The campaign promises and populism shaping Thailand’s 2023 election

The huge number of so-called populist promises being made in campaigning for Thailand’s election may have overwhelmed many voters. But political parties are hoping that at least some of these pledges stick in voters’ minds as they enter ballot booths on May 14.  

Pongsatorn, a new graduate from a technical college in the North, said Pheu Thai’s pledge to raise the minimum monthly salary of bachelor’s degree holders to 25,000 baht was appealing because he now plans to study for a degree.

“I think I will vote for Pheu Thai because of this policy – even though I would otherwise prefer another party,” he said.

He said that while nobody knows for sure if Pheu Thai would actually be able to raise monthly salaries that high, the party’s track record on similar pledges offers hope. When Pheu Thai came to power in 2011, it honored its campaign policy to raise the minimum daily wage to 300 baht, and the monthly salary of bachelor’s degree holders to 15,000 baht.

“The promise of a higher salary matters because living expenses are now so high,” he said. “My rented room alone costs me 5,000 baht a month.”

Parties are also offering policies and pledges on social welfare.

Thai PBS World spoke to a 35-year-old earning 12,000 baht a month who said she would likely vote for a party that pledges to raise monthly state payments for elderly people, because she is struggling to care for her parents.

“I really want to send them some money, but I am struggling to make ends meet most of the time,” she said, speaking on condition her name was not used.

Suwimon, 54, said she was interested in parties’ policies on monthly subsidies for the elderly as she too will become a senior citizen soon. She said she wants to also vote for a party that supports farmers with subsidies and other measures.

What are populist policies?

Dr Stithorn Thananithichot, director of Innovation for Democracy at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said populist policies are in essence short-term benefits like debt moratoriums or measures to stimulate the economy.

In Thailand, however, populist policies have been extended to cover welfare provision, he said, “In Thailand, political parties compete to offer welfare benefits to such a point that their welfare policies have started looking like populist policies”.

Stithorn cited the welfare card, which offers a monthly allowance for low-income earners, saying it had become a populist scheme even though it was supposed to serve as a long-term welfare scheme.

“Essentially, the welfare-card scheme has been extended to cover a wider base of the population. It’s as if the policymakers want to hand out money to as many people as possible,” he said.

Some 14.6 million Thais are currently registered for the welfare-card scheme.

Representatives of 10 political parties share their views on five key policy issues

Main populist policies

The Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is promising to raise the welfare-card allowance to 700 baht a month if it returns to power. The allowances currently range from 200-300 baht, according to recipients’ assets and income.

If the PPRP’s policy is implemented, the next government will have to come up with 490 billion baht over its four-year term to fund it.

PPRP is also promising to lift the monthly subsidy for the elderly from the current 600-1,000 baht to between 3,000 and 5,000 baht. The new government will require 1.92 trillion baht over four years to pay for this policy.

PPRP, which is fielding Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan as its prime ministerial candidate, has many other populist policies that will also require huge sums to implement.

The United Thai Nation Party (UTNP), meanwhile, is promising to increase welfare-card holders’ monthly allowance to 1,000 baht, which will cost the government 700 billion baht over four years. UTNP also pledges to raise monthly subsidies for the elderly to 1,000 baht, which would require a budget of 480 billion baht.

The Democrat Party, meanwhile, has promised more than 500 billion baht in crop subsidies over the next four years, 30,000 baht a year to community clubs for seniors, and 1,000 baht payments to village agriculture volunteers.

The Move Forward Party is focusing on children with a monthly 1,200-baht payment for child-support. This policy will require 32 billion baht over four years. The party also plans to grant 3,000 baht for every newborn. Other Move Forward pledges included longer maternity leave and a 3,000-baht allowance for pensioners.

The Pheu Thai Party may have the biggest populist platform, according to observers. It has come up with a bundle of populist promises that would require huge sums of money to fund. Prominent among them is its policy to hand out 10,000 baht to every Thai aged 16 and above via digital wallets. The policy will cost up to 560 billion baht.

Loyal voters not swayed

Stithorn, however, believes loyal supporters will not abandon their favorite parties even if the opposing camp offers a more appealing policy.

“Imagine what hard-core Pheu Thai supporters would do if the 10,000 baht scheme came from the United Thai Nation Party?” he asked.

UTNP is fielding as its prime ministerial candidate PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led the 2014 military coup that ousted a Pheu Thai-majority government.

“If this policy came from the opposing camp, they would slam it for sure,” he said.

Stithorn believes only a relatively small proportion of the 52 million eligible voters will cast their ballots based on policies alone.

“Most voters will throw their support behind their favorite party or politician. Only swing voters will focus on policies,” he said. He believes the biggest percentage of swing voters will be from generations X and Y (43-58 and 27-42 years old).

The academic added that loyal voters would only change their mind if their favorite political party or politician caused them a big disappointment.

Toi, who will turn 60 soon, said she does not know what populist policies are exactly, but she likes the benefits promised by different political parties.

“But to me, what matters most is an anti-drug policy,” the rubber farmer said. “Drug abuse is so rampant in my village, that if a party takes a tough stance against drugs, I will definitely vote for it.”

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk


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