Opinion – NIDA polls paint a complicated picture for Prime Minister Prayut’s future

After the 2014 coup, the then leader of the coup – General Prayut Chan-o-cha came to power insisting that he had never wanted the post of premier for himself.

“I didn’t want to be prime minister. It’s not cool. It’s tiring,” he said in a press conference shortly after the start of his tenure.

That was then. Since, however, an abundance of evidence has emerged that things have changed. In 2019, Prayut angrily yelled, “You can try to force me out…I’m not leaving!” This year, he clung on to power successfully after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had not yet breached the 8-year term limit.

And now, it appears, he has his eyes on prolonging his time in office even further beyond into the next election, with his supporters steadily building up the Ruam Thai Sang Chart party as his next support base.

“Times change,” as a Thai saying goes, “and people’s minds change with them.” Prayut over the past 8-years may have had a drastic change of heart on how much he values sitting at the prime minister’s desk in Government House. But he is not the only one. People’s minds on him have also changed considerably.

It is common to say in media reports that the prime minister is unpopular, and polling has captured this decline visibly.

Early in 2021, NIDA’s polling on who the public saw as best fit to be prime minister found that almost 20% of respondents chose Prayut. Indeed, he led the field. 

By the beginning of 2022, that number had slid to a little over 12%, with the incumbent coming behind both Paethongtharn Shinawatra, daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, and Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party.

NIDA’s latest nationwide poll in late September saw his popularity rating decline even further to 10%. 

As such, if the numbers are to be believed, Prayut has shed almost half of his supporters in the past 2-years.

Even more interestingly, NIDA’s recent regional polling has also revealed Prayut’s weaknesses in even greater detail. Prayut still leads, by a significant distance, in the South — possibly the most conservative region in Thailand. He came in 3rd, however, in the Central, North, and Northeastern regions. Even more worryingly, he comes in 2nd in Bangkok.

This is a sharp contrast to 2019 when the Prayut-backing Palang Pracharath party had won the most seats of any party in the capital.

Top 3 Choices – NIDA Polls

One could argue that this polling of prime ministerial hopefuls in pointless. Thailand, after all, is a parliamentary democracy — we vote for parties, not individuals.

The party polling isn’t hopeful for Prayut either, however. For one, Ruam Thai Sang Chart barely registers in public opinion. With only a few months before the next general election, there isn’t much time for the party to make its mark. By comparison, in mid-2018 Palang Pracharath was already polling at 22%, behind only Pheu Thai. 

We could change our assumptions a little and say that Prayut still runs with Palang Pracharath next year (not out of the question by any means.)

The polling for Palang Pracharath party is also quite dire. In the Northeast, they poll at around 5% (with Pheu Thai at 50%); in the South, they lose to the Democrats by double digits (a surprising result, given that the two have often been neck-and-neck in byelections over the last 2-years.) Their position has certainly declined across the board in every region from 2019.

A question that would certainly come to mind for all of Prayut’s strategists is how they can reverse his fortunes.

Unfortunately for him, the answer appears to be quite elusive. The most effective way of gaining popularity, perhaps, would be to implement the “populist” policies that Prayut often derided.

But if his immensely popular programs that directly put cash in people’s pockets, such as Khon La Krueng, has not translated into personal popularity, what else could the prime minister do in the next few months?

An image makeover is out of the question. A Ruam Thai Sang Chart source had told the Bangkok Post that “it will be necessary to reshape him into a fully-fledged politician for a refreshing change,” with his military image being pushed to the backseat.

You can’t blame any readers for being skeptical if after 8-years in the public eye, a change-resistant former general nearing 70-years old, can still put together a “refreshing” transformation of his image.

Indeed, at some point Prayut and his allies may simply have to admit that he is a spent force.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling that he only has 2-years left as premier will be an albatross around his neck, raising only more questions amongst the electorate about the wisdom in choosing him for another term.

A point of consolation for the prime minister, however, is the fact that the polling also confirms that there is no viable conservative alternative to him quite yet.

Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit barely registers in the polls; neither does Deputy Prime Minister and Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan. 

Additionally, the conservative camp will pin their hopes on the fact that once the election season starts in earnest, putting Paethongtharn — a Shinawatra of the blood! — on the ballot will be enough to energize anti-Thaksin voters.

Prayut, as the toppler of Yingluck Shinawatra, certainly has strident anti-Thaksin credentials. Contrast that with Prawit, with the rumors that constantly swirl of dealmaking with Pheu Thai.

Given this, the conservative camp may indeed have to conclude that even a weakened figurehead like Prayut is their best standard-raiser at the next election, since there is no alternative. He’s down — but not out.


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