Thai elections deliver resounding blow to the royalist-military government

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the 2023 Thailand elections, beating out the ruling military-backed parties Thai elections
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Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) claimed victory in the country’s election on 15 May. The result was a blow to the military-backed ruling parties which have controlled the country for over a decade. However, because of the government’s structure, its ability to lead after the Thai elections is far from certain.

Record turnout to Thai elections

During the 14 May ballot, the MFP experienced a massive surge in support. This left it on course to receive the most votes, followed by its rival opposition – the Pheu Thai movement of authoritarian billionaire and ex-prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

MFP had, in particular, courted millennial and Gen Z voters, who make up nearly half the 52 million-strong electorate. Early results, however, indicated that people across all demographics voted for MFP.

Voters turned out in record numbers, with an approximate 80% participation rate. They delivered a brutal verdict against former coup leader PM Prayut Chan-O-Cha. The public blames Prayut for economic stagnation and a crackdown on rights.

MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat said he would seek to build a six-party coalition including Pheu Thai, which said it was ready to join. The leader told reporters at MFP’s headquarters in Bangkok:

The sentiment of the air has changed, it was right. It was the right timing, people have been through enough.

Today is a new day, and hopefully it is full of sunshine and hope.

Read on...

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With ballots counted from 99% of polling stations, Election Commission data showed MFP on 14.1m votes, followed by Pheu Thai on 10.8m. As a result, MFP and Pheu Thai look likely to take 292 out of 500 seats in the lower house. The Bhumjaithai Party, which is part of the current ruling coalition, came in third, and is expected to win about 70 seats.

The two royalist-military parties – Palang Pracharath, and Prayut’s party United Thai Nation – came in fourth and fifth respectively in the Thai elections.

Channelling the spirit of protest

The newest force in Thai politics, the MFP, channelled the energy of youth-led pro-democracy protests in 2020. Its election campaign pitted a young generation yearning for change against the conservative old guard, which Prayut embodied.

The MFP has vowed to reform Thailand’s strict royal insult laws. It has also promised to halt military conscription, replacing it with voluntary enlistment. These have put it on course for a collision with the kingdom’s powerful royalist-military establishment.

The party has also pledged to tackle Thailand’s monopolies, which see a handful of mega-wealthy families control much of the kingdom’s economy. Plus, the MFP said it recognised the need for rural regions like Chaing Mai to have more autonomy.

Obstacles to government

Despite their success in the Thai elections, the MFP and Pheu Thai still face many hurdles to secure power, due to a junta-scripted 2017 constitution.

The MFP announced it will enter negotiations to form a coalition with Pheu Thai, along with four smaller parties. This would create a coalition with 309 seats in the 500-seat Lower House. However, that might not be enough.

The prime minister is chosen by both the Lower House and the Senate, which has 250 members. All of these were handpicked by the last junta. As a result, the MFP-led coalition would need to find 376 lower house votes to ensure senators could not block the MFP’s Limjaroenrat from becoming PM.

Adding to the uncertainty, rumours are already swirling that the MFP could be dissolved by court order. This happened to its predecessor, the Future Forward Party, after it performed unexpectedly well in the 2019 elections.

Courts have a history of intervention in Thai elections. They’ve previously thrown two prime ministers out of office, and dissolved several parties linked to Pheu Thai leader Thaksin.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Sirakorn Lamyai/Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license, resized to 1910*1000.

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