Thailand’s opposition Move Forward Party is the surprise winner of Thailand’s election on Sunday, but there is uncertainty over the result.
That’s because while Move Forward has won the most votes at the ballot box, its victory may need to be endorsed by some or all of the military-appointed Senate in a formal vote by both Houses of Parliament in two months time.
Move Forward is a successor to Future Forward, a party that was disbanded by the Constitutional Court in 2020 for violating election laws, a controversial decision that hangs like a cloud over the latest electoral result.
Move Forward’s policies to end conscription and reform the harsh lese majeste law, which relates to defamation of the monarchy, have also added to doubt on whether the military, which has held power for the past nine years, and other conservative forces in the country will react to the latest vote.
The army chief said recently the military would not intervene, while former PM Prayuth Chan-ocha said last night he would respect the results.
And, there is a range of possibilities on which parties might form a coalition with Move Forward to make up the new government.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the young Harvard graduate who leads Move Forward, said on Monday he had been in contact with at least five opposition parties on forming a coalition, but warned that any attempt to interfere in the election outcome would come at “a hefty price”.
Pita’s party won 151 constitutional and party seats after securing more than 14.1 million votes to top the results in Sunday’s election, followed by populist opposition heavyweight Pheu Thai, which garnered 141 seats after winning some 10.7 million votes.
Pita, 42, said he has proposed an alliance that would command 309 seats and he was ready to be prime minister.
He said all sides must respect the election outcome and there was no use going against it.
“I am not worried but I am not careless,” he told a press conference. “It will be quite a hefty price to pay if someone is thinking about debunking the election result or forming a minority government.”
Army-appointed Senate to vote on outcome
Between them Move Forward and Pheu Thai trounced parties with ties to the royalist army on Sunday, but it is far from certain the opposition will form the next government, with parliamentary rules drafted by the military after a 2014 coup skewed in favour of its allies.
To govern, agreements may need to be struck with multiple camps, including rival parties and members of a junta-appointed Senate with a record of favouring conservative parties led by generals.
The Senate takes part in a combined vote of the 750-seat bicameral parliament on who becomes prime minister and forms the government. The support of more than half of the two houses, or 376 votes, is needed.
Pheu Thai has yet to announce any alliance plans. Pita said there was positive feedback from the other parties to his proposal.
Moves by military will be closely watched
Though the preliminary election results appear to be a hammer blow for the military and its allies, with parliamentary rules on their side and some influential power-brokers behind them, they could still have a role in government.
Move Forward was galvanized by a wave of excitement among young voters over its liberal agenda and promises of bold changes, including breaking up monopolies and reforming the law on insulting the monarchy.
The party made inroads in some conservative strongholds and added a new dimension to the battle for power that was for years centred on the billionaire Shinawatra family, the driving force behind Pheu Thai, and a pro-military establishment, that brought two decades of on-off tumult.
Pita said Move Forward would press ahead with its plan to amend strict lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy, which critics say have been used to stifle free speech. Thailand’s palace does not comment on the law or its use.
The law punishes perceived insults by up to 15 years in prison, with hundreds of people facing charges, some of whom are in pre-trial detention.
Pita said parliament would be the right forum to seek amendments to the law.
“We will use the parliament to make sure that there is a comprehensive discussion with maturity, with transparency in how we should move forward in terms of the relationship between the monarchy and the masses,” he said.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters