Who will form the government in Thailand after junta defeat?
After a resounding general election success, Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party now faces the task of assembling a coalition that can win approval both from parliament and the Senate whose members were appointed by the military after the 2014 coup.
Opposition parties staged a stunning victory as voters ousted the military-backed government of incumbent prime minister and ex-general Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who installed the junta that has led the country for the past nine years.
With almost all votes counted, Move Forward captured 151 of parliament’s 500 seats, ahead of another opposition party, Pheu Thai, on 141 seats.
The next prime minister will be chosen by a vote in July by all house lawmakers plus the 250-seat Senate, whose royalist members share the junta’s conservative policies. The winner must obtain the backing of 376 members out of the combined 750.
Pita is in the process of forming a coalition government with Pheu Thai and some smaller parties, which could amass a bloc of 310 votes in parliament, reported Thai PBS.
However, the senators have already indicated opposition to Pita because of his radical agenda, including a plan to change the country’s strict lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy, which critics say have been used to stifle dissent.
Both Move Forward and Pheu Thai had centred their election campaigns around reforming the military and the monarchy but the former took a tougher stance in an appeal to younger voters.
Senators may instead choose to support Prayuth as leader of a minority government – a move that could plunge the country back into the turmoil that saw widespread protests – or fine another candidate who can command enough support.
In addition, Pita is also slated to face a probe by the election commission following a complaint filed by conservative politician Ruangkrai Leekitwattana.
The Palang Pracharath Party member has alleged that Pita illegally owns shares in a now-defunct media company; Pita says he only owns the shares as an executor of his late father’s will. If the probe finds him guilty he could be disqualified from parliament. The election commission is expected to take up to two months to complete its investigation.
In addition, the Move Forward Party also faced the prospect of dissolution.
In the past, the commission and the courts have used their authority to disqualify opposition parties. The Pheu Thai’s two earlier forms, the Thai Rak Thai Party and People’s Power Party, were dissolved over electoral fraud after their election victories, the Strait Times reported.
Move Forward's predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved in 2020 over a loan its leader gave to the party, which was deemed illegal by a court.
“Move Forward takes the game to the next level with institutional reform,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, who teaches political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
“That’s the new battleground.”
Reuters contributed to this report.