Thailand’s opposition parties are poised to perform well at next month’s general election, according to the latest Thai opinion polls.
The May 14 election is shaping up as yet another showdown between parties aligned with the conservative political establishment, backed by the power of the military, and the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), associated with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksinite parties have won every election since 2001, a result that the latest surveys suggest seems set to be repeated once again next month.
In the latest opinion poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha lagged far behind the country’s opposition parties. Pheu Thai was the preference of 47.2 percent of the 2,000 respondents polled during April 3-7, followed by the more progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) (21.2 percent), the second coming of the Future Forward Party that came in third at the 2019 election before being dissolved by the courts on a technicality. The recently formed United Thai Nation Party (10.8 percent), a conservative outfit that Prayut joined late last year, was the only other party with support above 10 percent.
These general preferences were reflected in respondents’ choice of prime minister, which proceeded in the same order: Paetongtarn of Pheu Thai (35.7 percent), Pita Limjaroenrat of the MFP (20.25 percent), and Prayut (13.6 percent). Again, these were the only three candidates with support north of 10 percent.
The survey would have been unwelcome news for Prawit Wongsuwan, the former general and head of ruling pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), who has ambitions of succeeding his former ally and comrade-in-arms Prayut as prime minister. The NIDA survey found that the PPRP commanded just 2.1 percent of the vote, while the support for Prawit himself as prime minister was so minuscule that it was bundled into an “other” category including nine other minor candidates, who collectively commanded the support of just 2.55 percent of respondents.
Similar results surfaced in a more extensive nationwide survey conducted last week by the local media outlets Matichon and Daily News. This online survey, which saw the involvement of 84,706 respondents during the period April 8-14, found that the PTP was the choice of 38.89 percent of respondents, followed by MFP on 32.37 percent.
In terms of who they favored to be the next prime minister, the MFP’s Pita perhaps surprisingly topped the Matichon/Daily News poll, with 29.42 percent support, followed by Paetongtarn (23.23 percent) and Srettha Thavisin, the PTP’s second prime ministerial candidate, with 16.69 percent. Prayut sat in fourth place with 13.72 percent.
A strong showing by the PTP would be unsurprising, given the results of past elections and the unquestioned popularity that Thaksin (and hence, his proxies) continues to enjoy across large parts of northern and northeastern Thailand. However, even if the NIDA and Matichon/Daily News polls are accurate, the question of whether a strong opposition showing will translate into political power remains very much open.
The opposition is at a significant structural disadvantage due to the 2017 constitution, which was drafted by the military-backed government, in large part to keep the Shinawatras out of power. (The military overthrew Thaksin in a coup in 2006, followed by his sister Yingluck in 2014.) The main obstacle is the Thai Senate, whose 250 members are unelected (in practice, chosen by the military), vote to select the country’s prime minister after elections, significantly diluting the power of the elected 500-member lower house in the process.
Given that the Senate is very unlikely to support any of PTP’s candidates for prime minister, any opposition party or coalition hoping to select the next prime minister is required to gain control of 376 of 500 seats in the lower house rather than a simple majority of 251, something that would appear to be out of the Pheu Thai’s reach. Only a strong showing from both Pheu Thai and the MFP, along the lines suggested in the NIDA poll, would enable them to even get close to this supermajority.
According to Super Poll, another local opinion polling agency, the PTP is on track to win 160 out of 500 parliamentary seats, followed by the Bhumjaithai party, led by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, with 121. Interestingly, the two aforementioned surveys suggested a much less rosy outcome for Bhumjaithai, which commanded the support of just 3.75 percent (NIDA) and 3.3 percent (Matichon/Daily News) of the vote.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the May 14 vote will form lay the table for the post-election negotiations, where the real outcome will be determined.