Super Poll’s Noppadol Kannikar while commenting on the latest disturbing findings has criticised the coalition government’s messaging which he concludes is being outdone by Future Forward and anti-government activists as two different survey firms show support for next week’s anti-government protest in the ascendancy over the pro-government rally at this point.

A number of opinion polls over the weekend have again pointed to a deterioration in the prospects for political stability in Thailand with a poll by the National Institute for Development Administration showing stronger support for an anti-government protest run next Sunday than for a rival pro-government event. A huge Super Poll survey has also shown a collapse of the middle ground in Thai politics with more Thai people taking sides in an increasingly polarised situation. However, on Friday, Thailand’s influential and wily Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan in an interview with the Thai language publication Thai Rath assured people that there was ‘nothing to worry about’ and key government figures have the situation under control.

On Friday, influential Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan while acknowledging challenging external economic challenges told reporters from Thailand’s Thai Rath newspaper that everything was under control. He dismissed concerns about next week’s anti-government rally and speculation about disunity in the government. Two opinion polls this weekend show surging support for the anti-government protests and criticism of the government’s communication strategy.

On Friday, in an interview with the popular Thai language newspaper Thai Rath, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and the chief strategist for the Palang Pracharat Party told reporters that currently, the government has everything ‘under control’ as the country heads into 2020 and that fears of a re-emergence of political unrest on the horizon, with two events for and against the government planned for January 12th next, are overblown.

It comes as over the weekend pollsters with the survey company Super Poll came out with a warning that the political landscape has shifted since the March 24th election last year leaving the country more polarised and likely to descend into political unrest.

‘Silent’ unaffiliated majority in Thai politics has collapsed since the March 24th election

The poll’s ominous prognosis was that the centre-ground or what it termed the ‘silent’ majority has now dwindled as more Thai adults take sides in a contest between pro and anti-government sides driven by bitter bickering in parliament, a deteriorating in the economic situation and divisions over the Future Forward Party, the radical and progressive party, which staged a flash public protest on December 14th to rally support as it claims a campaign is being waged against it by the establishment to have it dissolved and its leadership banned from Thai politics.

Government has also gathered support

The Super Poll result came from an in-depth social media study with over 2,800 respondents and a normal poll with a sample of 1,131 respondents. It highlighted that the silent non-aligned group within society has dropped from over 56% in March 2019 to 29.4% at the start of 2020.

The pollsters suggest that of the group that have taken sides, nearly 37% have supported the opposition with 34% have plumped for the governing parties.

Pro-government supporters suspect or fear that Future Forward has links with Thaksin Shinawatra

A deeper analysis of the findings shows something similar to what happened in the week before the March election happening again as political views tighten and become more polarised.

Those supporting the government have begun to suspect that the current crisis over Future Forward somehow involves the bête noire of the pro-government side, former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Future Forward Party represents an extension of student activism in politics with a  progressive agenda

This is despite the virtual retirement of the latter from politics and divisions between the Shinawatra aligned Pheu Thai Party and Future Forward in addition to internal divisions within Pheu Thai.

The platform of Future Forward is also radically different from Pheu Thai despite their co-operation in the seven-party opposition alliance since the election.

Future Forward is essentially a political party which is an extension of student activism and progressive policies espoused by academics.

Fake audio clip highly effective prior to the March 24th election at drumming up anti-Thaksin support

In the weeks before last year’s general election, Palang Pracharat seemed to be failing to galvanise support from the anti-Thaksin base until a doctored audio clip or tape emerged that purported to be a recorded conversation between Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and the exiled former prime minister.

No matter that it was easily and quickly shown to be fake, the impetus created by the tape and the talking points raised, bolstered support for the then pro-junta party.

Same phenomenon appears now to be occurring

This is similar to what is happening now. The Super Poll analysis describes this as a ‘them and us’ mentality among pro-government supporters who simply cannot accept the thought of the opposing side being in power.

The strident and aggressive tactics pursued by the Future Forward Party is behind this growth in support for the government parties on the other side of the political spectrum while rallying and indeed adding to its own base.

However, another poll was published on Sunday which showed stronger support for the anti-government protest being planned for January 12th but also appears to show waning of support for the government.

