Opinion & Analysis

Thailand's Winds of Change

The Winds of Political Change have blown across Thailand, with a result clearly showing the people want those winds to bring them a better future. Purawich Watanasukh has the latest from Bangkok

 It was such a surprise. No one expected the Move Forward Party to win the election on May 14, gaining the largest number of MPs (152)and receiving 14 million party votes.

However, the progressive party's victory in this election has sparked hope across the Kingdom that Thai society can at last liberate itself from the political system dominated by the military since the 2014 coup.

After confirming results, Pita Limjaroenrat, the party's prime ministerial candidate, announced he was ready to become the 30th  Prime Minister of Thailand and form an 8-party coalition government with his pro-democracy allies - namely Pheu Thai, Prachachat, Thai Sang Thai, Seri Ruam Thai (Thai Liberal), Fair, Plung Sungkom Mai (New Force) and Peu Thai Rumphlang.

This coalition has 313 out of 500 votes in total in the House of Representatives.

With such a number, the government should be easily formed, and Pita will become the new prime minister. 

The formation of the coalition was extremely fast, and it would seem there have already been concessions made in order to have the new government ready to go. 

It's notable the controversial reform of Thailand's Lese Majeste laws - which are used to prosecute those who would criticize the Thai Royal family - was left out of the MOU signed by the coalition representatives. It will be interesting to see whether the reforms are picked up at a future date. 

Despite the result and the quick moves to form a coalition, Thailand's current political system is not yet fully democratic, but still a “hybrid regime” in which non-elected political institutions retain power over elected institutions. The Move Forward Party’s main stumbling block to forming a government is the 2017 constitution that allows the 250 junta-appointed senators to vote to elect the prime minister with the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister must receive over half of the parliamentary votes (376).

Even though the pro-democracy parties hold a majority in the House of Representatives, it does not guarantee that Pita will be chosen as a new prime minister.

The reaction from senators has so far been mixed.

Some of them strongly opposed Pita and the Move Forward Party. Some remain silent, but some are beginning to confirm their support for Pita as Prime Minister after acknowledging the majority coalition in the House of Representatives.

However, what is happening now will be a test of whether the 250 junta-appointed senators, who have the power to elect the prime minister with the elected House of Representatives, dare resist the will of more than 20 million voters.

Thailand over the next few months will play out an extended political drama.

First, the Election Commission must announce the official election result and certify the newly elected 500 MPs within 60 days after the election date (by July 15). The constitution stipulates that the first session of the House of Representatives must be convened within 15 days after the Election Commission announces the official election results to elect the new House Speaker, which will also act as the president of the Thai parliament (by late July). Finally, by early August, a joint session of parliament is expected to convene to elect a new prime minister.

If everything proceeds along the constitutional steps, it is likely we'll see the face of the new prime minister and the new government of Thailand by mid-August. But if the story doesn't flow as smoothly as that, we are in for a far more difficult situation.

 The constitution does not stipulate a timeframe for electing a prime minister, meaning several possible scenarios could unfold in August.

The most anticipated scenario for Thais is the formation of a government led by the Move Forward Party, with 313 votes in the House of Representatives, and seek additional support from the senators, with a view to reaching the 376 vote figure. 

There have already been signs some senators will swing in behind Pita as Prime Minister.

However the Senate has acted as a bulwark for the junta over the last few years blocking numerous constitutional amendment attempts. Their wholesale support at this point cannot be assumed. 

If the MFP falls short.other possible scenarios present themselves : The Pheu Thai Party, Thaksin Shinawatra’s third successive political party, may step back into the limelight, and provide a leader more acceptable than Pita . Another possibility is the formation of a conservative government with Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul as a prime minister. Or, at worst,  Thailand will be a country in political deadlock if no new prime minister can be chosen.

Despite a lot of water yet to run under the political bridge, right now Thailand has a democratically-elected 8-party coalition government led by the Move Forward.Party. This coaltion claims legitimacy in forming a new government with a popular mandate from the Thai people.

Now, millions of Thai have Pita Limjaroenrat as their new prime minister. Any attempt to oppose the people's will very likely lead to a new political conflict.

 Nearly nine years under a military-dominated regime since the 2014 coup have created huge problems across thew Kingdom, but the 2023 election result has rekindled hope for a better Thailand.

What happens next will have ramifications across the region for years to come. 

+the views expressed are those of the author+ 

++Banner Image: Bangkok's Wat Arun, or "Temple of Dawn", one of the city's most famous Buddhist temples ++

- Asia Media Centre