Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, looks set to retain the premiership when the new parliament meets at the end of May or early June after the coronation of the Thai King in May. While the pro Thaksin, Pheu Thai Party, the former ruling entity, emerged as the winner of the election and biggest party, the new pro junta, Palang Pracharat Party seems to have emerged as a new force in Thai politics. The new Future Forward Party, while making a breakthrough with the support of younger Thai voters, has not made the huge impact that online activity prior to the election suggested but has still managed to become Thailand’s fourth largest party. There was also a clear shift in voter sentiment, in the last week of the campaign, back to the old political divides and a desire for stability. The battle now will move to the role of the upper house or Thai senators in electing a Prime Minister at the end of May. The leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, has already warned of the danger of electing a government that is not representative of the people’s vote as expressed today.
The initial exit polls and preliminary figures suggest that the current Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has every chance of being reelected as Prime Minister when the new parliament meets at the end of May or the beginning of June. There was a huge voter turnout of over 80% across Thailand. There are some indicators that this figure may even approach 85% not far off the 96% indicated by polls measuring voter intentions. Many factors have played a part including the new electoral system, the elimination of the Thai Raksa Chart Party but most importantly, a reawakening of old political lines in the last week of the campaign. Many middle aged Thai people voted for peace and stability. They simply did not want to see a return to the days of street protests prior to the 2014 coup. However, the real political battle will begin after the next Prime Minister is elected to the position and must then try to carry the Thai parliament. The key issue will be the 2017 constitution which has never been accepted by the Pheu Thai Party, the party with the largest number of seats as anticipated and the real winner of the popular vote. The new Future Forward Party has also vowed to change or even scrap altogether the new constitution which was approved by the Thai people in 2016 with a 59% turnout. The constitution was, at that time, approved by 61% of Thai people who voted. The biggest shock of the election result so far is the decimation of Thailand’s oldest political movement, the Democrat Party, as a force in Thai politics. This can be traced back to its decision to boycott the subsequently abandoned general election poll of 2014 which some think precipitated that year’s coup.
The Thai election exit polls are producing a conflicting picture of the outcome of the general election after polls closed in Thailand at 5 pm. The turnout in the election is projected at a massive 80 to 85% across the kingdom of Thailand.
One thing is becoming clear. It does look the the Pheu Thai Party will emerge as the largest party with figures quoted at between 140 and 150 seats. But it will be tight. The new pro junta Palang Pracharat Party is emerging as the count is now finishing up with somewhere between 120 seats on 130 seats.
Breakthrough for Future Forward Party but not on a grand scale, not the threat the government feared
The breakthrough by Thatthanporn Juangroongruangkit and his Future Forward Party has occurred but not to the extent that online activity, associated with the party prior to the poll, suggested. The party has not emerged as the sweeping threat to the political status quo in Thailand that social media reports indicated. Most estimates put the party at between 70 and 80 seats. This is still a hugely impressive achievement. The Bhumjaithai Party which made waves by promoting a more liberal cannabis regime for Thai farmers and more access to education, is coming in at up to 70 seats. This makes it Thailand’s 4th largest political grouping. The Action Coalition for Thailand or ACT party led by former street protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, is projected to only achieve 5 seats.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister and Democrat Party leader is the biggest loser
The biggest loser of the election, so far, has been Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat Party lead by former Thai Prime Minister from 2008 to 2011, Abhisit Vejjajiva. His party boycotted the last ineffective Thai election in 2014 just prior to the 2014 cup. Projections in this election suggests that the Democrat party will attain anywhere from 30 to 50 seats, a huge setback. The veteran, Oxford educated, party leader announced his resignation at 9.50 pm. It spells a huge change in Thai politics. Prior to the election, Abhisit Vejjajiva had vowed at the outset of the campaign to resign from his position as party leader if the party failed to attain 100 seats.
Democrat Party leader steps down
There was intense pressure now on Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down as leader immediately after the results came in. It had been thought that the Democrat Party was going to be a kingmaker but Mr Vejjajiva then ruled out voting for Prayut Chan ocha as Prime Minister. The Palang Pracharat Party now does not need to rely in the Democrat Party to elect Prayut Chan ocha as Prime Minister but will need all parties in its uphill struggle to control parliament. Abhisit Vejjajiva did say he would work with the Palang Pracharat Party if there actions conformed with democratic principles. However, given the result of the election and the need for a stable Thai government as well as his pledge to resign if his party failed to achieve 100 seats, his position became untenable. He announced his resignation on the night of the count.
