KHON KAEN – One month after the July 3 general election saw the opposition Pheu Thai party win a decisive victory with 265 of 500 parliamentary seats, the election season is wrapping up. Provincial Election Commissions have all finally released their election results, revealing that the Isaan voter turnout continues to lag behind the national average.
This year, the Isaan voter turnout in the constituency race reached 71.77%, more than 3% below the national average, and nearly identical to the turnout in the 2007 general election. Voter participation in the Northeast rose slightly after the 2005 elections when the Isaan voter turnout reached only 67.66%, nearly 5% below the national average. But notwithstanding the increasingly contentious political climate in recent years, Northeastern voter participation between 2007 and 2011 hardly changed.
Pheu Thai’s decisive July 3 victory did not come as a surprise to many. The new party led by Yingluck Shinawatra is an offshoot of her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party that brought record numbers of voters to the polls in 2005, eight years after the introduction of Thailand’s compulsory voting law.
The populist policies that Mr. Thaksin had implemented in his first term as Prime Minister inspired the historically neglected rural electorate to take to the polls in 2005 to re-elect the Thai Rak Thai party in a landslide victory. Mr. Thaksin’s universal health care program, micro-finance investments in villages, and other welfare policies had attracted a support base from the rural Northeast like none before. However, while the rural populace has recently shown far greater participation in general elections, they have yet to match the national average.
Since the 2006 military coup that overthrew Mr. Thaksin, political unrest and the fear of a faltering democracy have gripped the country. In the media, in classrooms, and on rally stages across the country, Thais have begun to speak more openly about the need for democratic reform and many had hoped that this election would see yet another spike in national voter turnout. On July 3, 2011, even Election Commissioner Sodsri Sattayatham anticipated a voter turnout of around 80%. She cited Thai voters’ marked desire to see concrete political changes as the reason for the expected increase. Ultimately, voter turnout barely budged from its 2007 peak.
Detailed results here.