There have been no local elections for almost seven years and Thai voters remain unsure whether local elections will return anytime soon. Although promised to be held before the years’ end, the dates have not yet been set.

Despite uncertainty over when voters will finally be able to cast their ballots, there has been active campaigning for local polls.  The Progressive Movement, led by former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has announced it is fielding 4,000 candidates for more than half of the nationwide posts up for election.

The candidates will vie for election under the Progressive Movement’s banner, sharing its ideology and policies. According to law, candidates for local government organisations are allowed to contest independently and are not obliged to be political party members.

Local elections are held at several levels – for 5,320 tambon administration organisations (TAOs), 76 provincial administration organisations (PAOs), 2,454 municipalities and for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and Pattaya City.

Observers note that local elections involve different factors required to win.  Chief among these are local dynasties and patronage politics, said Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

He cites the South, where the Democrat Party still occupies most local government seats, or the lower Northeast where the family of veteran politician Newin Chidchob dominated, or the East under the influence of the Khunpluem dynasty of the late Somchai “Kamnan Poh” – the so-called “godfather of Chonburi”. Meanwhile the Central region indisputably belonged to former PM Banharn Silpa-archa.

Secondly, campaigns for local elections need to clearly address the issues that are relevant to local voters, Yuthaporn said.  “Local people are concerned about public utilities says the academic. 

Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist from King Prajadhipok’s Institute, pointed out that constituencies for local polls are far smaller than in general elections, meaning voters generally cast their ballots for candidates who help them with daily challenges and have strong, active teams that can solve constituents’ problems. 

“Using popularity gained in the general elections to win local elections will not be easy. The voter turnout is not as huge,” Stithorn said.  However, the analyst conceded the Progressive Movement may win seats in big provincial constituencies if it can find outstanding candidates with strong teams or popular runners-up in previous elections, whose chances would be boosted by nationally known figures like Thanathorn and fellow movement member Piyabutr.

Six laws related to local elections went into effect in April 2019, and one of them authorises the government to call these polls. However, local elections have been postponed several times.  Although Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promised recently that local elections will be held this year, he declined to say when, declaring that the decision will be made by him alone.

Opposition parties have criticised the delays, saying the government has no intention of allowing decentralisation because this would threaten its grip on power at the central level. Critics have also said that the government is delaying local polls because they will have an impact on national politics. They say if the government is unsure it will win votes at the local level, the polls are unlikely to be held soon.