The most negative number in the opinion poll published this Sunday is that over 61% of the public feel Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha is not competent to deal with the country’s pressing problems. This week the Thai consumer confidence index fell to a 6 year low as the economic outlook remains gloomy. However, other figures show that the prime minister retains more personal support than the government he leads and that the core support for the government is holding up even after weeks of political confusion and controversy. What is of course very worrying for the government is how quickly things have begun to go wrong.
The last 2 weeks or so have seen the current Thai government politically engaging in firefighting as the tensions within it come to the surface and it grapples with the competing and increasingly impossible political positions of the parties that make it up. An opinion poll on Sunday published in the Bangkok Post while it showed the public is increasingly concerned about the government and the capability of the prime minister, still shows that it maintains its core support. However, for a government less than five months in office, the situation already appears to be in crisis mode in political terms.
A sizeable survey on the state of Thailand’s politics on Sunday conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration shows that the current government since July is losing the confidence of the public.
However, the survey with a sizeable sample shows that it still maintains a sizeable level of support and that that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha retains a strong level of personal support even though the poll questions his ability in the role of a government leader.
The poll seems to suggest that the unwieldy coalition government and the deteriorating economic situation is damaging the public’s opinion of the prime minister.
61% of the public feels that the PM lacks the competence to deal with the country’s problems
The most damaging top-line figure of the survey with a sample of 1,300s adults from all levels of Thai society and professions was that over 61% of the people surveyed agreed that the current PM lacks the ability to deal effectively with the country’s economic problems.
Still seen as a decisive leader
On the other hand, in a separate finding, nearly 48% of the public agreed that Prayut is a man with a strong level of personal will. This was slightly more than those who saw him as a political opportunist.
Similarly, over 48% agreed that he was a decisive leader while just over 46% said that he was indecisive.
Analysing the poll results, it is clear that the coalition parties and government command approximately a 40% support level while the opposition alliance is in the ascendancy at this point.
Economy still weakening with no firm sign of a rebound in consumer confidence or exports
The poll comes as the economic situation still seems to be deteriorating despite some hope that the Thai baht may be beginning to retreat in value. Minsters have also been highlighting the fact that the economy is still growing.
The government is also pointing to hopes of a boost in domestic spending due to the holiday season and the high season in tourism. However, initial indicators from Pattaya and Chiang Mai among hotel owners, so far this year, show that high season occupancy rates are lower than last year.
This week, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce showed that the consumer sentiment index had dropped again for November this year to 69.1. This is its lowest level in six years.
This week, the Vice President of the UTCC Thanavath Phonvichai was less optimistic about future economic performance despite noting there had recently been a slight uptick in employment levels.
Increasing political tension and drama in parliament keenly watched by the public through online media
Even as Thai people lumbered with heavy household debt levels and dimmer income prospects adjust, what seems to be driving the deteriorating opinion of the present government is the growing level of political tension and drama in parliament.
One of the most significant aspects of politics in Thailand since the return of political campaigning and a democratic environment before the election this year in March 24th has been voracious demand by Thai people from all walks of society to see and know more about the political situation.
This has led to a growth in online news media in the kingdom.
While many foreign media outlets focus on the radical Future Forward Party and its struggles with the establishment, most Thai people still support the bigger political blocs but are very aware of the political situation including a grasp of the disputes, the emerging political personalities and nuances of each party’s position.
Farm chemical ban controversy
There have been several controversies within the government including the October 22nd ban on farm chemicals pushed by the Bhumjaithai Party and Health Minster Anutin Charnvirakul which was reversed the Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit on the 27th November but which is still being questioned by the Public Health Ministry including its senior officials and the minister.
Chalermchai Srion, the Minister of Agriculture, recently indicating that he was also not clear on the matter.
Last week, before the Minister of Agriculture raised his concerns on the matter, that Minister of Industry following a cabinet meeting said the matter was closed and that the ban had been deferred.
The matter has huge implications on one side of the argument concerning health impacts but also on the other regarding Thailand’s agricultural output, farmer’s livelihoods and very significantly, food prices. It now appears that the ban has been shelved but it has left a gaping hole in the unity of the coalition.
Section 44 defeat in parliament
Wednesday the 27th of November, the day that controversial chemical ban was surprisingly reversed by a controversial and disputed decision by a key government committee, saw the government in a shocking development, lose a vote in parliament by 234 votes to 230 on a motion pushed by the Future Forward Party to set up a committee to investigate the former junta’s use of an extraordinary powerful legal decree mechanism called Section 44 over its five year life.
