The Move Forward party in Thailand won a stunning election victory on Sunday, defeating parties allied with the military and paving the way for an uprising of deal-making over establishing a government in an effort to end almost a decade of conservative, army-backed rule.
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Following a resounding rejection of the military-backed parties by the electorate, Move Forward, the reformist opposition in Thailand, has won the most seats and the largest proportion of the popular vote in a general election. On Monday (Today), with nearly all votes tabulated, the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the highest votes (151 votes) and the populist Pheu Thai Party won 141 votes out of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives.
A “political earthquake” in Thailand
Move Forward party has secured 151 seats in the lower house, which is 10 seats more than Pheu Thai. Sunday’s election for Move Forward was the latest round in a long-running power struggle between Pheu Thai, the populist juggernaut of the billionaire Shinawatra family, and a nexus of old money, conservatives, and the military with influence over key institutions at the core of two decades of turmoil. Analysts refer to this as a “political earthquake” that signifies a substantial shift in public opinion.
It is also a rebuke of the two military-aligned parties of the current government and of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup that overthrew an elected government. The ruling coalition received only 15 percent of the seats.
The election results-
Parliamentary seats are distributed on the basis of 400 open constituency seats and 100 ‘party-list’ seats, or seats won by parties based on their share of national votes.
According to the Election Commission of Thailand, the results of Sunday’s vote are as follows:
|Move Forward: 151 seats (112 constituency, 39 party-list)
|Pheu Thai Rumapalang: 2 constituency seats
|Pheu Thai: 141 seats (112 constituency, 29 party-list)
|Chart Pattana Kla: 2 seats (1 constituency seats, 1 party-list)
|Bhumjaithai: 71 seats (68 constituency, 3 party-list)
|Seri Ruam Thai: 1 party-list seat
|Palang Pracharat: 40 seats (39 constituency, 1 party-list)
|New Democrat: 1 party-list seat
|United Thai Nation: 36 seats (23 constituency, 13 party-list)
|Fair Party: 1 party-list seat
|Democrat Party: 25 seats (22 constituency, 3 party-list)
|New Party: 1 party-list
|Chart Thai Pattana: 10 seats (9 constituency, 1 party-list)
|Party of Thai Counties: 1 party-list seat
|Prachachart: 9 seats (7 constituency, 2 party-list)
|Palung Sungkom Mai: 1 party-list seat
What secured Move Forward Party’s position?
Once upon a time, the notion that Move Forward, a party advocating for sweeping reforms to Thai bureaucracy, economy, military role, and even laws protecting the monarchy, could win more seats and votes than any of its rivals was unfathomable. It is not a coincidence that these issues sparked a student-led, month-long protest movement in 2020.
Several of Move Forward’s candidates were movement leaders. Young, fervent voters, including many Move Forward supporters, had a significant impact on the outcome of the election, just like the 2020 protesters did.
Move Forward candidates had fewer resources than their opponents and relied on social media and sometimes outdated gadgets such as bicycles to spread their message.
The “wind of change” with Limjaroenrat
Already, Thai social media is flooded with victory messages from Move Forward supporters, who have been referring to themselves as “organic canvassers” and characterizing the party’s victory as a “wind of change” and the “dawn of a new era.”
“This election really tells you that only four years have passed, but the people’s thinking has changed a lot, both the establishment and the pro-democracy camps,” a tweet read, adding that, “democracy cannot be taken for granted”.
Move Forward’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old former executive of a ride-hailing app, characterized the outcome as “sensational” and pledged to form a government consistent with his party’s values.
“It will be anti-dictator-backed, military-backed parties, for sure,” he told reporters. “It’s safe to assume that minority government is no longer possible here in Thailand.”
While its reformist opponent Pheu Thai was initially ambiguous on this issue, Move Forward has ruled out forming a coalition with parties associated with the 2014 military coup. In the previous legislature, the party was known for adopting principled positions, in addition to being new and bold.
Limjaroenrat stated that he remained open to a coalition with Pheu Thai, but that he has set his sights on becoming prime minister. “I am Pita Limjaroenrat, the next prime minister of Thailand,” he told reporters at the in Bangkok, adding “We are ready to form the government,” as he vowed to be a “prime minister for all”. “It is now clear the Move Forward Party has received the overwhelming support from the people around the country,” he said on Twitter.
What went wrong for Pheu Thai?
Pheu Thai had gained the majority of votes in every election since 2001, including two landslide victories. Three of its four governments have been overthrown. Pheu Thai, which was founded by the controversial self-exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, remains immensely popular among the working classes and was counting on being returned to power by a landslide on the back of nostalgia for its populist policies such as affordable healthcare, micro-loans, and generous agricultural subsidies.
Paetongtarn, Thaksin’s 36-year-old daughter, has been predicted to succeed her father and her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, as prime minister. Both Yingluck and Thaksin were overthrown by coups. Move Forward anticipated 3.3 million first-time voters to support its liberal agenda, which includes plans to diminish the military’s political role and amend a restrictive law on royal insults that critics say is used to stifle dissent.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, stated that Move Forward’s rise indicated a significant political transition in Thailand. “Pheu Thai fought the wrong war. Pheu Thai fought the populism war that it already won,” he said.
“Move Forward takes the game to the next level with institutional reform. That’s the new battleground in Thai politics.”
Regarding whether Pheu Thai would join forces with Move Forward, Paetongtarn stated that she was pleased for Move Forward but that it was premature to contemplate alliances. “The voice of the people is most important,” she said.
What happens next?
Due to skewed legislative rules that allow the Senate to vote on the prime minister, Move Forward and Pheu Thai may not form the next administration. The 250 military-installed senators, all selected by incumbent PM Prayuth, can vote in parliament for the next administration. Despite holding over 60% of the lower house, they can obstruct a Move Forward-Pheu Thai coalition.
If a Move Forward-Pheu Thai coalition includes Bhum Jai Thai, the third-largest party with 70 seats, and a few others, they may outvote the senate. The losing conservative group may undertake an extra-parliamentary strategy to keep the reformists out of power.
A military takeover is unlikely, but another court judgement disqualifying Move Forward on a technicality, like Future Forward in 2020, is possible.
Another issue is whether Move Forward and Pheu Thai, who had tense relations in the last parliament, can collaborate. Mr. Pita, a talented parliamentarian, is untested in coalition building.
Pheu Thai also has to cope with the disappointment of losing a landslide. It has lost its role as the advocate of people opposed to conservative, military-backed rule to Move Forward, a newcomer. It will be a new experience for Pheu Thai and its leaders to work as a coalition partner on equal footing, if not as the senior partner.