Fake news tape may have swung people in Thailand back to old political divides
Some political observers are suggesting the the fake news controversy which emerged in the last week of the campaign may have been effective as, while it was quickly debunked, it positioned the Future Forward Party as firmly on the red, pro Thaksin side of the political divide. There was also, in the last week of the campaign, a reemergence of the message that the junta had brought back stability and order to Thailand. This is reported to have benefited the Palang Pracharat Party. One of the last Palang Pracharat rallies of the election campaign was finally attended by current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who made an emotional speech. For a canny politician and leader who knows the mood of the country, this should have been telling.
Disbandment of Thai Raksa Chart felt in the result as Pheu Thai fails to take seats in Bangkok
The outlook just hours after the polls closed is still not fully clear. Projections for all parties are still ebbing and flowing. There was some concern initially at the low showing of the Future Forward Party compared with online polling and reaction. It is becoming clear that, at the end of the election, old political divides did emerge. Many Thai people switched back to old political arguments and viewed the situation pragmatically. Many Thai people simply wanted the peace and stability that Thailand has enjoyed since 2014 to continue.
However as the election count went on it became clear that Future Forward will nevertheless end up with a significant number of seats projected at 70 to 80 leaving it as Thailand’s third largest party.
One other key reason for the failure of the pro Thaksin side to throw a spanner in the works for Prayut’s election prospects as Prime Minister is that the Pheu Thai Party, despite winning the poll and with some popularity in Bangkok, failed to take many constituency seats in the Thai capital city. The elimination of the sister Thai Raksa Chart Party has also been a blow to the pro Thaksin side of the political divide.
New voting system helped mid sized older parties
The new election tally rules and the familiarity of local candidates also helped constrain the ability of the Future Forward Party to achieve seats. It failed to achieve many seats at constituency level with new, untried faces but surprised many by still managing up 30 seats in this fashion. The ability of a new party to achieve upwards of 80 seats shows that the party list element of the vote was of great benefit to the new Future Forward Party. Older, establishment parties at mid sized level with known candidates have gained some seats with the new election vote system.
Prayut now likely to be elected Prime Minister
If the figures are as forecast, it will mean a likelihood of Prayut Chan ocha returning as Thai Prime Minister when the parliament meets at the end of May or June after the coronation of the Thai King. He is anticipated to have the support of 250 handpicked senators in the upper house. However, the battle is not yet over. The leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, has come out and implored the senators not to vote against the will of the people as evidenced in the election for the lower house of parliament. However this position could be questioned with some evidence suggesting that while the Pheu Thai Party may emerge with more seats, it may yet come second in the popular vote.
Mid sized parties may vote for Prayut as the continuity choice for peace, order and stability
To elect Prayut Chan ocha as Prime Minister can now easily be achieved with the support of the Palang Pracharat Party perhaps with a coalition of others. The existing Prime Minister now has many options within the scope of the constitution to at least get to the point of forming a government. For a start, there are strong indications that a cohort of Democrat Party MPs will break ranks and become ‘cobras’ which is a political term in Thailand for those who break ranks with their party leadership to elect a Prime Minister. It may also be that the Democrat Party with a new leader may opt for the peace, stability and continuity that Prayuth Chan ocha, who is personally popular, now represents. Certainly some other parties will vote accordingly. The Prime Minister is now spoilt for choice in this respect at least.
Real political battle will begin after the new Prime Minister is elected and the 2017 constitution will be the issue and the struggle
Thereafter, the real political battles begin. Pheu Thai, The Democrat Party and the Future Forward Party are all officially vehemently opposed to the 2017 constitution. Pheu Thai and the Future Forward Party will now be a powerful opposition force in Thailand’s lower house perhaps even commanding a majority. This will be the key issue in the next parliament. At some point, it may lead to a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. In such a vote, the senate will not be entitled to vote. In this way, while the election may give Thailand a new democratically government, it may well be an insecure one. The only hope is that if there is a battle to be fought for Thailand’s future political course, it can be fought in the confines of Parliament and perhaps some accommodation can be reached for the good of the Thai people. The Thai people, faithful to democracy to the last, have come forward and spoken in this election with good faith and enthusiasm. This certainly can be considered a success and step forward for the country.