Political instability in Thailand, cited by Fitch, the US ratings agency which retained Thailand’s BBB+ status last week, as one of the country’s greatest weaknesses and an impediment to its economic prospects, has not gone away. With the opposition parties surging in the polls and the likelihood of them attaining power growing, its spectre again looms large.

A senior Thai senator has warned that Ung Ing or Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, should not be the next Prime Minister even if the Pheu Thai Party wins the next General Election. Senator Wanchai Sornsiri who has been outspoken on Facebook about current political developments, warned of the danger of Ms Shinawatra’s ambitions ending in the same fashion as her predecessors. It comes after a Nida Poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) this month showed that the Pheu Thai Party, the Move Forward Party and the Thai Sang Thai Party of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan commanded 57.2% support while Ms Shinawatra led the race as the first choice for Prime Minister with 25.28% beating the current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha into third place on 11.68%, a precipitous drop in three months.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra (centre) emerged in last Sunday’s Nida Poll as the runaway public favourite for the role of Prime Minister with 25.68% support leaving the incumbent, General Prayut Chan ocha (left), in third place with only 11.68%, a sharp drop in three months. Newly elected Bangkok Governor and former Minister of Transport in the 2011 government, headed by Ms Paetongtarn’s aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, Chadchart Sittipunt (right), was listed as 6th choice with 4.2%. In recent days, Senator Wanchai Sornsiri, a conservative lawmaker appointed by the former junta, has warned that the selection of Ms Paetongtarn for the role would be the wrong one suggesting that the 35-year-old daughter of Ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra needed more time to mature and handle responsibilities before taking on the top job.

A visibly fatigued Thai Prime Minister on Monday responded to a significant opinion poll on Sunday which showed that support for his coalition government is ebbing away while his own popularity as the country’s choice for Prime Minister has fallen dramatically since the last poll 3 months ago.

On Sunday, the results of an authoritative Nida Poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) showed that support for General Prayut as government leader fell from 28.79% in March when he topped the poll to 11.68% when he fell to third place trailing behind the youngest daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Ung Ing or Paetongtarn Shinawatra and the popular leader of the Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat.

Thaksin’s daughter is public favourite for the top job with 25.68% in authoritative NIDA poll this week

Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra topped the poll commanding 25.28% of respondents while Mr Pita came in with 13.24%.

However, it was the results of the poll regarding political parties that were even more definitive and show an acceleration of a trend since January which has included by-election defeats for the Palang Pracharat Party which supports the prime minister and the landslide win, in May, of former Minister of Transport in the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014 when General Prayut launched his coup, Chadchart Sittipunt.

Mr Chadchart commanded sixth place in the poll for Prime Minister with 4.20% support.

However, the two leading opposition parties including the dominant Pheu Thai Party commanded 54.24% of the poll with the Thai Sang Thai Party of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a former Pheu Thai Party candidate for prime minister herself, which could be expected to support any Pheu Thai bid for the premiership, commanding an additional 2.96% bringing a total of 57.2%.

Prime Minister appeared fatigued when quizzed by reporters on Monday responding it was ‘just a poll’

On Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was questioned about the poll after giving a briefing on a fatal fire that took two lives in Bangkok when it broke out in commercial buildings on Ratchawong Road in the capital near the Sampeng Market in the heart of the city’s Chinatown.

General Prayut told reporters that a ‘poll is just a poll’ and that it often depends on who is carrying out the survey.

He told reporters that his work in government stood for itself and explained that his efforts were on behalf of the majority of Thai people while also taking responsibility for the whole nation of 70 million.

June and July set to see fireworks in Thai politics with Thamanat poised to lead Setthakij Thai Party

At times showing exasperation and fatigue with the train of questions from reporters, he refused to comment on a forthcoming censure motion which will be debated by the House of Representatives in mid-July and also complained about some media outlets which he said reported without according fairness to all parties involved.

Pheu Thai Party’s top official underlines that it was not complacent about a ‘landslide’ and was busy preparing new policies for government

The results of the quarterly opinion poll into Thailand’s political landscape drew buoyant comments from figures within the Pheu Thai Party who nevertheless warned that the party was not about to be carried away by the evidence of rising support for its goal of regaining power in a ‘landslide’ with the next election, now just months away.

Deputy Secretary-general Anussorn Iamsa-ard said that Pheu Thai was busily focused now on preparing new policies to be put before the public in a General Election which must take place between now and March next year.

At the same time, he called on the Prime Minister, General Prayut to ‘return power to the people’ by allowing the country’s duly elected MPs to choose his successor.

