Even though Thailand's pro-junta camp has been beefing up their electoral support, they still do not seem ready to hold the long-delayed elections. Further postponement of the 2019 elections may cause protestors to take to the streets once again.
Since the partial lifting of the ban on political gatherings in mid-December 2018, and despite uncertainty over whether polls will actually take place this year, Thailand’s Northeast has begun readying itself for long-awaited elections to choose a new government. Most of my interviews with voters about the upcoming elections in recent weeks have ended up with respondents asking me whether they would really take place. People do not seem at all convinced that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order junta will finally release its tight grip on political power.
People do not seem at all convinced that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order junta will finally release its tight grip on political power.
Though visibly reluctant to go ahead with the elections, the pro-junta camp has been beefing up its electoral support through various actions: co-opting politicians from the opposition, boosting the benefits of welfare programmes for low-income citizens, and manipulating state mechanisms to accommodate pro-junta parties’ electoral campaigns, to name a few. This effort should give the junta and its allies the upper hand in the approaching polls, and yet the junta does not seem ready to hold them. Why?
The answer may lie in recent surveys conducted by state intelligence units. Rumour has it that the junta’s arch-enemy the Phuea Thai Party enjoys the highest levels of support in these surveys. However, it is next to impossible to verify this rumour. One way of gauging voters’ sentiments then is to examine political activities in a region like the Northeast, a crucial base of support for Phuea Thai in the past. In the last month, vote canvassers have actively started working. Parties have hosted rallies, with their key strategists and political orators on tour. I have observed six Phuea Thai Party rallies — one in Si Saket Province, four in Yasothon and one in Roi Et. Each of these was attended by at least 2000 people. The largest ones were attended by around 8000 people.
These numbers themselves may not seem to matter, as people can be mobilized to attend rallies — a common practice in Thailand. The difference this time around is the re-emergence of Red Shirt protestors among the crowds. They have returned with great enthusiasm and high emotion — expressed in reaction to rally speeches. If Thailand’s 2019 elections are postponed, will these emotionally charged protestors take to the streets once again? A question for observers to have in mind.
Saowanee T. Alexander is Assistant Professor of Sociolinguistics at Ubon Ratchathani University.