19 June 2024

Thailand is to hold a general election in under two months. While parliament is still officially in session, political parties began to campaign weeks ago, mostly offering populist policies ranging from minimum wage increases and cash handouts to debt resolution.

“There’s very little policy differentiation between most parties, in terms of economic ideology, as they align in the sense that the state will play a big role in supporting the economy,” Bloomberg quotes Napon Jatusripitak, a research fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “It really just comes down to who’s offering more money.”

Pledges from the top nine parties so far will require about 3.14 trillion baht per year, after excluding overlapping policies, reported Bloomberg, quoting an analyst from the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

The election rules in Thailand prevent parties from offering promises that aren’t economically viable. The law requires that these parties explain the sources of funding. So, any political party will claim that they have all figured out why they are offering such numbers and how they will fund such initiatives.

Populist policies have been sure to win the hearts and minds of many voters in the past. The numbers offered always look tempting, whether they are realistic or not. The way democracy goes, promises are not kept and protests follow. By that time, however, how much damage would already have been inflicted on the Thai economy?

Though economic policies are what most parties talk about, with some nagging about the 8-year period under Prayut Chan-o-cha, social welfare is not often mentioned. Social welfare, which could be the main tool to reduce the inequality gap, is perhaps too difficult to “sex up” for campaigning.

Understanding history will enable the country to move forward

A political analyst once told Thai PBS World that the reason the education system in Thailand never really gets reformed is because it takes too long to see the results. Politicians cannot use it to campaign in the next election. They cannot claim the success soon enough, since it will need a generation to see the results.

Does this mean that whoever is trying to offer themselves to “serve the country” is not really in politics to serve the country? The voters have to figure it out.

It would be too naive to hope that most people will assess how realistic it would be to implement these campaign policies, both populist and others. As an analyst says, they are not that different from each other. So, what will get them elected will probably be not how much they are offering in terms of policies, but more of which individuals are more popular among voters. That also means it is not really about party ideologies, but it is about charm and the ability of each politician to get elected.

That explains why Thai politicians are so comfortable with party-hopping and that is part of what a lot of people call “Thai style democracy”.

By Tulip Naksompop Blauw

Mekong is half-dead