This was followed by an extraordinary parliamentary scene in which a recount was requested and granted but which then saw opposition parties walk out of the House of Representatives denying it a quorum.
Government wins a newly held vote but with even more controversy as convicted MP votes
Last week, on Wednesday the 4th December, the government reversed the vote but only after 11 opposition members remained in the chamber to allow the lower house a quorum of 261 members.
The government won the vote by 244 votes to 4. This generated a flurry of speculation that the opposition MPs who remained had been offered some sort of deal or inducement.
However, one of the MPs in the chamber on Wednesday last was Waipote Arpornrat the Palang Pracharat MP for Kamphaeng Phet province who was already the subject of an arrest warrant issued by no less an authority than the Thai Supreme Court and the day previously by the Pattaya Provincial Court when he failed to turn by for further sentencing before it on additional charges.
Calls for an enquiry by the Speaker of the House Of Representatives into why the man was not arrested
This weekend, it was reported that the Speaker of the House of Representatives Chuan Leekpai who did not chair the parliamentary session on Wednesday last, had ordered an investigation into why parliamentary police did not arrest the MP while he was present at the parliament and within the MP’s chamber.
The speaker explained that he had attended a medical practitioner on the day of the vote and was not aware that the former MP would be present.
The MP who was effectively stripped of his status by the Supreme Court on September 12th is reported to have walked freely into the chamber and throughout parliament without impediment for the crucial vote.
MP the subject of two arrest warrants and legally stripped of his staus attended parliament
His presence at the vote itself which was already controversial has stunned the opposition parties who are only now beginning to question how the convicted MP could have gained access to the building without being stopped or questioned by police who are mandated to arrest him on sight.
Both the House Speaker and the Deputy Prime Minister and legal expert Wissanu Krea-ngam have confirmed that the warrant for the arrest of the elusive MP is one that requires his arrest on the spot all policing authorities and indeed relevant government officers.
Situation defended by the deputy speaker
However, the deputy speaker who oversaw last Wednesday’s session has defended his conduct of the proceedings. He explained that the House of Representatives had not received warrants for the arrest of the MP from the provincial court in Pattaya.
He also said that the status of the MP from Kamphaeng Phet in the house had not yet been revoked.
No show at a Pattaya Provincial Court sentence hearing – co-accused sentenced to 4 years
Mr Waipote failed to appear before the Pattaya court on Tuesday the 3rd December where two of his co-accused were sentenced to 4 years in prison. A warrant was subsequently issued for his arrest.
However, Mr Waipote was already wanted on foot of a warrant issued by the Supreme Court which on September 12th upheld an Appeal Court sentence of 4 years on separate charges by also related to the events in Pattaya during the 2009 ASEAN summit.
On that date also, according to legal experts, the Palang Pracharat’s status as an MP ceased.
Challenges of constitutional change and the economy before the government was formed still there
Prior to the formation of the current government, it appeared clear that two challenges confronting it would be calls by the opposition parties to adopt constitutional change and its ability to manage an already problematic economic situation.
Since then, the public has consistently shown in polls that it is more concerned about the economy and economic stability which many in Thailand equate also with political stability and order.
Public more concerned about the economy
The events of the last weeks now show that not only is the economy driving the public’s concern but also the increasingly problematic political situation.
The poll published on Sunday shows that the current prime minister leading one part of the political divide still maintains more personal support than the government he leads with even some of his supporters worrying over the performance of the coalition government.
The poll shows that the public still sees General Prayut as very much a military leader and to many witnessing the political squabbling and machinations in parliament, that is a positive thing.
Coalition government is losing support while the economy is still the decisive factor for voters
However, just like Thailand’s economic prospects, the political prospects for the coalition are also dimming as it undermines itself through a lack of cohesion and order.
This is, of course, inevitable for a grouping of 19 different political parties exacerbating with factionalism within two of the biggest parties.
However, the survey result seems to indicate that the government retains the core support of approximately 39% of the public. The NIDA poll showed that 8.93% of the public felt that the prime minister was performing very well in his role while 30.13% said he was performing fairly well.
This is a significant base and shows that the Thai public is patient. Even though the last week has been bruising one for the coalition government, the economy remains the decisive factor. The question is how long will that patience last if the economy weakens further.