By P. K. Balachandran
Colombo, May 28 (www.factum.lk): In the May 14 elections to Thailand’s House of Representatives, the youth-led progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) emerged as the single largest group, getting 151 seats of the 500 up for grabs. The Pheu Thai party got 141, the Bhumijaithai 71, the United Thai Nation 36, the Democrat 25, and the Palang Pracharat 40. The rest were distributed among a number of small outfits.
The MFP has formed a coalition to govern. A coalition MOU on policy says that cannabis will be a controlled substance. Monopolies will be broken up, competition in the economy will be fostered, marriage equality regardless of sexual orientation will be ensured, there will be a ban on conscription except during war, and Thailand will reclaim its active role in regional and international affairs.
“The MOU is about shared values, shared agenda, and shared accountability,” said Pita Limjaroenrat, MFP’s leader and the coalition’s presumptive Prime Minister.
The Move Forward Party was formed in 2020 as the successor to the Future Forward Party (FFP), which the courts dissolved after its strong showing in the 2019 elections. That dissolution kicked off significant street protests in 2020 and 2021, dominated by youth and students.
In the recent elections, the MFP recruited volunteers from outside the political elite and went door-to-door to explain its policies. It focused on universities, expecting the students to deliver the message to their parents, who might want to know how the MFP could improve conditions for their children.
Social media played a dominant role in the 2019 elections but was not as evident this time around. Campaigners depended on personal contacts because it was feared that widespread use of social media could lead to crackdowns. Symbolism took the place of overt communication.
The MFP’s campaign succeeded because voters had finally decided to reject the military-backed pro-monarchist parties that have ruled Thailand for nearly a decade.
However, Thailand has a long way to go before it can claim that these conservative parties have been decisively defeated. Apart from the fact that the military is as entrenched in the Thai system as the monarchy, there are obstacles in the immediate vicinity.
Consider the following:
It will take 60 days to officially announce the results. During this period anything can happen. In the last parliamentary elections in 2019, for example, the military-dominated Senate voted unanimously for Prayuth Chan-ocha, though his party (at that time Palang Pracharat) had won fewer seats than Pheu Thai (116 to 136). Eventually, with power in his hands, Prayuth Chan-ocha cobbled together a coalition of 19 parties that kept him in office for four years.
The House of Representatives will have to prevail over the Senate where the military wields enormous power. A parliamentary rule allows 250 members of the military-appointed Senate to vote on the choice of Prime Minister. Therefore, to get the Premiership, a candidate must get 376 votes across the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is quite a tall order.
The election of the Speaker could be problematic. The Speaker’s post is critical because he is the one who rules on parliamentary proceedings. A clash has already emerged over the choice of Speaker between the MFP and Pheu Thai. While the MFP feels that the post should go to it as the single largest party, the Pheu Thai says the post has to go it to ensure a balance of power.
The military-dominated Senate will resist any bid by the MFP to reform the monarchy and the armed forces. The latest news is that the compulsions of coalition politics have already made the MFP dilute its stance on the lese-majeste laws or laws protecting the monarchy. Offenses under the lese-majeste laws could carry sentences up to 15 years in jail.
No matter how things pan out over the next few months, the military and conservatives in the palace will play a major role in the government, according to a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). For the original see: https://www.csis.org/analysis/2023-thai-election-results-opposition-win-unclear-path-ahead
They may do so as direct participants or simply by holding the sword of Damocles over Move Forward and Pheu Thai, forcing them to temper their plans for reform or risk another coup,” the report says.
Impact on Thai-US Relations
On the impact of the elections on US-Thai relations, the CSIS report states the following.
“Assuming there is no military or judicial coup, the US-Thai alliance will remain functionally unchanged. Cooperation on training, law enforcement, cyber-security, and myriad other fronts will continue. If Thailand eventually does enter another cycle of political violence, it will severely constrain U.S.-Thai military cooperation, at least in the short term, as it did after the 2014 coup.”
On the whole, accordingly, “The two sides would be able to repair some of the lingering distrust of the last decade under Prayuth’s rule. And while Thailand would still be unlikely to overtly align with the United States on many of the issues involving competition with China, it would likely moderate the increasingly close embrace of Beijing and distrust of Washington pushed by the current government.”
The CSIS report says that there is reason to believe that most of MFP’s supporters and parliamentarians would be pro-American, or at least be skeptical of China, because of their previous support for the Milk Tea Alliance, an online network of pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and beyond.
The CSIS report notes that MFP leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, had recognized Thailand’s role in making sure that Myanmar adheres to the ASEAN-brokered Five-Point Consensus peace plan, which Myanmar’s military has wholly ignored since its establishment in 2021. Pita has also said that one of his priorities would be establishing a humanitarian corridor between Thailand and Myanmar.
However, the US could be worried about the social welfarist policies of the MFP, as indeed they worry the Thai private sector. The MFP, like other parties, has promised cash handouts and to increase in salaries and wages. The MFP regime could resort to heavy deficit financing.
Impact on Other Countries
The Thai military has indeed suffered a setback at the hands of youth power. But this is unlikely to have any effect on other countries where the military is ruling directly or indirectly and is under pressure from democratic forces led by the youth.
This is because the Thai military has been and is still in charge of the country despite the trappings of democratic institutions and regular elections. Like the Thai military, the militaries in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Egypt are also well entrenched.
As for youth power, it succeeded in Thailand to an extent because it was channeled through an organized political party. It was also marked by restraint. In Sri Lanka, in contrast, the Aragalaya youth movement was inchoate with no leader or a leadership structure. It also took to vandalism and arson. Therefore, it failed to deliver on its foundational principles, though it caused the exit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In Pakistan, the vandalism and incendiarism of Imran Khan’s youthful followers have resulted in many of his close associates leaving his outfit. In contrast, Thailand’s disciplined, well-led, and peaceful youth movement won both plaudits and votes.
For the original CSIS report go to: