Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party (center), at a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 18, 2023.
Valeria Mongelli |: Bloomberg |: Getty Images:
Thailand’s preliminary election results were a victory for the progressive Move Forward party, but its reforms threaten conservative forces that could move to prevent the Democratic Party from ruling.
Move Forward leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat has announced a six-party coalition that includes Pheu Thai, the populist, pro-democracy party that came second in the polls.
This gives the coalition 310 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament. Whoever the coalition nominates as prime minister must win 376 votes in parliament, a combination of the 250-seat, military-appointed Senate and lower house. The vote of the Prime Minister is expected in August, when the Electoral Commission will confirm the results of the elections.
Analysts say Move Forward faces a tough task of securing the remaining 66 votes because of its controversial proposed policies: a new constitution, ending military dominance in politics, ending mandatory military redundancies, ending business monopolies and revising a “significance” that punishes offences. the law. to the king by imprisonment.
The Move Forward agenda is an affront and a frontal challenge to established centers of power.
Professor at Chulalongkorn University
The Move Forward party recently said that potential coalition partners do not need to support its position on Lese-Majeste, as it plans to present it to parliament independently;
Ahead of the prime minister’s vote, political observers expect mixed results, including the possibility of coercive intervention by the country’s powerful military-monarchist alliance.
“The push-forward agenda is an affront and a frontal challenge to established centers of power,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science and a senior fellow at the Institute for Security and International Studies.
“It’s probably a matter of when and how, not if they will strike back.”
The facility led to aggravation
Given Move Forward’s dogmatic stance, experts expect some kind of power play to match the results to institutional preferences.
Royalists may go so far as to ban Move Forward, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) warned in the report.
It’s a plausible scenario, since royalist-conservative elites dominate official bodies such as the Constitutional Court, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Electoral Commission. The opposition Future Forward party, for example, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in 2020 for violating electoral laws in the 2019 elections, a charge that Human Rights Watch called “politically motivated.”
“Courts may find ways to nullify enough wins by Move Forward and Pheu Thai to shift the balance of power,” analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a separate report.
There’s also the possibility that Peeta himself could be a target.
He was recently charged with a constitutional violation for being a minority shareholder in a now-defunct media outlet while serving as an MP, which he denies. That could be potential grounds for his disqualification and allow the less radical Pheu Tha to lead the coalition, according to Pongsudhirak.
There is precedent for Pita’s case to be cleared, noted Napisa Veitulkiat, a political scientist at Naresuan University.
Conservative forces have all the tools at their disposal to prevent Move Forward from taking power.
In 2001, the Constitutional Court acquitted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of concealing assets even after he was indicted on corruption charges, he said. “If the elites decide to respect the votes of the Thai people, they can certainly do the same this time as they did to Thaksin in 2001.”
There are other ways the Senate could block Move Forward. Senators could abstain and refuse to confirm Peeta, leading to an impasse, according to CSIS. T:
The Senate could also reverse the lower house’s choice of prime minister if the elusive supermajority of 376 votes is not secured, Suzanne Patton, director of the Lowy Institute’s Southeast Asia program, said in the report. He pointed statements of senators who have hinted that they will not automatically support the winning party’s candidate.
“Conservatives have all the tools at their disposal to prevent Move Forward from taking over,” Patton concluded.
Pheu Thai Betrayal
Led by the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin, Pheu Thai is an opposition party that is more cautious about its messaging about the monarchy. Analysts say there is a chance it could break the ranks of Move Forward to work with pro-military parties to negotiate strategic gains.
“Given Pheu Thai’s desire for power, the party leadership may view progressive positions and threats to the monarchy as a political liability,” the CFR said in its report. “If Pheu Thai abandons his democratic peers in his pursuit of power, the Bumjeitai Party is likely to play a significant role in forming a royal coalition.”
The Bhumjaithai, known for their strong support for the legalization of marijuana, are considered ideologically flexible, as they support the government but are open to working with democratic parties.
There is one main reason Phew Thai might abandon Move Forward, Pongsudhirak said, and that is to “make a coalition deal that would include Thaksin’s return from exile to Thailand with lenient terms on his conviction and prison terms.”
Doing so, however, means long-lasting consequences for Pheu Thai’s character.
“Pheu Thai will be at risk of electoral punishment by pro-democracy voters who are key supporters of Pheu Thai in the future,” Veitulkiat warned.
Playing a wait and see game
Move Forward’s clear lead in early election results gives it a clear leadership mandate in the public eye. Any attempt to disrupt that could lead to widespread protests, as history shows.
When the Future Forward party was dissolved in 2020, it launched mass protests led by young people.
“If a prime minister is elected who is not a representative of the Move Forward-Pheu Thai alliance, but one from the pro-military parties and their allies and senators, expect major street protests,” the CFR said.
In that scenario, there is a possibility that the military could stage another coup, CSIS added. Thailand is no stranger to coups and has experienced at least 19 coups since 1932. according to the think tank.
Having just recovered from a recession caused by the pandemic, officials may also be wary of street protests that threaten investor confidence and economic growth.
“While the Thai military has previously been willing to risk protests in rural northeastern Thailand, Move Forward’s commanding victories in Bangkok and other urban centers may make the military think twice,” Patton said. He referred to comments from the Thai Chamber of Commerce that indicated business groups’ desire for a stable government rather than another period of political turmoil.
“Therefore, the establishment may judge that allowing Move Forward to take over is a smarter tactical move,” he continued. “In previous periods of instability, such as the 2014 coup, the establishment acted when it felt all options had been exhausted.”
“This time, decision makers can calculate that they can let events take their course and use legal options to act later if red lines are crossed,” Patton added.