News & Events


Events Detail

​Public Policy and Global Affairs Seminar | Proud to be Thai: The Puzzling Absence of Ethnicity-based Political Cleavages in Northeastern Thailand

Published on: 21-Feb-2019

EventProud to be Thai: The Puzzling Absence of Ethnicity-based Political Cleavages in Northeastern Thailand
Dr Jacob I. Ricks
Assistant Professor of Political Science, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University
Date21 February 2019 (Thursday)
Time2:30pm – 4:00pm
VenueHSS Meeting Room 5 (HSS-04-94)


Despite the veneer of a homogenous state-approved Thai ethnicity, Thailand is home to a heterogeneous population. Only about one-third of the country’s inhabitants speak the national language as their mother tongue, and measures of ethnic fractionalization place Thailand in the medium-high range. Since 2000, political party identification appears to correspond roughly to ethnic lines, with the Thai Rak Thai party and its subsequent incarnations finding strength among predominantly Khammuang- and Isan-speaking voters in the North and Northeast while the Democrat Party continues to dominate among Thai- and Paktay-speaking people of the Central plains and South. Despite this, we see very little mobilization along ethnic cleavages. Why? I argue that ethnic mobilization remains minimal because there has been a large-scale public adoption of the government-approved Thai identity. Even among those who are most disadvantaged by the adoption of the identity, as are Isan people of the Northeast, support is still strong for “Thai-ness.” Most inhabitants of Thailand espouse the mantra that to be Thai is superior to being labelled as an alternative ethnic group. I demonstrate this through the application of large-scale survey data as well as a set of interviews with Isan people who identity as Thai. The findings suggest that the Thai state has successfully inculcated a sense of national identity among Isan people, but a persistent regional identity could also serve as a basis for future political mobilization. 

Back to listing