Thailand’s progressive Move Forward party emerged as the winner in the country’s preliminary election results, but the party’s proposed reforms threaten conservative forces that may attempt to prevent it from governing. Move Forward’s leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, has formed a coalition of six parties, including Pheu Thai, a populist, pro-democracy party that came second in the election. The coalition holds 310 seats in parliament’s 500-seat lower house, and the appointment of the prime minister is expected in August after the Election Commission certifies the election results. However, Move Forward faces a daunting task in securing the remaining 66 votes due to its controversial policies, which include a new constitution, ending military dominance in politics, abolishing mandatory military conscription, abolishing business monopolies, and revising the lese-majeste law that punishes insults to the king with jail time.
Analysts predict that Move Forward’s agenda is a challenge to the established centers of power and that the party may face resistance from arch-royalists, who could ban the party, as they have sway over official bodies like the Constitutional Court, National Anti-Corruption Commission, and Electoral Commission. In addition, Pita himself could be targeted, as he was recently charged with a constitutional violation for being a small shareholder of a now-defunct media company while serving as a member of parliament. This could be grounds for his disqualification and enable the less-radical Pheu Thai to lead the coalition.
Pheu Thai may break ranks with Move Forward to negotiate strategic gains
Led by the daughter of ex-prime minister Thaksin, Pheu Thai is an opposition party that is more cautious about its messaging on the monarchy. Analysts suggest that it may break ranks with Move Forward to work with pro-military parties to negotiate strategic gains. Given Pheu Thai’s desire for power, the party leadership may see Move Forward’s progressive stances and its threat to the monarchy as a political liability. If Pheu Thai abandons its pro-democracy peers in pursuit of power, the Bhumjaithai party will likely play a significant role as a kingmaker in forming a coalition. Bhumjaithai, known for its strong support of marijuana legalization, is considered ideologically flexible as they are pro-establishment but open to working with pro-democracy outfits.
However, Pheu Thai’s abandonment of Move Forward means long-lasting repercussions for its image. The party risks being punished electorally by the pro-democracy voters who are their key supporters in the future. Move Forward’s clear lead in preliminary election results gives it a clear mandate to lead in the eyes of the public. Any attempts to thwart that could result in widespread protests, as history shows. When the Future Forward Party was dissolved in 2020, it set off mass youth-led protests.
In the scenario where a prime minister is selected from pro-military parties and their allies and senators, major street protests are expected, and there’s a chance the military could stage yet another coup. Thailand has experienced at least 19 coups since 1932. Having just recovered from a pandemic-triggered slump, officials may not want street demonstrations that risk derailing investor confidence and economic growth. The Thai Chamber of Commerce has indicated a desire among business groups for a stable government rather than another period of political tumult.
The establishment may judge that allowing Move Forward to take office is a smarter tactical move, as allowing events to run their course and using legal options to act later if red lines are crossed may be a better option than intervening. However, the decision-makers may also calculate that there are other ways for the Senate to block Move Forward, such as abstaining from voting and refusing to confirm Pita, leading to a stalemate. Senators could also countermand lower house MPs’ choice of prime minister, unless the hard-to-reach supermajority of 376 votes is secured.
Thailand’s Move Forward party faces obstacles to governing as it proposes reforms that threaten conservative forces. The party may be banned or face legal challenges, and Pita himself may be disqualified. Pheu Thai may break ranks with Move Forward to negotiate strategic gains, but the party risks being punished electorally by the pro-democracy voters who are their key supporters in the future. Any attempts to thwart Move Forward’s mandate to lead may result in widespread protests or even another military coup, which could further damage the country’s economic growth and investor confidence.
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