Thailand Update: One year After 2019 Election

Title: 1100 | Thailand Update: One year After 2019 Election
Area: Southeast Asia
Stream: Political Sciences
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Punchada Sirivunnabood, Mahidol University, Thailand (organizer, presenter, chair)
Suthikarn Meechan, University of Canterbury, New Zealand (presenter)
Kuboon Charumanee, Mahasarakham University, Thailand (presenter)
Pitchaya Sirivunnabood, The Asian Development Bank Institute, Japan (presenter)


In March 2019, Thailand held the first election since 2011. Many analysts hoped that this election would end the military’s junta five-year rule and return Thailand to more democratic government. Six months after the election, however, the evidence shows that Thailand is still far from democratization. The junta continues to maintain its power in the form of a 17-party coalition government, the largest coalition in Thai political history. The government faces many political and economic struggles due to different policy platforms and resource competition between coalition partners. This panel, therefore, will examine the current political and economic challenges facing the military-backed coalition government and evaluating its effectiveness in delivering on policy promises during its first year in office. The five papers in this panel take different methodological perspectives on the issues as follow: Punchada Sirivunnabood’s political science will focus on how the major government party, Phalang Pracharat, manage to control all of its factions and coalition parties in line in order to secure its power and implement government policy. Suthikan’s paper will cover how the government is responsible for the changes in local politics which also affects its stability in the long term. For economic challenges, Pitchaya Sirivunnabood will cover how the new government has been responsible for changes in global economy. Finally, Kuboon’s paper will focus on the new government’s foreign policy in responding to the new form of regional architecture.

Panel Abstracts:
Factions and Palang Pracharat Party in Thailand
Thailand's 2019 General Election was the first election after five years of direct military rule under General Prayut Chan-ocha, who conducted a coup in 2014. Although the 2017 Constitution introduced many new provisions aiming to change the country's political landscape, especially the political party system, its impacts appear limited as the 2019 electoral outcomes suggest that party politics in Thailandcontinue to exhibit the same set of players. The old-style factional politics have survived, particularly in the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP), which houses multiple factions, including defectors from Phuea Thai. Focusing on the relationship between PPRP and its factions, this article argues that the new charter failed to achieve many of its goals. Internal party politics within PPRP resemble those of past political parties, wherein factions prevail with sharp infighting over cabinet seats.

Local Powers in Northeast Thailand: Revisiting Political Networks in the Post 2019 Election
This article examines the nature of local networks in the post-2019 general election and also of power relations fueled by clientelistic politics among actors. This study focuses on the politically prominent Northeastern region of Thailand which has a strong political base for the Pheu Thai party and also a source of political resistance. As a primary focus, this study will explain how local powers can preserve and strengthen their power under the new game. This study will also consider how military intervention and other anti-democratic mechanisms have challenged the roles of local forces and encouraged the adjustment of these networks in terms of competition and cooperation. It is observed that even though most of the candidates from the Pheu Thai party in Northeast were elected as a majority party, they received a lower amount of votes than it had in previous elections. Palang Pracharat Party and Future Forward Party gained many votes in each constituency. It is argued that party loyalty has loosened, meaning that voters and supporters are seeking alternative ways to maintain their goals. As a result, the political landscape of the Northeast region is characterized by open area politics rather than the monopolization of popularity by a dominant party. Moreover, the outcome of the general election will encourage former candidates, political parties, and local teams to seek the opportunity to be elected in the coming local elections from provinces to districts, including taking part in local political activities.

Thai Foreign Policy in a Tight Spot
Since the Coup in 2014, Thai foreign policy was mainly concentrated on restoring its status quo and recognition on the international stage. However, due to the lack of acceptance of democratic countries such as the US and the EU, Thailand develops its inward-looking policy by strengthening relations with neighboring countries. After the March 2019 election, the Pro-Military party is still in controlling the parliament. This results in the continuity of similar foreign policy that has been implemented in the last five years. Thailand’s major foreign policy so called “bending with the wind” aims to secure Thailand from international conflicts among major power. This type of policy, however, may not be effective during the period of international uncertainties. Thailand may reconsider its policy towards regional cooperation, including CLMV, GMS and ASEAN. Thailand has already benefited from its geopolitics but still not substantially in geo-economic terms. Meanwhile, Thailand also has to balance its relations to major powers within multi-pronged affairs. In 2019, Thailand holds the ASEAN chairmanship. Thailand should take this opportunity to conduct constructive discussions concerning ASEAN centrality and push forward the ASEAN outlook on IndoPacific (AOIP) as a new platform to expand multilateral cooperation with QUAD. This paper therefore will excess and evaluate the effectiveness of Prayut’s government on how to push forward the role of Thailand in the new regional architecture.

Can Prayut Recover Thailand's Economy?
As Thailand’s newly and controversially elected government takes shape, one of the key areas that junta leader turned civilian prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will face is how to deal with the economy. In the year before the election (2018), growth in Thailand was 4.1%, the fastest in six years, but still lagged the Philippines’ 6.2% and Indonesia’s 5.17%. In the second quarter of 2019 the economy grew at the slowest rate (2.8 percent) in five years. This economic slowdown of the country is not only the result of domestic consumption, but it was also the impact from international challenges. These challenges are including trade tension between U.S. and China, turbulence in Eurozone caused by controversial Brexit deal, recent monetary easing policy by many central banks around the world, digital disruption, China’seconomic slowdown, and slowing productivity growth in region possibly caused by rising population aging. All these treats and risks are forcing the global economy, including Thailand, towards a new equilibrium or the new normal paradigm, which requires appropriate and timely policy design, including economic reforms to obtain economic resilience and stability. This paper, therefore, will excess and evaluate the effectiveness of current Thai government on how to deal with these struggles and its economic plan to push forward economic prosperity of the country in years forward

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