A Change In The Thai Tide? Youth Eager To Impact First Election Since 2014 Coup


General elections in Thailand in March of this year characterised a much needed adjustment for the nation since a devastating military coup in 2014. Despite political analysts labelling the elections as unfair and corrupt, youth activists remain adamant in developing a more equitable and democratic Thailand. The election is being contested by liberal Pheu Thai and pro-junta Palang Pracharat, alongside the democratic Future Forward (FFP) and Bhumjaithai parties.

Parit Chiwark, student activist and political science student at Thammasat University, asserts with much conviction ‘the youth are more aware of the effects of the Junta and the corruption, and we are now more politically engaged’. Likewise, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, current leader of the democratic Future Forward Party, says “young people grew up in a highly divisive society. They don’t see this as the new normal; they seek a way out. They seek change”. Both Chiwark and Juangroongruangkit’s sentiments reflect a stark shift from a fragmented political backdrop devoid of youth engagement to an increasingly equitable process, with a turnout of 90% for 18-24 year olds. Arguably, advancements in global political solidarity are the natural precursor to infusing Thai youth with an appetite for democracy, despite a deep and substantial historical apathy rooted in past establishment crackdown on youth activists. Just recently, teenagers across the country took part in a global climate strike, demanding the elite address the threats  posed by climate change. Undoubtedly, a divided political landscape in their early years has spurred Thai youth to seek and confide in political self-empowerment, fuelled by increasingly connected global political movements across the developing world.

Contrastingly, according to Reuters, the pivotal election plunged the nation into deeper uncertainty, assisted by the Junta’s reconfiguration of the constitution to enshrine the establishment the right to appoint all 250 senate seats, thus making advancements for any democratic movement, such as Pheu Thai, significantly more difficult.

Despite the junta’s efforts to strengthen their hold on institutions of power, youth activists and groups remain willingly consistent and hopeful in changing politics for the better.  Time and time again, Thai youth seem uncharacteristically resilient to nation-wide traditions of general apathy towards the political arena. Youth groups are actively utilising global non-traditional digital channels to maximise the effectiveness of their campaigns, such as Twitter, to mobilise activists, sophisticated tools unavailable to earlier generations equally passionate about reform. For example, music group Rap Against Dictatorship released an anti-junta pro-democracy song that notched up 54 million views on YouTube, followed by numerous pro-democracy hash-tags on social platforms.

Thai democratic movements such as Future Forward understand the mechanisms by which to leverage equitable and youth-driven digital platforms such as Twitter, instrumental in the party’s success in rising to the mainstream of politics. All things considered, increasingly global pro-democracy movements and global solidarity against non-democratic regimes lends it likely the effectiveness of Thai youth’s pro-democracy movements will only increase in effectiveness, with added hope other historically politically marginalised groups, such as ethnic minorities, become inclined to take action for more equitable reform.