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After political betrayal, Thailand faces a progressive revolution
The 2023 Thai election was arguably the country’s most historic vote to date. Pheu Thai, a party that has governed and been overthrown by the military multiple times in Thailand, ended up being relegated to second place by progressive insurgents in the Move Forward Party. While some polls had seen Move Forward surging towards the end of the campaign, the result came as a system shock, cementing the party as the leading player in Thailand’s anti-junta movement.
But for much of Thailand’s royalist political establishment, a Move Forward government is perceived as an existential threat. MFP’s pledge to reform the Thai law against “lèse-majesté”- that is, criticizing the king- provoked apoplectic responses from both the pro-military bloc’s elected officials and their appointees in the Senate, which is almost entirely composed of junta sympathizers.
Lèse-majesté is a highly contentious issue in Thailand. While royalists believe it’s essential to maintaining the monarchy’s standing, political critics and human rights groups have slammed its chilling effect on dissent and highlighted absurd cases, such as one in which a 15-year-old girl was detained for attending a demonstration to reform the law.
The Thai Senate, under the current political system, is crucial to forming a government: rather than a simple majority in the lower house, a majority is needed in both chambers of the legislature combined. This enables the Senate to effectively veto any government its members don’t support, a power which the body exercised in the recent coalition formation process, despite Move Forward and Pheu Thai winning well over 50% of lower house seats together. Only 13 senators backed Move Forward’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, in his investiture vote.
Throughout this process, Pheu Thai backed Move Forward’s bid for government, biding their time carefully to avoid inflaming tensions within the pro-democracy bloc. The greatest point of contention between the two parties was the selection of the parliament’s speakership, a quarrel which ultimately did not sink negotiations.
But the moment Pita was defeated in the investiture, all bets appeared to be off for Pheu Thai. Ignoring calls for solidarity within the anti-junta movement, Pheu Thai and its candidate for PM pressed forward with their own coalition, which secured support from 152 senators after including the junta-affiliated Palang Pracharath and UTN parties.
Now, a new poll from Sripatum University suggests Pheu Thai’s move has backfired drastically, at least in the short term.
In the poll, Move Forward is projected to win close to a majority of seats at 245/500. That’s aided by a staggering 62% of the proportional representation vote, compared to the 38% the party won last time. Meanwhile, Pheu Thai would find itself reduced to just 53 lower house seats.
While even this result may not necessarily result in a Move Forward government- and indeed, given recent experience, could actually push Thailand into a deeper political crisis- the poll is evidence that Move Forward is now the sole authentic option for Thai voters who badly want to rid their country of the junta’s influence.
Time will tell how Pheu Thai wields power, balancing their nominally “reform”-oriented stance with the interests of an obstinate military. The tide of public opinion does not appear to be in their favor, though. When the next election rolls around, whenever that may be, voters may decide to reject a party that linked up with anti-democratic forces, and opt instead for a Move Forward revolution.
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