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Thailand: power struggle after the election

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Thailand: power struggle after the election

Status: 06/02/2023 08:54 a.m

The outcome of the election in Thailand was clear. But it remains unclear whether election winner Pita will actually come to power. Because the military has created structures that could prevent that. Third parties would benefit.

The progressive opposition party Move Forward won the election in Thailand almost three weeks ago, closely followed by the opposition party Pheu Thai. In doing so, voters voted out the conservative military parties that have been in power since a coup in 2014. Pita Limjaroenrat celebrates on the streets of Bangkok after his election victory. Move Forward’s 42-year-old frontrunner is the surprise winner.

The Harvard graduate immediately sat down with other opposition parties. A few days later, they sign a declaration of intent together. The eight parties want to form a new governing coalition. Together they have a majority of 312 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives. The party representatives symbolically hold hands on the stage. The mood is euphoric.

The date is also significant – it is the ninth anniversary of the military coup. “Many Thais are hoping to put the 2014 coup and military rule behind them,” says political scientist Termsak Chalermpalanupap from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “Voters are fed up with the old generals who have been in power for too long.”

The election results clearly show that the old head of government, Prayut Chan-o-cha, has been voted out. His party only got 36 of the 500 seats. The new governing coalition will be more democratic and progressive than the old one. But it is unclear whether the winner of the election will govern the country in the future

How does the Senate decide?

Because in Thailand, in addition to the 500 newly elected members of parliament, 250 senators also decide on the new head of government. Those 250 senators are considered loyal to the military, says Celine-Agathe Caro, head of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation’s Bangkok office. “And many assume that they will not support opposition parties for the election of the prime minister.”

The Senate was installed by the military after the coup. Many senators are in their 60s or 70s, former army generals or bureaucrats. “They are very stubborn,” says law scholar Khemtong Tonsakulrungruang of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. Putting pressure on them can even be counterproductive.

The governing coalition of eight opposition parties under Pita Limjaroenrat would need the votes of 64 of the 250 senators to appoint the head of government. Observers assume that they will get maybe ten to 20 votes from the ranks of the senators.

Several senators have already publicly stated that they will not vote for Pita, the winner of the election. From your point of view, his reform plans endanger the monarchy and the position of the military. Democracy activists criticize that the Senate is ignoring the will of the people.

The signs are pointing to change: In Thailand, Pita Limjaroenrat from the “Move Forward” party clearly won the election.

Pheu Thai could coalition with military party

In the past, opposition parties were dissolved, governments were overthrown, or top candidates were legally eliminated. Investigations are currently underway against the election winner Pita Limjaroenrat. He did not disclose his shares in a TV company that was closed in 2007. In Thailand, it is illegal to own shares in a newspaper or media company when running for MPs. If Pita were convicted, he would lose his seat in parliament and his dream of becoming prime minister would be shattered.

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That would be the chance for the Pheu Thai party, which came second in the election. Her lead candidate was 36-year-old Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of former and controversial Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Pheu Thai did not commit itself in the election campaign and adopted a more moderate tone than Move Forward. It could therefore even coalition with the old military parties.

With their votes and the votes of the Senate, they would have a majority in both chambers. Pheu Thai has repeatedly rejected such a coalition, but political scientists believe the deal is possible. While many of their supporters may be critical of this step, it would stabilize their government and give the party more power than in a coalition with Move Forward, says legal scholar Tonsakulrungruang.

It guarantees that there will be no coup because the military is already part of the coalition and entrenched in the system. In the short term this is ideal for the economy and for political stability, but in the long term it is not healthy for democracy.

All parties make big promises, only a few offer real solutions.

Fear of renewed military takeover

The military and the monarchy are still firmly anchored in society. And the monarchy has great influence on the judiciary, according to Tonsakulrungruang. The parties would therefore rightly worry that they would be dissolved if the military and monarchy perceived them as a threat to their existence.

Political scientist Termsak Chalermpalanupap from the political research institute ISEAS shares this view. “Sooner or later the conservative side will hit back. Street protests could start again and we’ll go back to the old cycle. Chaos, bloodshed, the military taking over.”

decision in August

Election winner Pita, on the other hand, is confident. Other countries have also managed to break out of this cycle. He’s not too worried, but he’s not naive either. For him, his party’s electoral success is an important step, he says at the ceremonial signing of the declaration of intent for the future coalition. “It shows that Thai society has managed to peacefully return to democracy through the parliamentary system.”

The vote on the new head of government is scheduled to take place in early August. If Pita is disqualified before then or if the senators vote against the will of a large part of the people in August, there will probably be street protests again in Thailand.

It is clear that the old head of government, Prayut Chan-o-cha, has been voted out. The new government will be more democratic and progressive than the old one. It is unclear how radical the new beginning will be.

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