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Insights and Analysis

2009 National Survey of the Thai People

September 16, 2009

On Wednesday in Bangkok, Thailand’s parliament began a 2-day debate on amending the Constitution, while Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged lawmakers to resolve the ongoing crisis. Three years after the Sept. 19. 2006 coup against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand continues to struggle for political stability. Contentious factions have organized numerous protests and counter-protests, some leading to violence, and even derailing the high-profile summit of Asian leaders last April. Calls for Constitutional reforms have competed with demands for recovery from the global economic crisis. On Tuesday, the Cabinet agreed to ensure security forces are ready for planned protests this weekend marking the third anniversary of the coup.

To help facilitate national reconciliation by ensuring that the voices of Thai citizens are represented during this time of political turmoil, The Asia Foundation conducted a nationwide opinion poll that gauges the national mood toward election reform, participation in politics, amending the Constitution, and more. Today, the results of that poll, Constitutional Reform and Democracy in Thailand: A National Survey of the Thai People, were released. The main launch event was streamed live online on the Prachatouch web site.

The survey found that the Thai electorate is pessimistic about the overall direction of the country, with less than a third saying the country is moving in the right direction. An overwhelming majority (84 percent) believes that a new or revised Constitution should be ratified through a referendum.

We presented the survey findings on Wednesday to a gathering of civil society, politicians, diplomats, academics, and journalists. Keen attention was paid by the audience in particular to the Thai electorate’s views on appointing representatives in government. The 2007 Constitution changed the Senate from a wholly-elected to a partially-appointed body. Several proposals have been put forward for the Senate; including keeping the current mixed structure, going back to a wholly-elected senate as per the 1997 Constitution, or eliminating the Senate entirely. A clear majority (63 percent) of those interviewed said they prefer the senate election system described in the 1997 Constitution, while only a quarter (25 percent) support the current partially appointed senate arrangement. On Wednesday, special guest speaker, Surichai Wun’Gaeo, Associate Professor and Director of Social Research Institute at Chulalongkorn University, said, “It is clear from the results of the survey that Thai voters prefer elected representatives to appointed ones. This refutes the argument put forth by certain groups that a partially-appointed representative system is more suitable for the country on the pretext that Thais are not ready for full-fledged democracy.”

There was additional focus on survey results highlighting a lack of trust among Thai people. A majority (62 percent) of the people surveyed said that most people cannot be trusted. “We have witnessed a marked decline in societal trust among Thais in recent years, and this worrying trend is a spinoff of the ongoing political unrest,” said Dr. Thawilwadee Bureekul, director of the research and development department of King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI). “We need to act fast to restore political normalcy before the country suffers a complete breakdown of social cohesion.”

The Foundation’s survey also asked respondents their views on vote buying, influences on them in the voting process, their allegiance to political parties, their economic well-being, their level of trust in different institutions, and more.

Read the Reuters wire story, “Thai lawmakers debate constitution change to end deadlock,” which covered Prime Minister Abhisit’s request and included the Foundation’s poll findings. On the Straits Times website, Nirmal Ghosh blogs about “What Thais want” and incorporates our survey results and quotes Foundation spokespeople James Klein and Tim Meisburger. In Thursday’s Bangkok Post, the Foundation’s poll findings are cited in “‘Self-serving’ charter changes draw fire.”

The full survey is available in English and in Thai on our website.

James Klein is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Thailand.


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