Event

On 24 March, Thailand held its – frequently delayed – first elections since the 2014 military coup. With no surprise, the army will keep power in spite of an electoral defeat. Incumbent PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha could keep his position as head of the next government that is expected to be formed in June. After King Rama X’s coronation early May, the Election Commission released official results from a complex and opaque political system. The main opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) supported by ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra won the highest number of seats (136). The most significant result came from a new rising party in Thailand’s political landscape, namely the anti-junta Future Forward Party from tycoon Juangroongruangkit, which became the 3rd political force (80 seats) mostly thanks to young voters. In total, the PTP-led anti-junta coalition would have secured 245 seats and thus narrowly missed the necessary majority in the 500-member lower house of Parliament. The coalition contested the fairness of result calculation. Junta party Palang Pracharat came second (115 seats) and will need to attract the support from other smaller parties to obtain a majority in Parliament.

Impact

Since an amended constitution was approved in 2017 by referendum during the military junta’s rule, elections were not expected to bring about changes. Indeed, the new constitution ensures all the 250 Senate seats go to the military which means a mere 126 parliamentary seats are needed for the military to obtain a majority in the National Assembly. Moreover, the belated green light to start election campaigning and multiple political bans against major PTP members made things even more difficult for the dominant opposition party. The PTP-led coalition’s decision to legally contest the result is not likely to affect the final outcome as Thailand’s concentration of power in military hands should continue as expected. However, the legislative process could be hindered by a probably fragile majority in the House faced with strong opposition. It could create some political deadlock, instability and lead to protests as well. In other terms, the military could reap the fruits of what it sowed when it amended the constitution without addressing Thailand’s sociopolitical polarisation. Therefore, although continuity in policies remains probable, medium-/long-term prospects are marred with uncertainty which adds to an already difficult external context in which Thailand’s export-led economy is suffering from weakening global trade and slowing Chinese demand. As a result, the next government is expected to boost the economy, via fiscal measures to boost private consumption, and by continuing the large public infrastructure development in eastern provinces under the the Eastern Economic Corridor. Still, there is a risk that corruption, the middle-income trap and Thailand’s unequal society remain structural issues for the years to come. Credendo is maintaining all risk ratings at their current levels.

Analyst: Raphaël Cecchi – r.cecchi@credendo.com