The Latest on Southeast Asia: April 27, 2023

The past month has seen significant developments in election landscapes across Southeast Asia. Three countries in particular are worth tracking in the coming months.

Thailand: Campaigning is in full swing for Thailand’s May 14 general elections, the first since 2019. The latest opinion polls show the Pheu Thai Party with a big lead at 47.2 percent, followed by another part of the opposition, the Move Forward Party, at 21.2 percent. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s new United Thai Nation Party trails with just 10.8 percent approval, while the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) receives the lowest approval rating of any major party at 2.1 percent. Pheu Thai has led every major opinion poll and is very likely to win the largest number of Lower House seats next month, with leaders promising a landslide of at least 310 seats. There has been speculation that Pheu Thai might form a coalition with PPRP and the Bhumjaithai Party if it fails to win an outright majority, especially since it is competing with Move Forward for anti-regime votes. But even that is unlikely to be enough to reach the 376 seat super-majority necessary to appoint a prime minister under the military-engineered 2017 constitution. Major party pledges thus far have focused on economic deliverables such as providing subsidies to farmers, raising the minimum wage, and lowering the price of cooking oil.

Cambodia: On April 20, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet, was officially promoted to the rank of four-star general. This further solidifies his path to succeed his father. Hun Manet is expected to resign from the military in the coming months to compete in parliamentary elections scheduled for late July. Hun Sen’s second-eldest son, Hun Manith, was also appointed deputy commander of the army last month, a move that analysts say indicates Hun Manet’s intentions to retain influence over the military even after he enters politics. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, meanwhile, has continued its assault against opposition activists, with two members of the opposition Candlelight Party suffering attacks over the weekend. The National Election Committee will begin registering political parties and their candidates next month, but opposition members expect to face more physical and legal attacks leading up to the election.

Indonesia: On April 21, the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) nominated Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo as its candidate to succeed President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in the 2024 elections. PDI-P is the only party with enough support to independently nominate a presidential candidate under Indonesia’s electoral rules. It had delayed doing so amid disagreements between Jokowi, who favored Ganjar, and party leader and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, who preferred her daughter, Speaker of Parliament Puan Maharani. Ganjar joins a three-way race with Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who have each been nominated by multiparty coalitions, though those could still shift by the final registration deadline in October. The most recent opinion polls show Ganjar, previously the frontrunner, has fallen to second place with 26.9 percent to Prabowo’s 30.3 percent. This follows his decision to support a ban on Israel’s participation in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, an unpopular decision which cost Indonesia its hosting rights for the tournament. All three presidential hopefuls are close enough in popularity that who they choose as their running mates could make a big difference.

Karen Lee is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow and director for the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS.

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Karen Lee

Karen Lee

Former Research Associate, Southeast Asia Program
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Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative