Religion, Political Parties, and Thailand’s 2019 Election: Cosmopolitan Royalism and its Rivals
The political salience of religious issues and identities has been rising in Thailand, and this is increasingly reflected also in electoral politics. Thai political parties seek to position themselves in relation to struggles over the location of the ideological centre of gravity which has pitted defenders of the religiopolitical status quo—a monarchy-centered civil-religious nationalism—against Buddhist nationalists on the one hand and proponents of greater secularization on the other. In the 2019 general election, political entrepreneurs ‘particized’ these religio-political differences, which have far-reaching implications for majority-minority relations, to an extent that appears unprecedented in recent Thai political history. This argument is developed through an analysis of the platforms, policies, and rhetoric put forward by political parties contesting the election, which concluded an almost 5-year-long period of direct military rule. This analysis suggests we need to pay greater attention to the role of political parties and electoral competition in maintaining and contesting the secular settlement in Thailand.