Thailand’s voters have delivered a clear rejection of nearly a decade of military-backed government, election results showed on Monday, backing the two main pro-democracy opposition parties that are now expected to open in coalition talks.
The progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), which wants to reform in Thailand strict laws on insulting the king, appears to be the largest party — setting up a possible clash with the kingdom’s powerful royalist-military elite.
Thais voted in large numbers after an election campaign that pitted a young generation yearning for change against the conservative elite comprised of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014.
But in a kingdom where coups and court orders regularly mar the ballot box, there are fears that the outcome could still be lopsided, raising the prospect of new instability.
With ballots counted from 97 percent of polling stations, Election Commission data showed MFP at 13.5 million in the popular vote followed by Pheu Thai at 10.3 million with Prayut’s United Thai Nation party third at 4.5 million. .
The result was a remarkable achievement for the MFP, a new party that harnessed the energy of the radical pro-democracy youth-led street protests that rocked Bangkok in 2020.
The party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, declared that it had “closed the door” to any chance of the army-backed parties forming a minority government.
MFP will seek talks with Pheu Thai and a coalition deal is “definitely on the cards”, Pita told reporters.
Pheu Thai leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra congratulated the MFP on their success and said “we can work together”.
“We are ready to talk to Move Forward, but we are waiting for the official result,” he said.
The Election Commission is not expected to officially confirm the final number of seats won by each party for several weeks.
But earlier on Monday it predicted that the MFP would win 113 out of a total of 400 seats in the constituency, just ahead of Pheu Thai on 112. An additional 100 seats will be allocated to parties on a proportional basis.
The result is a heavy blow for Pheu Thai, the latest iteration of the political movement founded by Paetongtarn’s father, billionaire former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Prior to this, parties linked to Thaksin had won the majority of seats in every election since 2001 and Paetongtarn urged voters to give them a landslide to see off the threat of military intervention.
Despite their success, the MFP and Pheu Thai may still face a battle for power thanks to the junta-scripted 2017 constitution.
The new premier will be chosen jointly by 500 elected MPs and 250 senate members appointed by Prayut’s junta — stacking the deck in the army’s favor.
Adding to the uncertainty, rumors are already swirling that the MFP could be dissolved by court order – the same fate that befell its predecessor the Future Forward Party after it unexpectedly did well in the 2019 polls.
This election is the first since the massive street protests that erupted in 2020 with demands to curb power and spending on in Thailand king — breaking the long-standing ban on questioning the monarchy.
The demonstrations stalled as Covid-19 curbs were imposed and several leaders were arrested, but their strength boosted support for the more radical opposition MFP.
“The young generation today cares about their rights and they will come out to vote,” Pita told reporters when he arrived to vote on Sunday.
While the MFP sought support from millennial and Gen Z voters — who make up nearly half of the 52 million-strong electorate — Pheu Thai tapped into its traditional base in the rural north- east where voters are still grateful for the welfare policies implemented by Thaksin in the early 2000s.
As the results came in, a somber Prayut thanked voters for their support as he left his party HQ.
“I’ll continue to do my best regardless of the result,” he told reporters.
The former general made unabashedly nationalist overtures to older voters, painting himself as the only candidate capable of salvation. Thailand from chaos and destruction.
But he has been blamed for a faltering economy and weak recovery from the pandemic, which has damaged the kingdom’s vital tourism industry.
Rights groups have accused Prayut of presiding over a massive crackdown on basic liberties, with a dramatic increase in prosecutions. under draconian Thailandroyal defamation laws.
The country has seen a dozen coups in the past century and has been locked for the past two decades in a spiraling cycle of street protests, coups and court orders that have dissolved political parties.
It remains to be seen whether the powerful royalist-military elite will find accommodation with the radical MFP.