While the Pheu Thai Party is favored to win, major risks to the outlook remain
Heightened political volatility and uncertainty in the coming months will weaken investor confidence in Thailand. This, along with economic concerns of elevated inflation and weak global demand, will weigh on domestic and foreign investment in 2023. Foreign investors that are expanding their global footprint in 2023 should regularly monitor domestic developments and engage with local teams to ensure consistent alignment of political and policy assumptions.
Firms should also account for two potential disruptions to business operations due to the elections:
- A potential victory for the leading opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP) will lead to major policy changes. A key promise of the PTP is to substantially increase the minimum wage through 2027, adding cost pressures in the long term. The PTP also plans to improve digital connectivity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and expand education infrastructure, providing B2B firms in these sectors with potential opportunities in the medium term.
- The capital city of Bangkok could see severe social unrest (triggered by the outcome of the elections) prompting a citywide shutdown and negatively impacting firms’ operations. This will also negatively impact tourist inflows to Bangkok; however, tourist arrivals to other key hotspots, such as Phuket, will be largely unaffected. Firms should closely monitor the fallout from the election outcome in July.
- On March 20, Thailand’s king issued a royal decree on the dissolution of parliament, paving the way for general elections to take place on May 14, 2023.
- Thai voters will receive two ballots—one for a constituency seat and another for their favored party.
- The Election Commission will announce the election results in early July 2023, following which the new parliament will convene in mid-July to select a new prime minister.
- In recent opinion polls, the PTP’s popularity has steadily increased. Per polls conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration, support for the PTP increased from 34% of respondents in September 2022 to 50% in March 2023.
General elections in 2023 will be another battle between the conservative military establishment and the pro-democratic base. Pro-democratic parties such as the PTP and the Move Forward Party (MFP) have seen their support increase substantially, as they represent a change from the military government that has performed poorly in recent years. The elections could likely see two outcomes. First, PTP wins a clear majority to form the new government. Second, the PTP is unable to reach a majority, leading to a coalition government with other key parties, such as the MFP. In either of these situations, there is a distinct possibility that the PTP and its affiliated parties are removed from government through legal maneuvers or a military coup (similar to elections in 2006 and 2014), leading to uncertainty on the true outcome of the elections.
In mid-July, the parliament will elect the new prime minister. The outcome of this decision is even more uncertain than the outcome of the May elections. The Thai parliament comprises 750 members—500 members in the House of Representatives and 250 senators. While PTP’s Paethongtarn Shinawatra will receive strong support from the House of Representatives, she will likely not receive enough support from the Senate, as the current Senate was appointed by the military junta and includes allies of the military government. There remains a risk that no candidate receives more than 376 votes, resulting in a deadlock and PM-elect who was not on the initial list of candidates.
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