Thailand ends 2023 with an unpopular government that faces many challenges. It is the fallout from a backroom deal in the summer. In the meantime, the Move Forward Party gains popularity but faces dangerous Constitutional Court hurdles. The latest NIDA Poll shows strong support for Pita Limjaroenrat. However, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has also grown in popularity. This is despite a poor economy and the unpopular political deal now in power.

As Thailand ends its year with Christmas and New Year’s celebrations it does so with an unpopular government led by a popular Prime Minister. It is the result of a backroom deal which allowed former parties of the previous government back into power. This came as events unfolded after the May 14th General Election. A NIDA poll on Christmas Eve, December 24th, showed clearly that the Thai public has not forgotten. Support for the Move Forward Party and the blocked candidate for Prime Minister, Pita Limjaroenrat, is stronger than ever.

PM Srettha Thavisin (inset), back to work after a few days holiday, did an interview on Christmas Eve, on Nation TV. He saw no need to alter his government. The increasingly popular Prime Minister leads an unpopular government, while public support for the Move Forward Party and its former leader, Pita Limjaroenrat (centre), has risen substantially.

After a few days’ holiday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin appeared on Christmas Eve on the Nation TV channel to discuss politics. It comes as the country goes into 2024 after a tumultuous political year in 2023.

After a historic General Election on May 14th, the winning Move Forward Party was subsequently denied power. Then leader and Prime Ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat was blocked by the country’s upper house or the Senate.

What happened this summer is not forgotten by Thai voters. This is according to the quarterly political opinion poll from NIDA on December 24th

Certainly, this news story has not been forgotten by Thai voters. A survey on December 24th, published by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in its political quarterly review, confirms this.

The poll assesses the strengths of the various political parties. It revealed that the most popular choice for Prime Minister remains the former leader of the Move Forward Party, Mr Pita, by a significant margin. 

39.4% of people said they would like to see him as Thailand’s Prime Minister. He was followed in the race by incumbent PM, Srettha Thavisin. He received 22.35% of the public’s support. This is a significant achievement for Mr Srettha.

Prime Minister has grown more popular with the public

In short, it shows that his popularity since he came to office at the end of August has risen.

Many praise the new Prime Minister for his energy and enthusiasm. It comes despite the challenging economic circumstances he faces as Premier.

Thaksin can serve the rest of his prison term at home says Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin

Additionally, the PM also faces rising political problems going into the new year. One of these is the controversy over the oblique imprisonment of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

It is something that must be defused before it reaches a crisis. Observers suggest that Mr Thaksin’s release to serve his prison time at home, may not be far off.

In the meantime, the NIDA poll’s number three choice for Prime Minister is the daughter of the former premier. Thaksin Shinawatra’s youngest daughter Paetongtarn, came in at 5.75%. Markedly, it is a dramatic fall for the current leader of the ruling party.

Drop in support for Paetongtarn Shinawatra a significant sign of public dissatisfaction with the backroom deal that led to Mr Srettha being elected PM

It demonstrates that the public has not forgotten what happened in July and August this year.

That is the alliance that Pheu Thai formed with parties of the previous government to bring Mr Srettha to power. Mr Srettha was elected on August 22nd, the same day Mr Thaksin returned to Thailand and was imprisoned.

The country’s fourth choice for Prime Minister was the leader of the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party. This is the Minister of Energy and Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga. Voters see him as trustworthy, straightforward and honest.

In fifth place was the Deputy Prime Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjaithai Party. The Minister of the Interior has played a significant and high-profile role in the government since September.

Pita suspended as an MP and loses renomination attempt in parliament as the Senate blocked his path

At the same time, his popularity and that of his party have dropped since the election. Even then, it was at an unusually low level.

Nonetheless, his Bhumjaithai Party managed to squeeze out MPs through on-the-ground local political machines.

Subsequently, the hiatus when the Senate blocked Mr Pita as PM led the Pheu Thai Party to his door.

Following Mr Anutin was the founder of the Thai Sang Thai Party, Ms Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who remains a popular political figure. She retains the confidence of the public. 

Move Forward Party still in a commanding lead. However, Pheu Thai has not been decimated as many observers predicted but has lost substantial ground

Significantly, the NIDA opinion poll showed Move Forward still retains a commanding advantage over all other parties. It is supported by 44.05% of voters. These are people who would vote for it in the next general election.

Meanwhile, despite the public’s anger at its switch of allegiance in July and August, Pheu Thai retains substantial support. Many analysts predicted it to be wiped out although it has been weakened. It has 24.05% support.

In third place is the Democrat party.

