Opinion – Thailand’s political party tax donations indicate a trend of rising involvement and segmentation of support base

The recently released data by the Election Commission of Thailand (EC) on the amount of donation each political party in Thailand received over the past year is a clear indication of how and which criteria of people are supporting each political party in Thailand.

Under Thai law any tax paying citizen of the country could opt to pay a certain amount of their taxes to pay to the political party they want and despite a small base of tax payers in Thailand, the donations reflected the kind of support base each political party has. This comes as the country is heading closer to a general election as the term of current government ends on March 23, 2023.

Thailand’s taxpayers have a mechanism to donate to their political party of choice and taxpayers have the option to mark on their tax forms whether they wish to donate up to 500 Baht of their taxes to a political party of their choice.

Taxpayers pay nothing in additional taxes; the amount they choose to donate is deducted from the tax they would otherwise have been sent directly to the state.

Given that this is the only opportunity where citizens are directly invited by the government to donate to a political party, it’s worth analyzing the data. The Electoral Commission recently released the number of donations and donors each party received in 2021:

Top 10 Parties by Tax Donations (2021) 

PartyDonations (Baht)Number of donors
1. Move Forward27,564,203.77 62,634
2. Democrat3,435,342.0310,328
3. Kla3,345,799.388,090
4. Pheu Thai2,926,584.717,771 
5. Palang Pracharath1,299,133.034,062
6. Thai Pakdee1,284,608.35 3,234
7. Seri Ruam Thai973,702.58 2,389 
8. Thai Social Democratic219,415.70 495
9. Bhumjai Thai208,997.60593
10. Thai Sang Thai192,554.77 424

A reflection of middle- and upper-class support?

It is important to begin by noting that these numbers are primarily a reflection of middle- and upper-class support. This is because only a fraction of Thais make enough income to pay income tax.

During the fiscal year 2020, for example, only 9.55 million people out of the nation’s population of 70 million were in the tax system, and of those only 3.3 million had a monthly income of more than 25,000 Baht, the minimum required to file income tax forms.

As such, by definition, tax-funded donations to political parties exclude the vast majority of Thais who do not reach the minimum threshold to pay income tax.

But even when pricing in the fact that few Thais are eligible to donate taxes in the first place, the number of donors to political parties is surprisingly small — only a little over a 100,000 chose to donate their taxes. This likely reflects two facts.

Firstly, political parties in Thailand tend to remain very much top-down organizations without much in the way of mass memberships; efforts to encourage primary voting and the setting up of party branches have not catalyzed the majority of people to turn into card-carrying members of political parties.

Secondly, given the fluid political landscape, with the long-term future of parties like Palang Pracharath unclear and the Democrats brought low after several severe election defeats, many people likely had reservations about supporting any political party at this time.

What we can say is that these figures reflect the number of strongly loyaltaxpaying supporters that each party has — the people who have enough interest in donating.

Some parties do surprisingly well, and others do surprisingly poorly

It is unsurprising that the Move Forward Party comes in first place. Drawing its support mainly from urban progressives, it has a large, strongly loyal and motivated core base. Its over 60,000 donors far outstrip anything that any other political party could muster.

The party will further take heart from the fact that its number of donors increased significantly from 2020, when a little less than 30,000 people chose to direct their taxes to Move Forward Party. During 2021 those donating to Move Forward raised to 62,634 people donated to the party.

There was a clear split in conservative donations. Of the conservative parties, the Democrats received the 2nd most donations. This may be explained by the fact that the Democrats is the party with the most party members in the country (over 170,000 voters!), thus providing it with a larger motivated donor base than most.

It is a little puzzling, however, that Palang Pracharath, which won the popular vote in 2019, received donations from only around 4,000 doners. This could reflect the extent to which its voters were loyal to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and not PPRP itself, and thus did not see a reason to support the party that merely acted as a vehicle for Prayut.

Some other parties did surprisingly poorly. Pheu Thai, for example, had only 7,000 donors. Perhaps this could be explained by the fact that Pheu Thai draws its support from voters with less income, but for a party whose various incarnations have won the most seats at every general election in the past two decades, one can only wonder why they could not at least come even with the Democrats.

Thai Sang Thai, despite inviting people to donate their taxes on party social media, could also only produce 424 donors.

Despite its bruising byelection defeats, the Kla party came in third place. This could reflect how its supporters, while sizable in number, are interspersed throughout the country and not large enough in any one constituency to win in a first-past-the-post system.

Of course, the Kla party has now only become a hollow shell, with its leaders having taken all the party’s candidates to join the Chart Pattana party. It will be interesting to see whether Chart Pattana Kla, an unorthodox marriage between two very different styles of politics, will retain Kla’s donor base into next year.

Political party donations are still not a part of Thai political culture

Ultimately, the key takeaway is that political donations are still very much not a major element of Thailand’s political culture. In the US, grassroots donations have become a major part of campaigns — candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are able to post massive fundraising hauls for their presidential campaigns thanks to extremely robust grassroots support.

It would stretch the imagination to see either Prayut or Paethongtharn Shinawatra being able to gain similar donor support.

But if political party donations were to become a bigger part of our politics, that may not at all be a bad thing. Political pundits always discuss how political parties are under the sway of a few nai toon – rich megadonors — whose influence undoubtedly orientates our democracy away toward the few rather than the many.

A stronger mass membership parties with more grassroots donations would help eradicate at least some of that influence. 

We must also commend the option that has been provided for taxpayers to direct a small piece of their taxes towards a political party of their choice. It may not have caught on with all taxpayers, but it is nonetheless a good first step towards encouraging greater popular involvement in our politics.


Ivermectin not effective in treating Covid-19, joint Mahidol-Oxford study shows

Ivermectin is not shown to be effective against Covid-19 in clinical trials according to the findings of a joint...

Latest article