Questions and challenges after the great victory of the Thai opposition parties
The results of the recent elections in Thailand mark the beginning of a new era, and they came as a shocking and powerful judgment on the part of nearly 40 million Thai voters against the dominance of the military in the country’s political scene. The military establishment has dominated the rule of Thailand for most of the period since 1947, although these years were interspersed with a few periods during which democratically elected governments assumed power. But in recent years, the Southeast Asian kingdom has faced political turmoil and economic problems, while the system has faced major challenges, and the popularity of the prime minister has plummeted. Thailand has an estimated population of 70 million people, historically known as Siam, and lives under a constitutional monarchy, and is the only country in Southeast Asia that escaped colonial rule. Maha Vajiralongkorn, the tenth Thai king of the Chakri dynasty, was proclaimed king of the country in December 2016. The current king assumed the throne to succeed his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadeg, the longest-reigning monarch in the world at the time, who died in October of 2016. that year.
Thailand’s general election on May 14 has the potential to become the most significant political event in its history since the mid-1970s, when a pro-democracy movement first overthrew the ruling military regime.
The outcome of the recent elections was like a political earthquake, as Thai voters overwhelmingly chose two of the democratic parties, “Move Forward” and “Puea Thai”. Together, the two parties won more than three-fifths of the seats in the House of Representatives, collecting nearly 25 million votes.
Move Forward emerged as the largest political bloc in Thailand, with 152 seats, followed by Puea Thai, with 141, in the 500-seat parliament. No other party has come close to the double feat.
Pita Limjaronrat (42 years old), who was educated at Harvard and MIT universities, is the leader of the “Moving Forward” party, which follows progressive ideas, and he has succeeded in exploiting his popularity among disaffected young voters who want change.
As for “Poya Thai”, it is a populist party led by Paytungtarn Shinawatra (36 years old), who is the daughter of former prime minister and billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra. This party draws its support from the rural and urban working class, especially in the north and northeast of the country. The popularity of these two leaders against the military establishment has skyrocketed over the past two decades.
On the other hand, General Prayuth Chan-ocha (69 years old), who in 2014 overthrew the democratically elected civilian government led by the leader of “Puya Thai”, Yingluck Shinawatra (who is Thaksin’s sister), got a meager percentage of 7 percent of the vote, and the ruling coalition consisting of Military parties have only 77 seats. This constitutes a significant decline from the 116 seats won by the coalition in the 2019 elections. It is noteworthy that Yingluck Shinawatra was the first woman to head the government, before the military coup carried out by General Prayut and after him appointed himself prime minister. Here, we point out that Prayuth was constantly keen to confirm his support for the Thai royal family, while the military establishment took strict repressive measures against any move against its “government.”
Will you form a government?
Parliamentary procedures in Thailand usually take several months before a new government is formed and takes power. Thailand’s election commission has up to 60 days to officially certify the results of this year’s general election. After that, Parliament meets in turn to approve the new government.
The constitution stipulates that the first session of the House of Representatives must be held within 15 days after the election committee announces the official election results, in order to elect the new speaker of the House of Representatives, who will also be speaker of the Thai parliament, and it is believed that this will happen on July 13. This means that a joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives and the 250-seat Senate will be held in July; to choose a new prime minister.
The House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament) has a total of 500 seats, of which 400 are open to electoral districts and 100 are “party-list” seats (seats won by parties based on their share of the national vote). Pita, leader of the “Moving Forward” party, has announced his readiness to assume the position of the 30th Prime Minister of Thailand, and to form a coalition government of 8 allied pro-democracy parties: “Puea Thai”, “Prachachat”, “Thai Sang Thai” and “Siri Rum Thai”. (Liberal Thai), Veer, Plong Songkom Mai (New Power) and Pyeo Thai Rumphlang.
Inside the House of Representatives, this coalition now has 313 votes out of 500. The members of the coalition have officially agreed to work together by signing a memorandum of understanding, which includes the policies of its new components, and they have expressed their desire to lead the next government. The coalition parties also expressed their rejection of absolute power in the country, and promised to carry out reforms as soon as they came to power.
While signing the MoU, Pita said: “Today is about approving a good start, and we have to work together to move forward towards announcing our policies after I take over as Prime Minister. So, today is only the first step.” “There are a lot of immediate next steps that follow from that, and that probably explains a little bit better how to bring about change,” he told a crowd of reporters.
But despite the overwhelming support, political commentators point to fears among coalition supporters that opposition allies with the army could take advantage of the unelected Senate to prevent members of the coalition from taking office. Under Thailand’s 2017 constitution, which was drafted under military rule after the 2014 coup, both houses of Parliament must vote for a new prime minister.
Constitution of 2017
According to the constitution approved by the military council in 2017, the prime minister must be elected, in addition to 250 senators appointed by the royal military council. To bypass the Senate, PETA will need the support of 376 deputies. This is impossible without the inclusion of the “Bhumgytai” party, which is friendly to the military council and has conservative tendencies.
This means that the military can still play a major role in determining the government, with the coalition failing to win the required majority of 376 seats. Although the new coalition hopes that the joint seats in the government will put pressure on the Senate to vote for him, analysts believe that Pita (the most prominent candidate for prime minister if the coalition led by his party forms the government) may be targeted, and even expelled if the “committee” accepts Elections” is a complaint that he did not sell shares he owned in a media company before launching his election campaign, which constitutes a breach of the rules – the same fate that befell his party’s founder in 2019. A candidate for the military-backed Phalang Prasharath Party has already lodged a complaint with the Election Commission. and the National Anti-Corruption Committee, accusing Beta of not including the shares he owns in the aforementioned company in the official statement he submitted regarding the assets owned by him. But Pita denies any wrongdoing and says the accusation against him is based on a small technical point.
