Thailand’s lawmakers gathered on Thursday to elect a new prime minister, a process whose outcome is uncertain even though the country’s most progressive party won the popular vote and the most seats in the House of Representatives. most recent election.
The May 14 election in Thailand is considered a major political turning point. The victory of the reformist Move Forward Party appeared to end nine years of unpopular rule supported by the army. Two months later, it is unclear whether the order for renewal will be obeyed.
Parliament will vote on whether to make Move Forward leader, 42-year-old businessman Pita Limjaroenrat, the country’s prime minister. His party won 151 of the 500 seats in the House but assembled a coalition-in-waiting government. The eight coalition parties won 312 seats combined, a healthy majority.
“It was a party that led a coalition, and they won the election,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “In most other countries, they are in office now.”
One of the many potential obstacles to Pita’s takeover is that the prime minister is elected by a joint vote of the House and the 250-seat Senate, whose members owe their positions to the military-backed regime established in 2014 coup. Pita, or any other candidate, needs at least 376 votes to become the head of the government.
The biggest bone of contention between the liberals behind Move Forward and the ultra-conservative Senate is Pita’s party’s campaign to amend the law that makes insulting the royal family punishable by three to 15 years in prison.
The monarchy is sacred to members of Thailand’s royal establishment, and even minor reforms that might improve and modernize the image of the monarchy are anathema to them. Move Forward’s coalition partners also did not endorse the proposed legal change, and other parties refused to join the coalition because of the idea.
Thitinan thinks that due to the huge support of the voters for Move Forward and the Pheu Thai Party, the main partner and political ally, Pita has a good chance “because of the increasing public pressure on the senator. It will depend on the will, strength and intransigence of the royalist conservative establishment.
But if Pita can’t win enough senators, his options appear to be gone. Options for an eight-party coalition generally appear more viable.
One is for the Pheu Thai Party to put forward one of its members as a candidate for prime minister, a possibility that was previously unthinkable.
Pheu Thai used to be the public enemy of the royalist establishment No.
Thaksin-backed parties came out on top in every election from 2001 until this past May but were blocked or forced out of power each time. The 2014 coup, for example, seized power from the government formed by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Pheu Thai has enrolled three of its members as potential prime minister candidates this year, including Thaksin’s daughter. Paetongtarn Shinawatra. It is a measure of the changing political climate that Pheu Thai is now considered a party that royalists can deal with, compared to Move Forward, which they reject as radical.
Paetongtarn’s partner, real estate developer Srettha Thavisin, is considered more likely to put his name forward if Pita is not elected, at least in part as an assurance to the business community. But the possibility that any proposed coalition including Move Forward will not be approved complicates the numbers game.
Leaving Move Forward would likely require Pheu Thai to enlist allies from military-friendly parties, which it has promised, with hedging, not to do. In the long run, seeking such an alliance could destroy Pheu Thai’s credibility among supporters who remain in the party and increase support for Move Forward while it is in opposition.
Another cost could include handing over the prime minister’s seat to a newly enlisted coalition partner, the key being the Bhumjaithai Party, which came third in May’s election and secured 71 seats in the House. The party’s leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, was a health minister in the outgoing government and has made no secret of his political ambitions.
If Pita and Move Forward prevail—and it could take a number of votes over a period of weeks—their political survival will still be sitting on a knife’s edge.
There are fears that Thailand’s conservative ruling establishment will use what its political opponents see as dirty tricks to cling to power. For a decade and a half, it has repeatedly used the courts and supposedly independent state agencies to issue questionable decisions to cripple or sink political opponents.
On Wednesday, the Election Commission said it had concluded that there was evidence that Pita violated the election law, and referred his case to the Constitutional Court for a decision. If the court accepts the case and finds him guilty, he could lose his seat in the House, be expelled from politics and face a prison sentence.
The alleged violation includes undeclared ownership of shares in the media company, which is prohibited for Thai lawmakers. Political scientist Thitinan described the charge and other legal complaints against Pita as “bogus” and something that many people will not tolerate, especially the voters who support him.
“It all depends on how far the royalist conservative establishment wants to follow Pita and prevent a democratic outcome,” he said.
Depending on how it is resolved, efforts to block Pita and Move Forward could prove dangerous and cause unnecessary pain in Thailand, said Michael Montesano, a Thai studies expert who is a senior fellow. which is affiliated with ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“At the end of the day, the political system and those who dominate must move in closer correspondence to the realities of Thai society and the aspirations of young, educated members,” Montesano said. “The biggest question is whether this transition will be painful and even violent, or whether it will be constructive and thus serve the future prospects of the country.”