A Referendum on the Status Quo

In an office in northern Thailand, I sat down with an MP from one of the ruling coalition parties. He was confident of victory in his own constituency, but seemed despondent about the state of affairs in the rest of the country. In particular, it rankled him that the Move Forward Party was gaining popularity. They won’t win this time, he said. “But if they remain in opposition, at the next election, they’re going to be scary.” 

It wasn’t an unfounded take. “We’ll still vote for our local MP on the constituency ballot,” a younger voter in a neighboring constituency told me in a coffee shop. Left wide open was the party list.

That Pita Limjaroenrat gets the biggest cheers of anyone when he walks onto a debate stage in the middle of Bangkok is not surprising. But it is a sign of the winds of change and the strength of ideology that even in small towns, where the traditional patterns of patronage politics have dominated, a party that barely bothers to nurture its local networks is gaining support.

Seemingly everywhere in the province, people talked about how Move Forward was running strong. Many were ready to move on, I was constantly told, after eight years of the Prayut administration: they were unhappy about the government’s inability to solve people’s problems and the leader’s own mercurial tendencies. It was sheer Prayut fatigue, buer loong, “tired of the uncle.” “Vote for Move Forward,” the slogan goes, “and Thailand will change.” For a country hungry for change, clearly voters were finding this proposition compelling.

The surge in support for Move Forward indicates that this election is a referendum, not just on Prayut and his government, but on the entire status quo. It is a choice between competing visions of the country. 

Click here for the full piece at Thai Enquirer.

(Cover image credits: Move Forward Party)


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