Public debt and the management of the economy will be the key battleground for this General Election as it is clear the alternative to the Pheu Thai Party and Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing is the incumbent General Prayut Chan ocha. Just as the opposition party has surged in the polls with its promise of a ฿600 a day minimum wage and extended public sector borrowing, even beyond the current raised limit, the prime minister will aim to counter this by emphasising financial discipline and rectitude as provided for under the 2017 Constitution.

Thai voters will face a clear choice in 2023 between a government led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party and the current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha aligned with the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) according to a new poll released in recent days which shows surging support for both the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties but also for General Prayut’s new political force which has moved into third place. It is also increasingly clear that the economy and public sector debt will be the key policy issues with Pheu Thai planning to radically increase borrowing while the current government has just signalled a tighter fiscal policy in 2023 and a lowering of the public debt browning ceiling from 70% back to 60%.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra (centre) or Ung Ing’s popularity has surged in a matter of weeks together with the Pheu Thai Party after announcing an expansive economic policy platform for the 2023 General Election and a ฿600 a day minimum wage by 2027. This week, a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll also had relatively good news for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (left) and his new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which is now the third most popular in the kingdom. It comes as his government has signalled a tightening of fiscal policy in 2023 and a possible reduction in the public debt borrowing ceiling.

Thailand’s political landscape is changing quickly as a new poll published on Christmas Day, with polling data up to December 22nd, shows surging support for the main opposition Pheu Thai Party which appears to have captured the public’s imagination throughout all regions of the kingdom with its signature policy proposal of a minimum wage of ฿600 per day by 2027 if elected to office.

The news comes after Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha finally nailed his colours to the mast and pledged to join the newly formed Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which is planning to nominate the incumbent in the top job as its sole prime ministerial candidate in advance of the election.

Strong showing for the PM’s new political party coming in third place after he signalled his support but still way behind the opposition Pheu Thai Party

Initial indications from this new poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) may offer encouragement to General Prayut with the newly established party coming in with a credible 6.95% support base putting it in third place ahead of the Democrat Party, the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and the Bhumjaithai Party whose political fortunes appear to be ebbing away despite the prognostications of political pundits only weeks ago.

War erupts over Pheu Thai’s ฿600 minimum wage plan with the economy as the key election issue

However, the authoritative NIDA poll shows a massive combined preference of 59.55% of the electorate for a combination of both the Pheu Thai Party and the more progressive Move Forward Party with Pheu Thai dramatically increasing its share of preferences in this poll from 34% to 42.9% since it brought forward its signature economic policy earlier this month.

Ruling Palang Pracharat Party suffers a swift reversal from the last poll coming in with only 4% support

The poll shows support for the ruling Palang Pracharat Party falling away to only 4% in a dramatic reversal for the party led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan which polled 10.76% just weeks before the Prime Minister confirmed his move.

It shows the Bhumjaithai Party at 5.25% just behind the Democrat Party at 5.35%.

The results of this poll show that the political choice in the next election will be between the leadership of the Pheu Thai Party led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in the 2006 coup and niece of Yingluck Shinawatra, the last Pheu Thai Party prime minister to win a landslide election victory in 2011 and who was removed by the Constitutional Court just weeks before another coup in May 2014 and the man who led that coup, then army chief General Prayut Chan ocha who has held the position of prime minister since then being elected by a joint sitting of parliament in June 2019 under the 2017 Constitution.

Pundits suggest that the initial success of Ruam Thai Sang Chart (RTSC) may prompt PM to hang on as long as possible before calling an election

The 6.95% showing for the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) formed only last year by Seksakol Atthawong, a key aide to General Prayut, is encouraging news for the Thai PM given that it comes before MPs in the House of Representatives are due to join the new party in a high profile show of endorsement.

It has led many political experts to now predict that General Prayut who has been expected to announce the imminent dissolution of the House of Representatives, may wait now until the last possible moment as he uses his position as the government leader and the anointed nominee of a new political movement to project his message to the electorate.

In this latest poll, Prime Minister Prayut came in second place as to who was favoured by the public for the top job with 14.05% support, a rise from the last showing when he came in third behind Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party who polled 13.25% this time around.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party are now clearly the favourites to win the next General Election with a decisive lead in public support

The poll is decisively led, however, by Paetongtarn Shinawatra who has increased her support base personally from 21.6% in September to 34% in this latest snapshot of polling preferences.

This latest poll shows a combined vote for the parties in the current coalition and the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) of only 21.55% with the Pheu Thai Party, Move Forward Party and the aligned Thai Sang Thai Party at 62.8%.

The poll clearly shows that between now and May 7th 2023, the provisional election date set by the Election Commission, the public’s mind is for a Pheu Thai Party-led government by a landslide.

The party’s economic policy of supporting business by increasing government borrowing levels with a higher minimum wage rate for workers to boost economic growth is increasingly at odds with the current government led by General Prayut which, in recent days has signalled that it may, in fact, again reduce the public borrowing threshold by law from 70% to 60% as it reins in public expenditure.

Foretaste of the General Election debate and political strategy as the government signals stricter fiscal controls and a reduction in the public debt ceiling

This may well be a foretaste of the General Election debate to come on the economy targeting the Pheu Thai Party’s expansive economic agenda.

Thailand’s public debt at just over 60% is relatively conservative and is further supported by the fact that 98.5% of this borrowing comes from within Thailand with a rising foreign exchange reserve in December at $210 billion and a robust and well-regulated banking system.

A tightening of government fiscal policy towards stronger financial rectitude was hinted at on Monday after a meeting of the State Monetary and Fiscal Policy Committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.

After the meeting, the Director-general of the Public Debt Management Office (PDMO) Patricia Mongkhonvanit suggested the government may indeed look at again reducing the public debt ceiling, extended in September 2021 from 60% to 70% to deal with the COVID-19 emergency.

Public debt issue also has constitutional implications

‘The public debt status is considered under control right now. Compared with the previous forecast, the rate is much lower than the committee’s expectations thanks to the country’s economic expansion after the years-long Covid-19 restrictions,’ she explained. ‘If the economy expands, the ratio of public debt to GDP can be lowered. The ratio still depends on needed government budget usage and investment.’

In its policy platform preview, unveiled in early December, Pheu Thai economic planners clearly stated that the party planned to increase the public debt borrowing requirement even beyond the current 70% limit.

The electoral and political strategy of General Prayut could well be to highlight the comparatively strong financial discipline of the current government while also exploring the use of unique provisions of the 2017 constitution which aimed to thwart election vote buying and imposed long-term planning requirements on successive governments. 

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Further reading:

Pheu Thai, Palang Pracharat coalition now a distinct possibility after the next General Election in 2023

PM upholds status quo as he seeks a path back to power with the help of the Bhumjaithai Party

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Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha reinstated by the Thai Constitutional Court in a majority verdict

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