The political landscape of Thailand is taking a step towards a new change after the general election in May 2023. As a result, the Move Forward Party officially occupies the first rank in the vote count with 14 million voters, which is enough to obtain 152 out of 500 parliamentary seats (BBC Indonesia, 2023). Despite having won the vote, Move Forward is still far behind in obtaining enough votes to make their leader, Pita Limjaroenrat as the new prime minister. Pita needs to garner at least 376 more votes from the elected parliament. After the election announcement, Pita immediately launched a coalition lobbying strategy with other parties. It is known that seven other parties, including the Pheu Thai Party led by the Shinawatra family, have agreed to unite their forces to support the new government and break away from military domination.
On the other side, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha chose to remain silent about the opposition party’s overwhelming victory. Under the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party, Prayut could only gather 36 votes in total, which is a major blow to the military’s presence in the Thailand government (CNA, 2023). Furthermore, the official election victory was achieved by pro-democracy groups who strongly oppose the current regime. This is a huge disaster for the military as the progressive coalition secures important positions in the government. The pro-military senators vehemently reject Pita Limjaroenrat’s appointment as prime minister due to being considered as anti-monarchy. Thailand’s democracy is once again shrouded in a nightmare, the question remains: is Prime Minister candidate Pita will be able to withstand the threat of a military coup?
Pro-Democracy, The Move Forward Party is Loved by the People of Thailand
The Thailand election of 2023 is regarded as something sacred by the local population as it is believed to pave the way for democracy. The emergence of the Move Forward Party among the lineup of election parties actively advocated a progressive vision and mission to dismantle the longstanding military regime in Thailand.
The figure of Pita Limjaroenrat as the leader of the party has stolen the people’s attention. Pita previously tried his luck in his political career by joining the Future Forward Party (FFP) in the 2019 elections. During that time, Pita was elected as one of the members of parliament, but unfortunately, the party that supported him was dissolved by the Constitutional Court due to alleged electoral irregularities. The unilateral dissolution of the FFP triggered massive protests and demonstrations, especially among the youth. The demonstrators believed that the charges against FFP were solely based on political interests. The struggle of the FFP did not end there; shortly after, the Move Forward Party was formed with Pita as its leader, embodying similar values and understanding. Although a relatively young party, Move Forward has already captured the hearts of the young supporters who were originally backing the FFP before its dissolution. Move Forward’s anti-military ideas are seen as representative of the aspirations of the people who were discontented with the Prayut regime at that time.
This is also in line with Pita’s character, as he boldly offers controversial policies if elected, he would amend the lese majeste law. This law governs that any insult to the royal family can be categorized as a criminal act, punishable by a minimum of 15 years in prison. This is a bias against democracy and restricts individual freedom of expression and leading critics from society. Lese majeste and anything that touches upon the monarchy is considered taboo in Thailand. Therefore, nearly all politicians avoid this issue by using it for their political interests, even a major party like Pheu Thai under the leadership of the Shinawatra family chooses to turn a blind eye. Move Forward’s breakthrough in the political arena is like a breath of fresh air toward a healthier political climate in Thailand. It is because the forms of power abuse, such as lese majeste, should be reviewed concerning the rights and liberties of the people.
During the campaign period, Pita remained committed to implementing political reforms that would essentially dismantle the military’s influence within the Thai government. In an interview with Bloomberg (2023), Pita promised to focus on three priorities: demilitarization, demonopolization, and decentralization. That approaches also include abolishing compulsory military service, restructuring the military, regulating business monopolies, and improving the quality of education. These structural reforms are believed to lead Thailand toward global transformation. Pita and Move Forward’s promises and program offers successfully garnered support from a society whom thirsty for ideas of freedom and modernization.
The Victory of Pita Limjaroenrat Could Be Thwarted
The Move Forward Party has officially won the election, but they have to face a serious problem from the military faction. Coup attempts are still common and seem to have become a culture in Thailand to overthrow opposition power. The government under military control tends to preserve the character of authoritarianism and also there is a special relationship with the royal family that takes a big role. The rise of a new leader from the opposition makes it highly possible for the coup in 2006 and 2014 could be repeated. For instance, in 2014, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was detained by the military junta on grounds of corruption allegations during her regime. This coup ultimately led to Yingluck’s resignation, and she was replaced by a military-led government under General Prayut Chan-o-cha. The royal family is known to have had involvement in the success of the 2014 coup. Through an official statement from the Palace, Prayut’s appointment as the new Prime Minister was fully endorsed by the king. Thus, the close relationship between the military and the monarchy, mutually protecting each other is evident.
Both Pita and other opposition coalitions may have been targeted by the military faction as the next coup target. The loud talk about amending the lese majeste law has further angered the military and the royal family. Pita is seen as too visionary to shift the influence of conservatives in the state’s policy-making. Pita’s candidacy as the new prime minister is undoubtedly being debated by the military-appointed senators.
Recently, overt attempts to overturn the election results have been detected. The Election Commission of Thailand has suddenly initiated an investigation into Pita’s share ownership in the media company ITV. That was the fact if the Thailand constitution prohibits parliamentary candidates from owning shares in media companies. However, Pita can refute this allegation as the share ownership is inherited from his father, and the company has been inactive since March 2007. In response to this, activists strongly suspect this case originated from military-appointed senators as a scenario to sabotage the opposition’s achieve prime minister position. (NY Times, 2023).
At least, There is a New Hope for the Democratization of Thailand.
The potential for a coup may be looming, but Pita is sure to face upcoming risks and remains optimistic about becoming the new leader of Thailand. It is not surprising if suddenly the election results are deemed invalid and re-election is conducted; everything is possible. However, the military junta still holds the highest sovereignty within the structure of the Thailand government.
If the worst happens with the opposition’s fall and Pita has to return empty-handed. At the very least, the emergence of the Move Forward Party and other pro-democracy groups has inspired a democratic impulse among a significant portion of the population who wholeheartedly supported them in the elections. Thus, a people power movement arises, whose strength may surpass the legitimacy of the military and monarchy. The subsequent democratic movements by Move Forward can also inspire underground groups to advocate for freedom and rights within the governance of the country. This is also a kind of long-term investment to ignite a relay of successors in improving Thailand’s governance system and democracy in the future.