HomeAsiaNew coalition in Thailand challenges military rule after elections

New coalition in Thailand challenges military rule after elections

The two opposition parties that got the most votes in Thailand’s general election over the weekend said on Monday they had agreed to form a coalition government. However, it was unclear whether the ruling junta would hand over power easily.

The election results were a stinging rebuke to the country’s military leaders, who have ruled Thailand since seizing power in a 2014 coup. Although Thailand is a nation where coups are not uncommon, it had never been under a military rule for so long.

Disillusioned with the endless cycle of coups and protests, many voters used Sunday’s election to overwhelmingly demonstrate that they wanted change.

“People have been through enough of a lost decade,” Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, told reporters on Monday. “Today is a new day.”

The Move Forward Party, which has called for a review of the armed forces and Amends Strict Law Criminalizing Criticism of the Thai Monarchy — secured 151 seats out of the 500-member House of Representatives. The result defied opinion polls, which had predicted a strong victory for Pheu Thai, the country’s largest opposition party, founded by the former prime minister. Thaksin Shinawatra.

Pheu Thai won 141 seats, which, like Move Forward, fell short of a clear majority. The two parties announced during separate press conferences on Monday that they had agreed to work together to form a government.

Mr. Pita has led the effort to build the coalition. He said five parties, including Pheu Thai, had already joined him, increasing opposition control of Parliament to 309 of the 500 seats. “It is safe to assume that we have obtained a majority in the formation of a government,” Pita said Monday.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who seized power in the 2014 coup, said on Sunday that he “respects the democratic process and the results of the elections.” His party, the United Thai Nation, won just 36 seats.

Mr. Pita’s quick work to build a coalition reduced some uncertainty surrounding what many Thais have described as the most transcendental choice of their lives. But it was not yet clear whether he would be allowed to lead the country as prime minister.

The military-appointed Senate, which has the power to select the prime minister through a joint vote in parliament, can still block Pita from taking office.

Many analysts questioned whether the Senate would tolerate any election results that threatened the status quo. Move Forward has focused on institutions and policies once considered sacrosanct in Thai society, including the abolition of conscription and the reduction of punishments for the law that protects the monarchy from criticism.

With Pheu Thai in power, it could put the party’s founder and one of the military’s main rivals, Thaksin, back at the center of the country’s politics. The king must also approve the appointment of prime minister.

At a news conference, Pita said he was not worried about the Senate’s opposition. “With the consensus that emerged from the election, that would be a pretty high price to pay for someone who is thinking of abolishing the election results or forming a minority government,” he said. “And I don’t think the people of Thailand will allow that to happen.”

But if history is any indication, the military, which has dominated Thai politics for decades, is unlikely to relinquish power quickly. In addition to engineering a dozen coups in a century, Thai generals rewrote the constitution in 2017 to fill the Senate with allies and ensure the military had the power to choose the country’s prime minister.

Gregory Raymond, a professor who researches Southeast Asian politics at Coral Bell’s School of Asian Pacific Affairs, said there was still a chance that the two military power parties, the United Thai Nation and Palang Pracharath, could pool enough seats together. to mount their own government claim. “That is still, in my mind, the last scenario. It would be very undemocratic, but it cannot be ruled out at this time,” Raymond said.

Analysts warned that the Senate’s decision to block Pita’s appointment would likely fuel protests in Thailand, plunging the country into further political turmoil.

“I think the backlash will be much more dangerous than four years ago,” said Purawich Watanasukh, a researcher at the King Prajadhipok Institute in Thailand, referring to the nation’s previous elections. “Right now, many people have Pita in mind as their new prime minister. If Pita can’t be prime minister and Move Forward can’t form a government, he’ll break people’s hearts. And it will be very, very bad.”

In 2020, the country’s Constitutional Court was dissolved the Future Forward Party, the previous iteration of the Move Forward Party, after the election. Tens of thousands of Thais took to the streets of Bangkok to protest the decision.

What started as a protest for democratic reforms quickly turned into a pro-democracy movement calling for checks on the Thai monarchy, a subject once considered taboo.

The country’s conservatives are likely to step up their campaigns to block the rise of Move Forward in the coming days. Last week, a conservative candidate asked the Electoral Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Pita for not disclosing that he owned shares in a now-defunct media company that he had inherited from his father. By law, no candidate running for member of parliament can own shares in a media company.

Pita dismissed the petition, saying that he had already reported the actions to the authorities.

But Move Forward will need to manage many competing interests to keep the coalition intact. It was the only major party to push to amend a law criminalizing criticism of the monarchy, arguing that monarchists had used the law as a weapon to persecute protesters taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations.

On Sunday night, Pita said that he would go ahead with the modification of the royal protection law.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Mr Thaksin’s youngest daughter and Pheu Thai’s candidate for prime minister, said on Monday she was “ready to discuss” the issue of youths accused of breaking the law, known as Article 112. But she added that his party would not vote to get rid of the law entirely.

“We will have to tell the Move Forward Party that we do not support the abolition of Article 112,” he said.

Pirada Anuwech contributed reporting.

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