is because a party needs a total of 376 votes to elect
the prime minister but only 251 votes to form the government in the Lower House.
Recall that the prime minister is elected by both chambers (500 members of the House
plus 250 members of the Senate). It is widely expected that the military junta
appointed members of the Senate will vote as a bloc.
The second scenario is that the Pheu Thai Party will form government in coalition with
several minor parties and command sufficient votes to elect its candidate as prime
minister. This would set up a confrontation with the junta-dominated Senate that
must approve legislation passed by the Lower House.
The third scenario, a variant of the first, is that the current Prime Minister Prayuth
Chan-Ocha is elected prime minister as a result of 250 Senate bloc votes plus 126 votes
by the Phalang Pracharat in coalition with the Democrat Party (and/or other minor
parties). This result could set up a confrontation between the opposition parties and
the prime minister.
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According to the most recent poll conducted by the Nation Group of journalists, the
distribution of single member seats in the Lower House is forecast to be:

Political Party Projected number of seats

Pheu Thai 136

Democrat Party 88

Phalang Pracharat 62

Bhumjaithai Party 31

Chartthaipattana 12

Thai Raksa Chart 7*

Chart Pattana 6

Action Coalition for Thailand 4

Prachachart 2

Peau Chat 1

Thai Forest Conservation 1

Future Forward 0

Total 350/500

*Dissolved by order of the Constitutional Court on March 7, 2019.


Other forecasts taken before this poll suggested the Pheu Thai Party could win 220
single constituency seats, the Democrat Party 88 seats, the Palang Pracharat 80 seats,
with smaller parties garnering 112 seats. The remaining 150 seats will be determined
by proportional representation from party lists.

Q4. Does the election offer real choice to Thai citizens?


The Thai electorate are offered a very limited choice because the 24 March elections
are heavily contrived. Recall that Thaksin’s populist Thai Rak Thai party and its
successors have won every national election since 2001 only to be forced from office.
The current constitutional setup will prevent the Pheu Thai Party from gaining real
power.
The junta has appointed bureaucrats, judges and senior military officers who will
continue to have the power to block any legislative changes they dislike.
Senior military officers will continue to be appointed by the Thai military not the
elected prime minister. The Thai military will retain significant control over its budget,
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not the elected Lower House. And the Thai military will retain the authority to arrest,
detain and interrogate civilians with little safeguards against abuse.
All future governments are obligated to adhere to the Twenty-Year Development Plan
drawn up by the military junta in October 2018. This plan lays down policy in such
areas as national development and national security.

Q5. What is likely to change in Thailand’s political system after the elections?
Political scientists have described the Thai political system as a networked monarchy
under the reign of King Bhumipol Adulyadej (Rama XI). The King moderated the
political interactions between the royal family and its retainers, the government
bureaucracy and the military. He was able to do so because of his moral stature.
Following the March national election, King Vijiralongkorn will be officially crowned in
ceremonies scheduled for early May. But it is unlikely the new king will be able to
reactivate his father’s networked monarchy.
Thailand is likely to witness considerable continuity of the semi-authoritarian system
engineered by the military over the last five years. The national election will legitimize
this system at the same time that it opens limited space to democratic forces.
Thailand is likely to be governed by a coalition government of weak medium to small
political parties led by a prime minister who is not popularly elected. The new
government will be constrained in what it can do by unelected institutions enshrined
in the constitution and comprised of senior or retired bureaucrats, high-ranking
military officers, and well-connected wealthy businessmen appointed by the military
junta that seized power – the National Council for Peace and Order.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Thailand’s 24th March National Election,”


Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, March 9, 2019. All background briefs are posted
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.
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Projected Regional Break Down of Lower House Seats by


Political Party in 24 March 2019 Election

Bangkok (30 seats)

Party Projected to Win

Democrat Party 22

Pheu Thai Party 8

Central Region (92 seats)

Party Projected to Win

Pheu Thai Party 25

Phalang Pracharat 23

Democrat Party 17

Bhumjaithai 13

Chartthaipattana 10

Undetermined 4
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North Region (62 seats)

Party Projected to Win

Pheu Thai Party 36

Phalang Pracharat 13

Democrat Party 7

Thai Raksa Chart 3*

Bhumjaithai 2

Chart Pattana 1

**Dissolved by order of the Constitutional Court on March 7, 2019.

Northeast Region (116 seats)

Party Projected to Win

Pheu Thai Party 67

Palang Pracharat 25

Bhumjaithai 13

Undetermined 11

South Region (50 seats)

Party Projected to Win

Democrat Party 40

Action Coalition for Thailand 4

Bhumjaithai 3

Pracharat 2

Phalang Pracharat 1

Source: Survey by Nation Group of journalists