On 30 September, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that long-serving Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, could resume his official duties. In August, opposition parties had brought a challenge to the Court, arguing that Chan-o-cha ought to be removed from power, having served the constitutionally mandated maximum of eight-years as Prime Minister. When the Court decided to hear the case, Chan-o-cha temporarily stepped down, pending the Court’s final verdict.
Chan-o-cha originally came to power after a military coup d’état in 2014. His ruling junta—the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)—promulgated a new constitution, adopted in 2017, before winning parliamentary elections in 2019, a contest marked by what one body of election observers called “fundamental democratic shortcomings.”
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court took the view that, because the constitution of 2017 came into effect after Chan-o-cha had already taken power, the time he had previously served did not count towards the 8-year term limit. By dating the start of his Prime Ministership in 2017, rather than the coup date in 2014, the Court has left open the possibility that Chan-o-cha may remain in power until 2025.
However, the latest polling for Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds Thai voters are ready for political change. If a General Election were held tomorrow, the two largest opposition parties—the Pheu Thai Party (PTP) and the Move Forward Party (MFP)—together would achieve a vote share over 50%, garnering the support of 34% and 23% of Thai voters, respectively. The four parties supporting the current Government, by contrast, would achieve a vote share of less than 20% of the electorate.
Chan-o-cha’s governing Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has a net favourability rating of -11%, the only political party in our polling to have negative favourability. Meanwhile, the PTP, the latest political vehicle for the still popular, twice exiled Shinawatra family, is the most familiar and favourably viewed party in Thailand (+51%). The party is also the most trusted by a plurality of voters on every political issue. The MFP, meanwhile, enjoys a net favourability of +44%.
Majorities of voters say they have no confidence in the Government (59%) and find the Government to be incompetent (51%). The lack of confidence is not limited to any one age group, with majorities in all age cohorts expressing no confidence in the government. Voters aged 18-24 are the most likely to express no confidence (72%).
The Government’s problems relate both to policy and to personnel. On policy, voters give the Government favourable ratings on a number of issues on which they were polled. Crucially, the Government earns net negative approval ratings on four of the five issues they say would be most likely to determine their vote at the next election: the economy (-11%), corruption (-11%), constitutional reform (-6%), and unemployment (-6%).
The governments woes are compounded by the unpopularity of its leading figures. The three politicians with negative net favourability ratings in our poll are all Government Ministers. Prayut Chan-o-cha is the second most unfavourably viewed politician in our polling, holding a net favourability rating of -24%. His deputy—and the Acting Prime Minister at the time fieldwork for this poll was completed—Prawit Wongsuwan, is the only politician viewed even more unfavourably, with a negative net favourability rating of -30%.
On the flipside, the most favourably viewed politicians in the country are all prominent opposition figures. Recently elected Governor of Bangkok—and former PTP Minister for Transport—Chadchart Sittipunt is the most favourably viewed politician in our survey, with a net favourability rating of +61%, pushing Thaksin Shinawatra (+46%), and Sudarat Keyuraphan (+42%) into second and third place, respectively.
The Electoral Commission has set the next elections for 7 May 2023. Given the experience of the last election, however, only 44% of voters say they trust that the next election will be free, fair, and secure. With pro-democracy activists calling for weekly demonstrations against Chan-o-cha’s return to the Prime Ministership, and the opposition MFP demanding a new constitution, Thailand faces a tense few months ahead.