Sunday’s election victory by the Move Forward Party marks a historic shift in Thai politics as the electorate voted for principle and a more progressive approach to politics and government over short-term inducements and the political battles that had dominated and fragmented the kingdom over the last twenty years. Indeed, the election result, if respected in the medium to longer term, has the real potential to see Thailand emerge as a beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia in contrast to a regional shift to authoritarianism. This was the hope expressed by the people behind yesterday’s vote. However, opposition is already rising in the Senate, appointed by the former junta, with two senators already declaring they will not support Mr Pita as prime minister with one raising the prospect of his disqualification following an Election Commission probe into his affairs.
On Monday, the leader of the Move Forward Party took the initiative to consolidate his party’s election victory by announcing a potential new coalition with Pheu Thai and four other parties with the start of talks to prepare a programme for government. Pita Limjaroenrat said he was ready to become prime minister and was confident that the will of the people would prevail over any attempt to try to elect a minority government by using the short-term power of the Senate. He also asked people not to be concerned about an Election Commission probe that has been opened into allegations that he improperly held shares in a media company in the course of the last parliament. On Monday, two senators said they would refuse to support Mr Pita while reports suggest that there are already moves afoot to thwart the proposed new government before it is even born.
On Monday, the Thai Election Commission confirmed that the Move Forward Party won this Sunday’s General Election, returning 152 MPs to the new House of Representatives which is expected to meet in July.
The leader of the Move Forward Party has already confirmed a six-party coalition which will now set about constructing a programme for government.
The new coalition wil command 310 seats in the House of Representatives giving it a clear majority.
Core of the proposed coalition government is the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties which plan to form a government sometime in August
At the core of the coalition are the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties with 293 seats between them. They will be joined by the Thai Sang Thai Party, the Southern Prachachart Party and the Seri Ruam Thai Party along with the Fair Party which returned one seat.
On Monday, the Election Commission said that it believed that the election was honest and fair but final confirmation of the returns will not take place until sometime in early to mid-July or before the next parliament meets.
By law, the election must be certified and finalised by July 13th next.
August will see a new government formed but that is still a long way off with many potential developments possible between now and then.
It is expected to be early August before a new prime minister and the government is sworn in with Mr Pita Limjaroenrat emerging as the main contender to take over from General Prayut Chan ocha who will remain in office in the interim period.
Pita says he is not concerned about the Election Commission probe but it is already deployed by conservatives to undermine him as the new PM
Asked on Monday if he was concerned about the probe by the Election Commission into his alleged shareholding in a media firm while serving as a Bangkok MP, a revelation made last week which led to calls from some political opponents to have not just Mr Pita but the whole Move Forward Party taken out of politics, Mr Pita said he was sanguine about the threat.
He asked the public not to worry about it.
However, there are growing concerns that there will be opposition from pro-government or conservative forces against the Move Forward Party leading the next administration with both General Prayut Chan ocha and General Prawit Wongsuwan remaining tight-lipped in response to its electoral success on Sunday night after the results rolled in.
It should also be noted that the pro-government parties did far better in the election than polls had suggested particularly the Bhumjaithai Party and the Palang Pracharat Party although the ability of Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties to secure a coalition with over 300 MPs is also an achievement but not a definitive one given the power remaining until June 2024 under Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution allowing the Senate a say on electing the next prime minister.
Negotiators to forge a new programme for government being selected as parties get down to business quickly to fill a very dangerous vacuum
For now, the parties to the new coalition are selecting negotiators to discuss its programme. In the manifesto of the Move Forward Party, there is a plan to hold a vote on amending the 2017 Constitution via a referendum.
The Move Forward Party leader rightly deduces that the political vacuum must be filled quickly before opposition to the election results mounts from the right.
The Pheu Thai Party is also indicating the need for urgency and open cooperation with its potential political partner in government.
Mr Pita, a technology executive before entering politics as an MP for Bangkok, is also reported to be commencing a series of talks and meetings with representatives of the business community in Thailand and key government officials as he prepares to put together his new administration.
‘We would form the government as soon as possible so that there would not be a political and economic vacuum. Please be assured that Move Forward will be fast and meticulous,’ Mr Pita said.
Pita warns about forces going against the will of the people who he says have given his party a mandate to govern after Sunday’s election result
Asked about the technical possibility of the outgoing government coalition with 171 seats coming together with the Senate to elect an alternative prime minister and minority government, the Move Forward Party leader said that he was not worried about this as it would be going against the explicit will of the people in the General Election.
He confirmed that he was ready to take on the mantle of prime minister but also suggested that he would also oversee a ministry in the government.
At the same time, he indicated that he was not wedded to the prospect of becoming government leader and was ready to make way for someone who may be more suitable for the position.
Currently, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, the interim Prime Minister, also serves as Minister of Defence.
Lèse-majesté will be a crucial issue for any proposed new government and one which will be used by ultra-conservatives to oppose and ultimately defeat it
A key issue that may provide some initial difficulty for either the formation of the new government and its tenure in office is the proposal by the Move Forward Party to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code on lèse-majesté.
This was always bound to be a lightning rod for Move Forward’s political enemies which will soon mobilise to oppose a Move Forward-led government being formed and taking power.
On Monday, Mr Pita said this has not yet been discussed between the parties to the emerging negotiations.
He said what concerned him more was the plight of individuals who have already been charged before the courts and their prospects of receiving a royal pardon.
Election result in Thailand acclaimed worldwide
Around the world, yesterday’s election is being hailed as a victory for democracy in Thailand and a chance to put the country on a more progressive and less authoritarian path.
It comes at the same time as Thailand’s press rankings over the past few years have also improved making it something of an outlier in Southeast Asia.
The election result, if respected, could see Thailand transformed into a genuine democracy in Southeast Asia which could have implications in the medium to longer term of inward investment.
The result, clearly, was a rejection of the post-coup government of 2014 and a clear signal that the people want to see a more modern and successful Thailand and a move away from past political struggles.
The vote took many by surprise in that it demonstrated a growing maturity on behalf of the electorate who prioritised reform over cash giveaways and short-term welfare inducements offered by parties on all sides when they jettisoned the Move Forward Party into poll position.
Efforts to defeat Move Forward’s ascent to power begin as senators come out to say they will refuse to support Mr Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister
This election also clearly spelt an end to the old political divide caused twenty years ago when former PM Thaksin Shinawatra became the dominant force in Thai politics.
There has been a historic shift in Thailand but it is already facing opposition.
Two senators, on Monday, including Senator Jadet Insawang questioned plans to amend the lèse-majesté law as simply unacceptable.
He told reporters that he viewed the Move Forward Party’s attitude to the monarchy as questionable and could not in good conscience uphold his oath of office by supporting its rise to the government of the kingdom.