Progressives win election as Thai voters reboot 2020 protests
The Move Forward Party led by Pita Limjaroenrat won the most seats, but will need allies to rule, probably the For Thais Party, which came second. The high turnout (75-80 per cent) shows that voters trust the youth-led anti-military movement. According to some observers, “The Senate will probably not oppose the election results.” Real opposition will come when attempts will be made to curb the military and write a new constitution.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – With yesterday's vote, Thais have rejected almost a decade of military-dominated governments, showing a way to "move forward”.
Led by Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, the Move Forward Party (Phak Kao Klai in Thai) won 151 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives (lower house) with 14 million votes, followed by For Thais Party (Pheu Thai) with 141 seats and 10.6 million votes.
The two opposition parties have already indicated that they might form a coalition against the most conservative and pro-monarchist parties.
The Thai Pride Party (Phak Phumchai Thai or Bhumjaithai party) won 71 seats, the conservative People's State Power Party (Phak Phalang Pracharat), which had backed outgoing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, won 40 seats. The new party founded by the latter, the United Thai Nation Party (Ruam Thai Sang Chart), won only 36 seats.
Inspired by progressive ideas and in favour of a new constitution that limits the power of the monarchy and the military, the Move Forward Party (MFP) is the de facto successor of the Future Forward Party (Phak Anakhot Mai), which was dissolved by Thailand’s Constitutional Court in 2020.
The MFP embodies the ideals of the protest movement that in 2020 and 2021 opposed the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army general. At the time, protesters, many of them very young, called for a reformed monarchy and the abolition of the crime of lèse-majesté, which punishes insults to the royal family with up to 15 years in prison.
Human rights advocates have pointed out that this law is often used against activists and political rivals, some of whom are underage and currently in prison awaiting trial.
According to local sources, the voter turnout was around 75-80 per cent, an important sign that people still have faith in democracy to push forward the demands of the protest movement repressed by the military.
The For Thais Party, which is closely connected to the Shinawatra family, came on top at every general election since 2001, and until a few weeks ago was given as the favourite.
Its leader, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. According to some observers, she was penalised for not clearly distancing herself from conservative and pro-military parties, keeping an ambiguous position.
Less than 10 days before the vote, Pita Limjaroenrat took the lead in opinion polls. During the campaign, he promised younger voters, who had been through coups in 2006 and 2014, that he would curb the military and draft a new constitution.
According to local sources, Thailand’s various coups are hard to understand in the West since they are usually “supra-constitutional rather than anti-constitutional”.
Thailand’s Armed Forces in Thailand depend on the king, not the Ministry of Defence. "The generals led the coups with the monarch’s permission,” and so stand by the monarchy and the current constitution. King Rama X is the reigning monarch.
The MFP leader looks set to become the next prime minister, but the road to reform is littered with obstacles.
Growing up in a family of politicians and officials (his father was an adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture and his uncle was an associate of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra), Pita said he got into politics when, as a teenager, he went to study in New Zealand.
After graduating from Thammasat University in Bangkok, he earned Master's Degrees from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He ran the family rice oil business and was executive director of Grab Thailand, a ride-hailing and food delivery app before joining the political fray.
Two weeks ago, a complaint was filed against him, claiming that he owns undeclared shares in a media company. Since the Election Commission has 60 days to certify election results, Pita and other candidates could still be disqualified.
But the strongest opposition is likely to come from the Senate. After the 2014 coup led by Prayut quit the army to run in the 2019 elections. Under the 2017 constitution, the Armed Forces appoint all 250 members of the upper house, who voted as one for the retired general as prime minister four years ago.
To be picked by parliament, the next prime minister needs at least 376 votes from Thailand’s National Assembly (House of Representatives and Senate).
For some, “The Senate will probably not oppose the election results because it is clear that the MFP was not voted only by young people.
“People are tired of coups and want radical change compared to the past. Pita has already said publicly that it would be a very undemocratic to oppose the people’s choice.
“Thus, it is likely that difficulties will arise later, when the individual bills are discussed in parliament. The MFP is not only in favour of progressive policies, but also curbs on the country’s military."
To move forward, it remains to be seen to what extent the monarchy and the military will be willing to make concessions.