Article by Francesco Mattogno
Move Forward won the elections in Thailand, disproving predictions that long held Pheu Thai as the dominant party. The two have already decided to join together in a coalition, but the clear majority obtained in the House may not be enough
The consensus among analysts covering Thailand is that election polls are not that reliable. Both because of the method of data collection (mostly online) and because of the distribution of the sample, which comes mainly from the cities, Bangkok in particular. And indeed, the polls were wrong. Move Forward's growth in voting intentions in recent weeks was thought credible, but perhaps overstated. Instead, Pita Limjaroenrat's party won the May 14 election by a decent margin over second-placed Pheu Thai and has already formed on paper a coalition to lead Thailand according to its own political agenda, focused on constitutional and institutional reforms that promise to shake up the country's power structure. Precisely because of this, however, seeing Move Forward govern will not be so easy.
On Sunday, Thais voted to elect the 500 members of the lower house of parliament, but not the 250 members of the senate, appointed instead by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order, i.e., the military junta that led the country from 2014 to the 2019 elections. According to ad hoc provisions in the constitution, until 2024 senators have the power to participate in parliamentary votes to appoint the prime minister. A condition that in 2019 allowed coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power despite the fact that his candidate party, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP), came second in the election. And that now potentially outvotes the Move Forward-led Democratic Front although it won a clear victory at the polls.
The Pita-led party won a total of 152 seats (one more than originally expected), beating what was thought to be the main pro-democracy formation, Paetongtarn Shinawatra's Pheu Thai, which elected 141 MPs. Among the scenarios speculated both before and after the vote was that Pheu Thai might choose to ally with pro-military and conservative parties in an attempt to form a compromise government. On Monday, however, the party debunked this assumption, and Pita officially declared the birth on paper of a coalition involving four other parties besides Move Forward and Pheu Thai: the Prachachart (9 seats), Thai Sang Thai (6), Seree Ruam Thai (1) and the Fair Party (1).
The coalition's 310 seats are more than enough to achieve a majority in the House, where the PPRP elected 40 MPs and Prayut's "new" party, the United Thai Nation (UTN), 36. But that is less than the 376 needed to form a government without the senators' vote proving decisive. The idea of Pita and his people is that the popular mandate received is too strong, and that the Senate will not vote en masse to prevent him from governing. Otherwise, "those who are thinking of abolishing the election results or forming a minority government will pay a rather high price," he said at the press conference proclaiming victory. The Move Forward leader considers the hypothesis just described "unlikely," but some senators have already said they will not support him as prime minister.
For this, the third-place finisher in the election, Anutin Charnvirakul's Bhumjaithai (BJT), which won 71 seats, could prove crucial. Anutin is the outgoing health minister in the PPRP-led government, however, his is a center party, not anti-establishment but not completely siding with the military either. For now Pita has stated that "it is not necessary" to involve the BJT, but that could change. Meanwhile, the Move Forward leader-who says he is "ready to become Thailand's 30th prime minister"-is preparing a memorandum of understanding for the coalition. A kind of "government contract" in which the program of things to be done during the first year of the ruling executive will be outlined.
There are indeed several issues on which the parties must agree. The coalition is made up of those who have shared the last four years in opposition, but relations, especially between Move Forward and Pheu Thai, have had ups and downs. The key issue is undoubtedly that involving Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code, i.e., the "law on lese majesty," which provides up to 15 years in prison for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" members of the royal family.
Move Forward has among its candidates several of the protesters charged with lese majesty for their role in the 2020-21 democratic and anti-monarchy demonstrations, and Pita has long expressed his desire to repeal the law. As the elections have approached, the party's position has softened, but the intention to amend and depower the rule remains, and has been confirmed by the leader himself in several post-victory statements.
Although it has been blunted, it remains a radical position in the Thai context: the monarchy is among the most powerful in the world and a source of political legitimacy (the king must approve the appointment of the prime minister); no other major party has dared to question it so openly. At the press conference where Pheu Thai announced that it had agreed to join the coalition, Pateongtarn said that the party "will not support the abolition of Article 112," but that "there can be discussion in parliament on how to implement it effectively."
But Move Forward's program goes beyond the monarchical issue. The party has also proposed organizing a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, replacing the 2017 military-driven one and thus limiting the army's influence and power in Thai politics. Then there is the will-this one shared with Pheu Thai-to cancel compulsory conscription, produce an anti-monopoly law, raise the minimum daily wage from 330 to 450 baht (from 9 to more than 12 euros), and legalize gay marriage. On marijuana, however, Move Forward would like to limit its use to medical purposes only.
On foreign policy, Pita proposed de facto non-alignment between the U.S. and China, but called for "rules-based diplomacy" to be respected. He condemned Russia's aggression in Ukraine, and on Myanmar he said Thailand should cooperate with the international community so that the Burmese people can "resolve their conflict." This too is a de facto distant position from the Thai military's top leadership, which has always maintained an ambiguous relationship with Myanmar's military junta.
Pita has been accused of holding some 42,000 shares in ITV, a Thai broadcaster that closed in 2007 but whose registration still remains active. This would be a violation of election laws (which prohibit candidates for parliament from having holdings in media companies), and at worst could lead to disqualification of the candidate and the party. Pita says he is calm, but for similar litigation Move Forward's de facto predecessor, Future Forward, was dissolved in 2020 and its top leadership banned from politics for ten years.
The matter will be investigated by the Election Commission. In case the military wants to overturn the election result, at the moment it is believed that the judicial route is more likely than a further coup, which has been denied by Armed Forces Chief Narongphan Jitkaewthae himself (who will also be on an official visit to Hawaii until May 28). If it is legitimate to have doubts about such statements, the same may be true for those of Prayut, who once the defeat became clear said he would respect the democratic transition. With the Senate on the conservative side, the possibility of a pro-military minority government also remains alive, which at that point (for numerical issues) should be led by the BJT. There is no shortage of time for possible reversals. The Election Commission must publish official election results within 60 days, then parliament will be convened to vote for the prime minister. After being approved by the king, the premier can form his government. It is expected to happen no earlier than early August.