Conservative, junta-appointed Senator Wanchai Sornsiri had a more sobering response to the news

However, there was quite a different reaction from conservative and junta-appointed Senator Wanchai Sornsiri, a lawyer who has been outspoken on Facebook in recent times about current developments and is a law professor at the Faculty of Law at Rangsit University.

Thaksin coy about any possible return to Thailand but is delighted with his daughter’s political role

In response to last Sunday’s poll and the acclaim for 35-year-old Ung Ing or Paetongtarn Shinawatra, he noted that it would be unwise for Mr Thaskin’s daughter to try and emulate her aunt Yingluck Shinawatra who came from nowhere in 2011, in just 49 days, to take over the hot seat at Government House.

Lawmaker suggests 61-year-old Pheu Thai Party leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew as a more suitable choice

Senator Wanchai suggested that Dr Cholnan Srikaew, the current Pheu Thai Party leader and 61-year-old sitting MP from Nan province, would be an altogether better figure to take on the demanding role.

However, the support for Ms Shinawatra together with the surge in poll numbers for both the Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward Party, according to the recent survey, is being interpreted by many political analysts as an expression by the public of a desire to see a more radical government installed in the coming months with power being shifted to a younger generation in Thailand to pursue a more progressive and radical agenda, particularly concerning the economy.

Ongoing political uncertainty and stasis undermine decisive action to fix critical structural problems

Last week, the Fitch Rating Agency, while maintaining a stable outlook for the Thai economy and praising the current government’s prudent handling of the kingdom’s finances while retaining its BBB+ credit rating, also pointed to political instability as a key negative factor impacting the country’s medium-term prospects and in particular, a fear that the next election will produce another broad coalition government like the current one led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha since 2019 which has lacked dynamism and the decisive ability to pursue radically transformative policies.

2017 Constitution designed, at the outset, to prevent one dominant political party taking power and ushering in radical change to the country’s status quo

This may be part of the problem as Thailand’s conservative and traditional right is resistant to change or any policy which could, possibly, undermine the country’s intrinsic values. 

Indeed, the main thrust of the kingdom’s 2017 Constitution, presented as a safeguard against political corruption, was to hinder any possibility of one large political party or movement dominating the political stage and the government of the country.

This was to be achieved by making the laws governing political parties stricter and subject to intense supervision by the country’s powerful Election Commission which has the power to refer infractions to the Constitutional Court, a power which has already seen several political parties dissolved since the charter came into force.

Choice for PM unlike appointing a corporate executive says Senator Wanchai, Ms Shinawatra still immature

Senator Wanchai, in his social media opinion, warned that the choice for Prime Minister of the kingdom was not the same as appointing an executive to a position with a commercial business or company and that Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, at 35 years old, who has not yet been elected to any public body, lacked the necessary maturity for such a role.

The influential senator said that more time was needed to groom Ms Paetongtarn for the role or otherwise her ‘political ambitions could end up like her predecessors’.

Elected governments of Ms Shinwatras’s father and aunt were ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014

The government of her father, Thaksin Shinawatra, the only elected Thai Prime Minister to finish his term in office and be reelected to the role, was removed from power by an army coup while he was visiting the United Nations in New York in September 2006 while her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra was, nearly eight years later, removed from her position by a decision of the Constitutional Court on May 7th 2014 for illegally transferring her Head of National Security.

This was followed by the removal of her government in a coup launched two weeks afterwards by current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on May 22nd, 2014.

On that day, the current and popular Governor of Bangkok, Chadchart Sittipunt, who came in 6th in Sunday’s Nida Poll at 4.2% and who was then a Pheu Thai Party Minister of Transport in the 2011 government, was arrested by the military and taken from his office with a hood over his head.

He was later detained for one week while the newly installed junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), secured its position and authority.

Ex minister, earlier this month, as Bangkok Governor met the leader of the 2014 coup that ousted him, current PM, General Prayut, at Government House

The coup was a response to an extended period of protests which was intended to paralyse Bangkok and cause significant disruption to normal life and the country’s economy. It did.

His story highlights that Thailand’s political instability remains a source of deep concern while the current rise of Pheu Thai and the Move Forward Party brings with it a distinct sense of déjà vu.

On June 18th last, Mr Chadchart met Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha at a Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) meeting at Government House where he pledged to work constructively with the national ministry.

The PM used the meeting to underline the importance of cooperation between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and his government through the Ministry of the Interior, led still by another former army chief and a key architect of the 2014 coup, General Anupong Paochinda.

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Further reading:

June and July set to see fireworks in Thai politics with Thamanat poised to lead Setthakij Thai Party

Pheu Thai calls for a landslide win but a crisis is a rising prospect if new voting laws flounder in parliament

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