At this time, former Agriculture Minister Mr Chalermchai Sri-on is its new leader. This came about at a chaotic meeting in Bangkok on December 10th. It has 3.6% support.

Chalermchai Sri-on is new Democrat Party leader after a day of stunning political drama in Bangkok

The United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party came in 4th place with 3.2%. It was followed by the Bhumjaithai Party. It still only retains a paltry 1.75% support among the public.

This is lower than it’s showing in the May 14th General Election and NIDA polls before that.

New government sees many ministries controlled by parties associated with the outgoing government. These have very little pubic support according to poll

The Bhumjaithai Party was followed in 6th place by the Palang Pracharat Party. Still, both parties control a significant number of ministries in the new government, which remains unpopular with voters. 

On the TV programme on Christmas Eve, Mr Srettha was asked about possible political changes in 2024. At any rate, to respond to rumours that the Democrat Party with a new leader may join his government. 

There are signals that it would like to participate in running the country.

No reason to alter the makeup of government, says Prime Minister Srettha on the Nation TV channel. His government is stable with 314 votes in the House

However, the Prime Minister said he saw no reason for a change in the formation of the current government. He suggested that with 314 votes in Parliament and the House of Representatives, his government remains stable.

Mr Srettha also pointed out that the government has a key mission to improve the lives of the Thai people. Presently, ministers had gotten to know each other and were working well.

Government spokesman admitted that the cabinet has no legal authority to alter the tripartite committee’s recommendation on the minimum daily wage

The PM was asked about some loss of face after the minimum wage was raised only marginally for 2024. This was despite Pheu Thai policy.

It came after a recommendation from a tripartite committee within the Ministry of Labour. It operated under legal status and could not be countermanded by the cabinet.

Minimum wage fight a lost battle in 2023. But Srettha’s government still seeks to win the war. Either for Songkran or at the end of 2024 going into 2025

Earlier in December, Srettha rejected the proposed minimum daily wage increase at a cabinet meeting.

Thereafter, his government was forced to accept the measure. Legally the cabinet was not in a position to refuse the recommendation. This came from the tripartite committee operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour. 

Mr Srettha insisted it does not signify a division in the cabinet. In reality, the Bhumjaithai Party Minister of Labour Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn was also not happy with the low level of the increase. 

‘Regardless ministers were powerless legally to intervene. I’m not happy, I do not agree that it had just come up like this. I believe that the minister also did not agree. We continue to try to help the people,’ he told the TV audience.

He expressed his support for Minister of Labour Mr Phiphat regarding the ministry’s handling of the minimum wage issue.

It is reported the government may attempt to further increase the minimum wage levels sometime around April. This would come for the Songkran holiday festival or at the outset, for 2025. 

Constitutional Court decisions on Move Forward and Pita

In the meantime, a number of constitutional court hearings in relation to the Move Forward Party are due.

One will be heard before the end of the year. This deals with the party’s efforts to amend the Article 112 lèse-majesté provision.

Afterwards, the second is on January 24th 2024. This is when Mr Pita Limjaroenrat’s case about his shareholding in the defunct TV company ITV will be decided. 

Significantly, if the Move Forward Party continues to be a force in Thai politics, there will be an opportunity after the middle of May. At that point, it could form a government with the Pheu Thai Party.

Certainly, the voting power of the Senate will have expired by then.

In the latest NIDA Poll, both parties control 68.1% of the public’s vote. There is no doubt that such a government if it was allowed to come to power, would be extremely popular. 

The problem is that no one can predict if the Move Forward Party will be in existence in May 2024. It faces significant constitutional hurdles in the interim.

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Further reading:

Chalermchai Sri-on is new Democrat Party leader after a day of stunning political drama in Bangkok

‘Madame Dear’ throws her hat in the ring for the Democrat Party leadership with the party at war

Democrat Party top leader warns of voices of hate toppling the ‘spirit of democracy’ in Thailand

Pita shares cast a pall over historic May 14th Election, fears that the results may be nullified by a court

Compromise mooted between Pheu Thai and Move Forward on House Speaker job before key meeting

Kooky Palang Pracharat reports rejected on Tuesday by Prawit as Pheu Thai stands by Pita for PM

Move Forward’s ‘Government of Hope’ coalition delivers a programme promising a new charter

Jatuporn warns Pheu Thai may be turned as he predicts a political impasse. Should wait for 2024

Election vote for Move Forward may have been a cry for help from voters mired in short-term debt

Pita, Move Forward and eight other parties meet in Bangkok and come out smiling, ready to govern