Historical Context

The March 24 elections will be the first held in Thailand since February 2014. However, since the 2014 elections were invalidated and the results never publicized, these are really the country’s first election since July 2011. In those elections, the Pheu Thai party won an outright majority (53% of seats). The Pheu Thai government became deeply unpopular by some sections of Thai society due to an attempt to introduce an amnesty bill that would have exonerated individuals on both sides of a political divide that stretches back to the 2001 elections and the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand (2001-2006) now living in exile. Thaksin’s party, the Thais Love Thais party was dissolved following a 2006 coup that removed him from office. Its immediate successor, the People Power’s Party was likewise dissolved, and three successor prime minister also removed from office (most recently Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck, in the 2014 coup).

 

Pheu Thai is the third incarnation of the party and remains popular in Thaksin’s home region, the North, and especially the Northeast. The 2019 elections have become symbolic of the country’s struggle between democracy and dictatorship. Their are crosscutting ties across both sides of this struggle. The traditional opposition party to Pheu Thai, the Democrat party, has publicly stated that it will not enter into a coalition with what is widely seen as the military’s party, the Palang Pracharat party. More importantly, there are significant non-democratic institutional restrictions written into the constitution. A joint legislative body of the elected House and non-elected Senate will select the Prime Minister following the elections. Moreover, the constitution states that any party will have to follow a 20-year National Strategy. Several “independent” bodies were also created by the constitution, and they have already dissolved a minor pro-Thaksin party (the Thai Raksa Chat party), with another anti-military party, the Future Forward party, potentially facing a similar fate.