6 June 2024

While the young Generation Z adults may not be the biggest group of voters yet, their keen interest in politics is set to have a super-sized influence on the outcome of Thailand’s general election next month.

A survey indicates that about 85% of the 7.67 million Generation Z-ers (Thais aged between 18 and 26) intend to vote on May 14.

Though Gen-Z members account for a relatively small proportion of the country’s 52 million-plus eligible voters, if they come together to make themselves heard, their choice will definitely count.

Gen Z politically aware

Twenty-four-year-old Pimpitchaya said she has already registered to vote outside her constituency because she will not be able to head back to her hometown on election day.

“But I have taken steps to ensure I can exercise my voting right. I want to have a say in the governance of my country. I have been following political news,” said the young woman, who spoke on condition that her last name was withheld.

Pimpitchaya said this will be the first time she will vote in a general election.

Like many of her peers, this first jobber supports the Move Forward Party. In her opinion, it represents the new generation and offers young people hope of seeing changes for the better in Thai society.

“Inequality should be wiped out. Democracy should become stronger. A people-centric approach should be applied to problem-solving at all levels,” she said.

Fellow Gen Z member Aom, a 20-year-old university student, has a different take on politics. She likes Pheu Thai Party’s policies the most, especially its pledge to offer free vaccines against cervical cancer and its policy to amend the 2017 Constitution to ensure it really serves the people.

“I have been following the country’s political situation for a long while, because I believe politics affects everybody,” she said. “I will cast my vote because I hope my vote can change the country.”

Voter turnout at the 2019 general election stood at 74.84% nationwide.

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Favorite PM candidates

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat topped the list of young voters’ choices for next prime minister, according to a recent survey conducted by Rangsit University political science lecturer Assoc Prof Thamrongsak Petchlertanan.

Conducted from March 14 to 25 and covering some 1,050 Gen-Z members, the survey found that 29.2% of respondents wanted Pita as the next premier.

Coming a distant second was Pheu Thai Party’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra with 23% of votes. The third-ranking candidate, Thai Sang Thai Party leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, was far behind with just 3.3%. Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is running under the United Thai Nation Party banner, barely registered with just 1.3%. However, it should be noted that 26.9% of the respondents chose not to answer.

Parties on young voters’ radar

Olarn Thinbangtieo, who teaches at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law, said young people prefer the Move Forward Party because they can relate to it.

“Young voters feel this party hails from the same generation. Plus, Move Forward is also very good at communicating,” he said.

In his view, Move Forward’s contentious call for amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code – better known as the lese majeste law – is a political dividing line. Some young voters may lean towards Pheu Thai instead of Move Forward because they do not believe the lese majeste law needs to be amended, he added.

Paetongtarn, the youngest daughter of fugitive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and a PM candidate for Pheu Thai herself, is thought to be popular among both Gen Z and Gen Y.

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The stance of different generations

Generation Y comprises people aged between 27 and 42. With more than 15.14 million in Thailand, Gen Y is also one of the biggest groups of voters. The only group that is slightly larger is the Gen X (born 1965-81), who add up to 16.15 million or about 30.87% of eligible voters.

Baby boomers, or people between the ages of 59 and 77, now comprise about 11.15 million, while those aged 78 to 98, or the Silent Generation, account for just 2.23 million voters.

Thailand also has 36,179 voters above the age of 99.

Asst Prof Dr Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, said Baby Boomers and Silent Gen can be added to the same group because their social and political experiences are very similar.

“Yet while both generations are conservative on social issues, they may have different political viewpoints,” the lecturer said. “Their political stances are very clear.”

According to Kanokrat, Gen X and the older Gen Y members share similar experiences but are diverse and unpredictable when it comes to political allegiances.

Given the contradictions they have witnessed – the struggle between dictatorship and democracy, the booming economy despite political chaos, how elected governments still cause woes, and disruptive technology changing people’s lives – this group holds vastly varying political viewpoints.

“There are many subgroups in these generations, and ultimately they will be the swing voters,” she explained.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, estimates that about 70% of Gen Y members are liberal, while the rest are conservative.

The next generation is more balanced, he added.

“For Gen X, I think half of them are conservative and the other half are liberal.”

Members of younger generations, like Gen Z or Alpha (those born in 2010 or later) are generally far more liberal because they have grown up amid political turmoil, he added.

“Because they have witnessed how political problems plagued the country as the conservative camp became more powerful, they really want to see Thailand become more democratic,” Kanokrat said. “These young people have never seen how the Thai economy has thrived in the past despite limited democracy.”

The lecturer explained that in essence, people make their voting decisions based on their experiences, benefits and their beliefs about what may happen in the future.

“Different generations have had different experiences and have different perceptions, so their stances and choices will also be very different,” she said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk