Pocketbook issues eclipsed by military role in Thai election

BANGKOK (AP) – Pocketbook issues may not sway the outcome of this Sunday’s election in Thailand, given the bigger debate among voters over whether they support or oppose the military junta that has ruled the country since a 2014 coup.

Experts said that widespread dissatisfaction, especially among the have-nots, with how the economy is doing may be balanced out by strong support for the junta from wealthier Thais and those who have seen military rule as a welcome respite from the political unrest that has tarnished Thai politics for more than a decade.

“The economy is not doing all that great. But it’s also not doing all that badly. It may be that in this case it would have just a neutral impact on the election’s outcome,” said Chris Baker, a historian and expert on Thai politics.

“It will be a vote on the military. Whether you like them. Whether you approve of them. Whether you’d like them to stay,” he said.

Still, lagging wages, a precarious job market and falling commodities prices have made the daily struggle to get by a key concern, and major parties are wooing voters with promises of cash handouts, farm subsidies, small-business tax breaks and other benefits.

Such populist strategies were the specialty of billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allied parties have won every national election since 2001 in part by appealing to the rural masses who make up the majority of Thai voters.

Yet his popularity and strongman personality alienated many in Bangkok and among the nation’s traditional elite and his government was toppled in a 2006 coup.