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The PPRP's Shock Victory: Public Support for Military Governance in Thailand

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

By Jacob I. Ricks

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Prayut Chan-O-Cha, in 2013 as Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army

Election results are in, and it appears that the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has received the largest proportion of the votes cast on Sunday: just under 8 million out of 32.7 million valid votes with 94% of votes tabulated. In other words, approximately one-quarter of Thai voters have chosen the PPRP, which campaigned heavily on the promise of returning General Prayuth Chan-Ocha to the position of prime minister. For many observers, this has come as a surprise. Most exit polls had earlier reported lower levels of support for Prayuth, although a few did expect PPRP to come away with at least 100 parliamentary seats. How do we place these votes in context?

One way to understand the PPRP’s appeal is to consider past public support for military interventions in the political sphere, or what some suggest is a political culture that promotes military rule.[1] Since the early 2000s, we have evidence that strong approval for the military is not an aberration. Indeed, it seems instead that there is a significant minority of Thai citizens who consistently express favorable opinions toward military rule over democratic leaders. If we look at results from the World Values Survey[2] and Asian Barometer,[3] both of which carried out multiple rounds of large scale surveys in Thailand between 2001 and 2013, we find persistent public backing for the military. The table below presents some of these results.

In all rounds of these surveys, a significant number of Thais responded favorably toward military rule. Indeed, even in 2001, under the weakest level of support for military rule, almost 19 percent of respondents either somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The military should come in to govern the country.” This proportion is lower than the PPRP’s current election result, but the same survey question from 2014 shows even higher support for military rule, with almost 50 percent of respondents either strongly agreeing or somewhat agreeing with the same statement.

The surveys also demonstrate that large proportions of the Thai public continue to place high trust in the armed forces. In all six survey rounds over 50 percent of respondents expressed trust in the military. In other words, the military, despite its political interventions, has for many years enjoyed a significant pool of trust from the Thai public.

Debate will likely continue in the coming weeks regarding election results, but viewing them in light of these surveys suggests that public support for military rule is not new, nor is it abnormal in Thailand. Indeed, the PPRP’s results would seem to be relatively consistent with a significant minority of Thai citizens who potentially favor military rule.

Jacob Ricks is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Singapore Management University.

[1] Nicholas Farrelly, “Why Democracy Struggles: Thailand’s Elite Coup Culture,” Australian Journal of International Affairs67, no. 3(2013): 281-296. See also my earlier post on ThaiDataPoints (https://www.thaidatapoints.com/post/norms-and-military-interventions).

[2] Ronald Inglehart et al., eds., World Values Survey: All Rounds – Country-Pooled Datafile(Madrid: JD Systems Institute, 2014), www.worldvaluessurvey.org.

[3] Fu Hu and Yun-han Chu, Asian Barometer: All Rounds(Taipei: National Taiwan University, 2017), www.asianbarometer.org.