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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Thailand’s National Elections: A
Preliminary Assessment
Carlyle A. Thayer
March 26, 2019

Manh Le, Zing.vn:


This time I would like to hear your fascinating thoughts on the results of Thai election
and the future of Thai politics.
My questions are:
Q1. Many people feel shocked about Sunday election’s results. How do you feel?
Which are the reasons that led to such results (the so-called victory for Palang
Pracharat and defeat for Pheu Thai)?
ANSWER: It is too early to be definitive about the final results of Thailand’s 24 March
elections. The Electoral Commission of Thailand has issued preliminary results with
94% of the vote counted and it shows that the pro-military party, Palang Pracharat
Party received the most votes, 7.69 million. The pro-democracy/anti-military party
Pheu Thai came second with 7.2 million votes, followed by the newly formed Future
Forward Party with 5.3 million votes, and the Democrat Party came fourth with 3.28
million votes.
There were three surprises in the election results:
• The strong showing of the Palang Pracharat Party may be explained by the low
voter turnout; 64 % of eligible voters cast ballots compared with 75% in the last
national elections. Additionally, the populist platform of the Palang Pracharat
Party appealed to voters in the North who became disenchanted by corruption
scandals under Thaksin and his sister, Yinluck.
• The large number of votes declared invalid (ranging from 1.7 to 2.8 million). and
• The poor showing of Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat Party. The
Democrat Party, which traditionally had a strong base in Bangkok, was deserted
by its base who cast their ballots for the Palang Pracharat Party and the anti-
military Future Forward Party.
Q2. With unannounced 150 seats, which final map of the lower house do you expect
to see? Does Pheu Thai or any party have chance to get the necessary majority to form
a new government?
ANSWER: The new government will be formed by whichever party or coalition of
parties can obtain a majority of the 500 seats in the Lower House, or 251.
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The most recent projection by Thai PBS forecasts that Pheu Thai will win 163 seats,
the Palang Pracharat 96 seats, Democrat Party 77 seats, Bhumjaithai 59 seats and
Future Forward 40 seats. The remaining 65 seats will go to minor parties.

Source: https://www.thaipbsworld.com/pollsters-have-pheu-thai-win-most-seats/, March 24, 2019.

For the Pheu Thai party to form the government it would need form a coalition with
at least two other parties to get the necessary 88 votes for a majority in the Lower
House. It is likely the Future Forward Party will join with Pheu Thai but another 40
seats are needed to form a government. This means that either the Democrat Party
or the Bhumjaithai could tip the balance.
In order to form the government, the Palang Pracharat would need to build a coalition
with three or more other parties. If the Democrat Party and the Bhumjaithai parties
joined in a coalition the Palang Pracharat would fall short of a majority by 19 seats. It
could make up the difference by including several minor parties.
It must be made clear, that electing a new government is a separate process from
electing the next prime minister. Under the 2017 Constitution the next prime minister
will be chosen by a joint sitting of the 250-member Senate and the 500-member Lower
House. In other words, the next prime minister must receive a majority of the 750
votes or 376. Since all members of the Senate are appointed by the military and are
expected to vote as a block, the Palang Pracharat Party’s candidate, the present Prime
Minister Prayut, will only need 126 votes in the Lower House.
It is possible that the Pheu Thai Party can form the next government but the prime
minister will be from the Palang Pracharat Party.
Q3. Bhumjaithai party seems to become the “kingmaker”. Which side (Pheu Thai or
Palang Pracharat) will they be more likely to join under your watch and why?
ANSWER: The Bhumjaithai Party is not the kingmaker per se but it is in a strong
position to influence the formation of the next government and election of the new
prime minister.
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The Bhumjaithai Party is a populist party that in the past joined with the Democrat
Party to form a coalition government. In 2011, the Pheu Thai Party rebuffed the
Bhumjaithai Party’s effort to join in a coalition. If the Democrat Party joined a coalition
led by Pheu Thai, the Bhumjaithai Party would likely join in.
At the moment the political situation is too fluid to determine definitively which side
the Bhumjaithai Party will side with because it is difficult know how much pressure
the military will exert on political parties to join in a coalition with the Palang Pracharat
Party.
Q4. What are you looking forward to seeing in next weeks?
The official elections results will be promulgated around 9 May. It is likely that as the
Electoral Commission of Thailand confirms final voting results that we will see a lot of
horse-trading between the Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai with the other major and
minor parties to form a majority coalition. Horse-trading will involve inducements,
such as offering ministerial posts to prospective coalition partners.
It is also likely the Electoral Commission of Thailand will recommend the
disqualification of several candidates who have won election. For example, the leader
of the Future Forward faces possible charges of cyber-crimes.
Q5. What will Thaksin and his allies do?
The Pheu Thai party is the present-day incarnation of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party
and its successors. Because of its electoral support it will be a legitimate political party
in the Lower House. It will be either the leader of a coalition government or the main
opposition party to the Palang Pracharat Party. The Pheu Thai party will push for the
removal of restrictions on democracy, a curtailment of the military’s role in domestic
politics and policies that reduce socio-economic inequalities and spur economic
growth.
Q6. The Future Forward say it will only join a coalition that pledges to rewrite the
current constitution. What will be the role of this party in the next stage of the
election?
ANSWER: The Future Forward Party will be either a leading member of a coalition
government or one of possibly three or more political parties that are in opposition to
the Palang Pracharat government.
Q7. What do you expect about the future of Thai politics? Is it going to be a chaos like
what happened during near two decades?
Thailand’s 24 March elections represent only a small first step towards the restoration
of multi-party democracy in Thailand. There are two scenarios. First, Thailand will be
governed by a coalition of parties led by the Palang Pracharat Party under the
leadership of Prime Minister Prayut.
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,
not the elected Lower House. And the Thai military will retain the authority to arrest,
detain and interrogate civilians with little safeguards against abuse.
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Second, Thailand will be governed by a political coalition led by the Pheu Thai Party
who command the majority in the Lower House but not the post of prime minister.
However, all legislation passed by the Lower House must be approved by the military-
appointed Senate. This could lead to legislative grid lock.
A Pheu Thai 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 in 2014. These appointed bureaucrats, judges and
senior military officers who will continue to have the power to block any legislative
changes they dislike.
In addition, the Pheu Thai government will be 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. Thus, there is little
scope for policy reform and innovation.
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.
Nonetheless, Thailand is likely to be governed by a multi-party coalition led by a prime
minister who is not popularly elected.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Thailand’s National Elections: A Preliminary


Assessment,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, March 26, 2019. All background
briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the
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