Support for anti-government rally twice that of pro-government event which is losing momentum

The NIDA poll shows that the anti-government ‘Wing Lai Lung’ run has the support of over 53% of respondents with 43% opposing the proposed ‘run to oust Uncle’ which will take place at Thammasat University.

The other run to show support for the government or ‘Dern Wing Cheer Lung’ however has only 28% support while a massive 67.4% oppose the rally.

The NIDA poll also showed that over two-thirds of the population were concerned at what these protests might bring with them for the future.

Anti-government side stronger on social media

Meanwhile, the Super Poll survey also tends to confirm waning support for the pro government run on January with a far lower social media reach than that for the anti-government push which had reached 7.3 million compared to a mere 590,000 for the pro-government rally.

Super Poll’s director critical of government’s communications strategy a snot ’emotional’ enough

Noppadol Kannikar, the director of Super Poll was highly critical of the coalition government’s communications strategy and performance when compared to that of the anti-government activists.

He explained that the success at the communication of the anti government’s message was due to it being a more team-oriented and emotional message where the government’s message was focused on individuals and their positions within the administration.

‘Politics is emotional management’ – poll director warns government it is getting it wrong

‘In contrast, Mr Thanathorn and Thaksin, as well as the RAD (Run Against Dictatorship) activity, sends messages as a group which has more impact. Their catchphrases are quickly adopted and become popular hashtags dominating social media,’ Mr Noppadol explained to the Bangkok Post this week.

He concluded that the anti-government side was winning the messaging game with the government at this point. ‘Politics is emotional management. If we can control people’s emotions, we stay on. The messages from one side play with people’s emotions to create group behaviour while the prime minister’s messages use a ‘rational’ focus,’ he said.   

Mr Noppadal also warned ominously that if the government does not raise its game, it’s days could be numbered.

Deputy PM – ‘nothing to worry about it’

Meanwhile, on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan acknowledged that the Thai economy faced unfavourable international conditions even as 2020 commenced but assured the public that while the government could only control internal influences on the economic situation, everything in this respect was being done.

In relation to the the ‘Run to oust Uncle’ and indicators that the government’s support was on the wane, he simply responded that there ‘nothing to worry about’ at this stage.

No conflicts between ministers and officials in the management of the economy says Prawit

The deputy prime minister also took the opportunity to refute suggestions that there are divisions within the economic team managing the Thai economy, a rumour that has been swirling for some months now. ‘There are no conflicts whatsoever,’ he disclosed.

Old guard in the coalition, the three ‘P’s’ united

Prawit told reporters that the three ‘P’s’ in the coalition government and the most influential figures also in the former junta administration were still fully united about the way forward.

He was referring to himself, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Minister of the Interior Anupong ‘Pok’ Paochinda.

The key government figure, who now holds a special responsibility to do with security matters and military intelligence, told reporters that rumours of a split between them were wholly untrue. ‘We go back 30-50 years,’ Prawit explained.

‘No problem at all’ between Palang Pracharat and Bhumjiathai Parties despite speculation

Finally, when pressed by the reporter on factions and tensions between the political parties making up the coalition, in particular, a rift between the Palang Prcahart Party and Bhumjaithai Party, he was even more emphatic that there was nothing to be concerned about.

‘Take my words for it. There is no problem at all,’ he told the reporter as he scotched any prospect of the exclusive scoop on what is again a strong rumour and political speculation doing the rounds.

Chemical ban debacle exposed divisions

This speculation was particularly heightened after the farm chemical ban which saw raised tensions and a debacle in November when ministers in the government were openly questioning not only the government’s stance but the administrative status of the chemical ban which was, in the end, confirmed as deferred.

This was, however, despite warning from Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakulearlier during the year that he would resign over the issue and categorical statements days or even hours before the ban’s deferment at a controversial and disputed government committee meeting chaired by the Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit of Palang Pracharat, that such an option was inconceivable.

Further reading:

Army chief’s comments show that a showdown with the Future Forward Party is coming sometime in 2020

Public support swings behind Thanathorn and Future Forward as the political party faces dissolution

General’s speech’s leaves Thai opposition deflated and facing a question over constitutional change

Thanathorn to faces protest charges brought by police and is warned against falling into a trap

Chaos as senior officials deny easing and postponement the chemical ban announced by the Industry Minister

Chemical ban delay to cause a government crisis as shock move rebuts Bhumjaithai ministers