Webinar on “Democratic Consolidation or Backsliding? Analysis and Implications of Thailand’s 2023 General Election”

In this webinar, The Honorable Abhisit Vejjajiva, former leader of the Democrat Party and former prime minister of Thailand, discussed the future of Thai politics, and the implications for Thailand and the region after the election.


Wednesday, 17 May 2023 – This webinar reviewed the results of the Thai General Election held on 14th May as well as the implication of the election on the future of Thai politics. The speaker shared his analysis of the voting behaviour of the electorate, the campaign strategies run by major political parties, Prime Minister candidates vying for the next premiership, and his reflection on the Democrat Party’s performance. The webinar attracted 146 attendees. Key points from the discussion are summarised below:

Speaker Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva with moderator Dr Napon Jatusripitak. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
  • Mr Abhisit provided a brief explanation of Thai politics starting from the 2000s when the current political tug-of-war between the Shinawatra family and the conservative camp started.
  • The speaker then moved on to explain the current electoral arrangement according to the 2017 Thai constitution and controversies surrounding the 2019 general election. Mr Abhisit explained the introduction of the 250 unelected senators under the 2017 constitution where the senators currently hold significant power in selecting the next Prime Minister of Thailand.
  • The 2017 constitution also introduced changes to the electoral system by altering the mechanism for seat allocation in the parliament. In 2019, the Thai Raksa Chart Party was dissolved for nominating Princess Ubolratana as a candidate in electoral politics. Future Forward Party, which won the third largest share of seats in the House of Representatives in the 2019 election, was also dissolved by the Constitutional Court for violating the political party law by unlawfully borrowing 191.2 million baht from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
  • The Prayut Administration was facing growing dissatisfaction from the public in the past four years, and its style of conservative and centralised governance was growing out of favour with the Thai electorate.
  • There were widespread expectations that the major opposition parties would be able to put together a majority coalition. Polls were showing that over sixty percent of the voters were expressing a preference for Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward Party.
  • Political parties on the same side of the political spectrum were competing with each other assuming that voters would rarely switch sides between Conservative and Progressive ideologies.
  • The 2023 election result indicates that the Thai voters have given a verdict to change even though the electoral rules are undemocratic and not providing an elected government with what it is expected to do.
  • Unlike other democratic societies, policies and longer-term challenges such as the competitiveness of the economy, ageing society, climate change, rising inequality are pushed to the background in Thai politics. Instead, Thai voters are more concerned about giving support to a more democratic government thereby stopping the unelected senators to determine the future of the people.
  • There were concerns at first about the government or the establishment would rig the election. However, those concerns have not materialised. Both the opposition and government-affiliated parties were given platforms to express their views freely.
  • The influence of money is diminished considering the election result. Despite the vast sum of campaign spending by a few parties, they could not emerge victorious.
  • The greatest shock was that this 2023 election is the first time that a Thaksin-affiliated party has not won the largest number of House seats. Pheu Thai was confident that they could get an absolute majority in the lower house. Move Forward Party was popular among young voters, but they were only expected to win 50-70 parliamentary seats. Finally, Pheu Thai won only 141 House seats out of the 500 at stake; Move Forward came first with 152 House seats.
  • Pheu Thai was suspected to be compromising with the government coalition during the campaign period to secure Thaksin’s return to Thailand. Move Forward challenged Pheu Thai by stating that they would never compromise with people associated with the coup.
  • Move Forward also has a comprehensive policy package of all the political parties. Move Forward talked about structural issues and offered a completely different vision of Thailand. Not only was Move Forward tapping into the democratic desires of young voters but also was attracting the older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation) with more progressive ideas by offering a real and exciting vision for Thailand.
  • If Thailand follows a typical democratic procedure, the next step is the formation of a coalition government between Pheu Thai and Move Forward led by Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party. Observers would be discussing possible changes to policies.
  • Initially, six parties with 309 seats out of 500 from the lower house supported the Move Forward coalition. However, most senators have not yet given their support to the Move Forward Party. Pita still faces allegations that can potentially lead to his disqualification. Since Move Forward only has one candidate for the premiership, Move Forward needs to rely on candidates from other parties if Pita ends up being disqualified.
  • A stalemate can happen if no party will be able to secure at least 376 votes for any prime minister candidate. Senators might simply abstain and avoid voting for General Prayut or General Prawit. In such a scenario, Pheu Thai might be able to form another coalition government. Thus, Pheu Thai is in a strong position where it can become the core of the next government or even have a Prime Minister candidate. General Prayut does not have many options left while General Prawit is still in the electoral game.
  • Thailand will end up with either a progressive and democratic government or caught up in controversies. Moreover, two sensitive issues remain to be solved. The first one is the monarchy and the Lèse-majesté law, and the second issue is Thaksin’s return to Thailand. The next government will have to face these two challenging and sensitive issues.
  • After the 5-year term of the current senate expires in May 2024, there will be new senators without the power to elect the Prime Minister. By then, drafting a more democratic and progressive constitution will become closer to reality. Move Forward will also have to learn to work with other parties to achieve their objectives.

The audience engaged Mr Abhisit with over forty questions, seeking his perspective on Article 112, the decline of the Democrat Party (which won only 24 House seats, compared with 53 in 2019), the election’s impact on the Deep South region, the future of conservative establishment, social welfare spending policies promised by major parties, the monarchy’s perception to the election result, implications of Thaksin’s return to Thailand, the possibility of another military coup, economic challenges facing the new government, shifts in Thai diplomacy under a democratic government, changing demographics and voter preferences in the North and Northeast regions.