In Thailand, the people choose Liberals, kick out Military backed Government

In Thailand, the people choose Liberals, kick out Military backed Government

News from Bangkok is that Thailand is looking for an overhaul as the people voted out the incumbent military backed government, according to news reports of May 15.

Thailand’s opposition made it,  trouncing parties allied with the military, setting the stage for r forming a government in to end nearly a decade of conservative, army-backed rule, says a REUTERS report.

The liberal Move Forward Party and the Populist Pheu Thai Party bagged 99 per cent of votes counted, but it isn’t clear who will form the next government, with parliamentary rules written by the military after its 2014 coup skewed in its favour.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat

To rule, the opposition parties will need to strike deals and muster support from multiple camps, including members of a military-appointed Senate that has sided with military parties and gets to vote on who becomes prime minister and form the next administration.

There has been in a long-running battle for power between Pheu Thai, the populist juggernaut of the billionaire Shinawatra family,versus a nexus of old money, conservatives and military with influence over key institutions at the heart of some 20 years of turmoil.

But the staggering performance by Move Forward, riding a wave of support from young voters, will test the resolve of Thailand’s establishment and ruling parties after it came close to a clean sweep of the capital Bangkok on a platform of institutional reform and dismantling monopolies.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra of Pheu Thai

The Election Commission data shows Move Forward has 151 seats, followed closely by Pheu Thai, which won 141 seats, , while the army-backed United Thai Nation party clinched 36 seats.

Voter turnout on Sunday hit a record of 75.22 per cent, according to the Election Commission. It was 74.87 per cent in the last election in 2019.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old former executive of a ride-hailing app, described the outcome as “sensational” and vowed to stay true to his party’s values when forming a government.

“It will be anti- dictator-backed, military-backed parties, for sure,” he told reporters. “It’s safe to assume that minority government is no longer possible here in Thailand.”

He said he remained open to an alliance with Pheu Thai, but has set his sights set on being prime minister.

“It is now clear the Move Forward Party has received the overwhelming support from the people around the country,” he said on Twitter.

Major blow for Military regime

The results are seen as a crushing blow for the military and its allies. But with parliamentary rules on their side and influential figures behind them and involved behind the scenes, they could still have a role in government.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired general who led the last coup, had campaigned on continuity after nine years in charge, warning a change in government could lead to conflict.

On Sunday, he slipped away quietly from his United Thai Nation party headquarters, where there were few supporters to be seen.

 “I hope the country will be peaceful and prosper,” Mr Prayut told reporters. “I respect democracy and the election. Thank you.”

Pheu Thai had been expected to win, having won most votes in every ballot since 2001, including two landslide victories. Three of its four governments have been ousted from office.

Founded by the self-exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai is hugely popular among the working classes and was banking on being swept back to power in a landslide of nostalgia for its populist policies such as cheap healthcare, micro-loans and generous farming subsidies.

Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn, 36, has been tipped to follow in the footsteps of her father and of her aunt Yingluck Shinawatra, and become prime minister. Yingluck and Thaksin were both overthrown in coups.

Ms Paetongtarn said she was happy for Move Forward, but it was too soon to discuss alliances.

“The voice of the people is most important,” she said.

Move Forward was betting on 3.3 million first-time voters getting behind its liberal agenda, including plans to weaken the military’s political role and amend a strict law on royal insults that critics say is used to stifle dissent.

Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said Move Forward’s surge demonstrated a major shift in Thai politics.

“Pheu Thai fought the wrong war. Pheu Thai fought the populism war that it had already won,” he said.

“Move Forward takes the game to the next level with institutional reform. That’s the new battleground in Thai politics