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Pro-Democracy Opposition Prevails in Thailand’s General Elections, Government Formation Still in Limbo

Bangkok, May 17: Thailand’s General Elections, held on May 14, witnessed a significant victory for the pro-democracy opposition, setting the stage for a potential shift in the country’s political landscape.

The results announced a day later, revealed that the Move Forward Party, led by former businessman turned politician Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged as the frontrunner, securing 152 seats out of the total 500 in the House of Representatives.

This accomplishment surpassed the performance of the Pheu Thai party, traditionally seen as the dominant opposition, which garnered 141 seats, placing second.

In a move to solidify the opposition’s strength, Pita Limjaroenrat proposed a coalition comprising six parties, including Pheu Thai and Prachachat, aiming to command a total of 309 seats.

However, attaining the position of prime minister necessitates securing the support of at least 376 members in the National Assembly, consisting of 500 House of Representatives members and 250 military-appointed members. This provision was introduced in the new constitution following the 2014 coup d’état to maintain military control over the government.

Although the pro-junta coalition faced defeat in the election, their efforts to reinstall the incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former Army chief who has been ruling Thailand since the 2014 coup, should not be ruled out. Pita warned of hefty costs if people’s mandates were not respected.

If Pita Limjaroenrat manages to garner majority support, it would mark a significant victory for democracy in Thailand and the broader region, ending nearly a decade-long military rule.

However, mustering the support of 376 members poses a considerable challenge.

Pheu Thai, controlled by the billionaire Shinawatra family, expressed agreement with Pita’s proposal while wishing him luck in his bid for the premiership. Yet, maintaining the alliance’s unity may prove difficult, as Pheu Thai’s leadership had initially expected their own candidate to compete for the prime ministerial position and called the results disappointing.

Moreover, other individual members and smaller opposition parties have shown reluctance to support Pita’s bid for the premiership.

In this context, Pita may need to seek the support of Bhumjaithai, the party that finished third in the election and is considered a potential “kingmaker.”

However, during the campaign, Bhumjaithai’s leader, Anutin, categorically ruled out an alliance with parties seeking to reform the lèse-majesté law—an issue that the Move Forward Party is vocal about.

The lèse-majesté law, which punishes perceived insults to the monarchy, has faced criticism for suppressing free speech, imposing sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Move Forward Party gained momentum during the campaign, generating excitement among the youth with its liberal agenda and promises of bold changes, including breaking up monopolies and reforming the lèse-majesté law.

Civil society has also begun exerting pressure on senators to support Pita Limjaroenrat’s bid for the premiership. Supporters have gathered in Bangkok to celebrate the victory of democracy while simultaneously urging senators to back Pita’s candidacy.

The outcome of these political maneuvers remains uncertain, as Thailand teeters on the brink of a potentially transformative shift in its political landscape.

The international community closely watches developments regarding Thailand’s General Elections, as they have far-reaching implications not only for Thailand but also for the region’s democratic future.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, 2014.
Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters/Landov
Prayuth Chan-ocha, 2014. Athit Perawongmetha—Reuters/Landov
Voters stand in a queue to cast their ballot to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, May 14, 2023. (Reuters)
Voters stand in a queue to cast their ballot to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, May 14, 2023. (Reuters)
Leader of Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat, center, waves during a press conference with other seven party leaders, in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 18, 2023. Thailand's election winner Move Forward Party on Thursday announced an 8-party coalition that its leader declared will become a "democratic government of the people. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Leader of Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat, center, waves during a press conference with other seven party leaders, in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 18, 2023. Thailand’s election winner Move Forward Party on Thursday announced an 8-party coalition that its leader declared will become a “democratic government of the people. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

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