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Thai Public Skeptical of Power Transfer

Thai Public Skeptical of Power Transfer

by Rajesh Srinivasan and Steve Crabtree

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In August, the people of Thailand approved a new constitution, the country’s 18th in 75 years. There’s little reason to think this version will fare much better than the last 17 -- turnout for the referendum was relatively low, and the vote in favor of the military-endorsed document was just 57%. What’s more, many of those voting in its favor may have done so only because the constitution is a prerequisite to restoring democracy. An interim military government has ruled the country since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006.


A Gallup Poll of Thailand conducted in July found that, despite promises of a “clean” election by the end of 2007, the prevailing opinion among Thais seems to be that the military may not give up power that easily. Only about a third (34%) think that the interim government is doing enough to restore democracy, while a significant majority (59%) think it is not. And just 37% nationwide say they are “very” (9%) or “somewhat” (28%) confident that fair elections leading to a new government will take place later this year, while 54% are “not at all” confident.



Significant regional differences point to the influence of political loyalties: In the northern and central regions, where support for Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party was relatively strong, just 30% feel the government is doing enough to restore democracy; in the South, where the opposition Democrat Party held sway, 52% say the same. Similarly, 60% of those in the North say they are not at all confident a new government will be elected, compared with 48% in the South. According to the Election Commission of Thailand, support for the new constitution was lowest in the North and highest in the South.


Leadership Perceptions


Opinions of the country’s current leadership are split evenly among the overall population, with 45% of Thais saying they approve of its job performance and another 45% saying they disapprove. In the southern region, support for the interim government is significantly stronger, with 61% of residents saying they approve.


Last year’s coup followed public demonstrations over corruption allegations in Thaksin’s administration and other alleged ethical breaches, including those stemming from the sale of his telecommunications company to a Singaporean investment company. However, the military-backed administration has done little to restore Thais’ trust in government per se. Eighty-three percent of the population feels corruption is widespread in the country’s government, virtually unchanged from the 85% who said the same prior to last year’s coup. The proportion who say they have confidence in the Thai military -- previously among the highest in the region at 86% -- has waned, down to 77% this year.  



The proportion of Thais who have confidence in the honesty of the country’s elections has increased, from 34% in the summer of 2006 to 44% this year. When last year’s survey was administered, the country’s Constitutional Court had recently annulled a snap election called by Thaksin to bolster support for his TRT party. In May 2007, the TRT was dissolved after being convicted of breaking election laws. But any resulting gains in public trust are likely to evaporate if the interim government fails to follow through on its pledge to return power to the people as quickly as possible.


Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted in July 2007 with 1,006 residents of Thailand, aged 15 and older. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.6 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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