On the other hand, despite the populist “Puea Thai” party making strong calls for the formation of a government led by the “Move Forward” party, analysts believe that the party may ally with the “Bhumgyathai” party, which came in third place, along with the military establishment and the ruling party supported by the family. The owner, Phalang Prasharath, can easily get the support of 270 senators.
However, analysts believe that the army will not like the return of the political family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, through her party, “Puea Thai”, after it turned into a ghost haunting the military and pro-monarchy elites since 2001. Thus, in the absence of a compromise, Thailand may suffer from a deadlock. The absence of a functioning government for months, especially since the constitution does not stipulate a deadline for forming a government.
Troubles, the army and the throne
For decades, Thailand’s military rulers have resorted to coups and court rulings to keep elected opponents out of power. Although civilian rule was formally established in Thailand in 1992, the Thai army remains an influential institution capable of delaying political reform.
What is worth pointing out is that in 1932 the absolute monarchy ended after the Siamese Revolution. However, the Thai throne retained a privileged position in society and enormous influence in government, and the monarchy has always been immune to public criticism, by letter of law. However, since then, the Thai army has orchestrated 22 coups, 13 of which succeeded, and made 20 constitutional amendments since the establishment of the state.
Over the years, confrontation between military generals, politicians, and civic activists has been the root cause of the persistent instability of the country.
The first elected government
In 2001, Thailand had its first elected government to complete a four-year term, under the leadership of Thaksin Shinawatra, the policeman turned telecoms tycoon who led a populist wave to victory with his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party. His party promised to stabilize the economy, provide universal health care, ease farmers’ debts, and provide financing for village development.
However, Thaksin’s controversial war on drugs in the country’s Muslim-majority south has sparked a new round of insurgencies. Although Thaksin swept the 2005 elections, his government was soon rocked by a financial scandal and subsequent protests, and he was forced to call new elections. And then he was overthrown months later in a coup that passed without bloodshed.
The post-2006 period is often described as the “lost decade” in Thailand. With Thaksin in self-exile and his successors dismissed by the courts, in 2010 Thailand witnessed its fiercest crackdown on protesters, the so-called “Red Shirt” campaign, led by the current prime minister – then a general – Prayuth Chan-ocha. The years of protest have highlighted the deep social divide between the rural poor and the wealthier middle and upper classes in the capital (Bangkok).
Then, in 2011, Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck, became the first female prime minister in Thailand, but her government also faced protests in its efforts to obtain an amnesty for her exiled brother at the time. This led to another military coup and the declaration of martial law in 2014 under the pretext of bringing stability. In 2017, the military passed a new constitution allowing it to appoint 250 members of the Senate, who will play a role in selecting the prime minister.
Experience… and indignation
The May 14, 2019 elections, initially seen as an exercise to transfer power from the junta to an elected government, resulted in Prayuth retaining power after a disputed election, renewing discontent. As for the recent elections, Anil Wadhwa, the former Indian ambassador to Thailand, describes them as “the most important political event in the country since the mid-1970s, when a pro-democracy movement succeeded for the first time in overthrowing a ruling military regime. However, this election saw the Thai masses use the means at their disposal to express their disapproval…a refusal that has transformed into major protest movements in recent years. The result of the vote confirmed the voters’ desire to strengthen democratic institutions, and to impose more accountability on the army and the civil service, as well as more equality in economic opportunity.
* Thailand is one of the fastest aging countries in the world. Of its population of 70 million, 12 million are elderly Thais, according to the latest national statistical report. Since 2005, Thailand has been classified as an “aging society”, with people aged 60 and over making up 10 percent of the population. The country’s elderly population is expected to rise to 28 percent, and Thailand will become a “very aging society” by the next decade.
With the advances in the healthcare system, it is evident that the numbers and percentage of people aged 60 years and over are on the rise in Thailand and the world. It is worth mentioning that in 2019, more than one billion of the world’s population were over the age of 60. This number is expected to increase to 1.4 billion by 2030 and 2.1 billion by 2050.
While this demographic shift reflects advances in social and economic development and health, it also poses new challenges. Aware of these demographic shifts and challenges, policymakers and stakeholders in Southeast Asia have worked for years to reform policies and initiatives to address the challenges facing the well-being of older persons.
* Observers following political affairs in Thailand do not rule out that the results of the recent elections will have important geopolitical repercussions for the country and the surrounding region. After all, Thailand, a former partner of the United States throughout the Cold War years, is the only multi-party democracy in mainland Southeast Asia that is at the same time subject to Chinese influence.
For its part, the “Moving Forward” party strongly denied its support for allowing the United States to establish a military base in Thailand. The controversy comes amid escalating tensions between the United States and China, with indications that Cambodia, neighboring Thailand, is strengthening its ties with the Chinese military. This buildup includes, according to US officials, the construction of a Chinese naval base in the Gulf of Thailand.
In this regard, Anil Wadhwa expressed his belief that “the United States played a role in the general elections on May 14, which are seen as an earthquake that shook the pillars of the Thai political scene, leaving the Movement Forward party in a position to establish a coalition representing 62 percent cent of the members of parliament.
The denial of the “Moving Forward” party comes at a time when the Philippines, under its current president Ferdinand Marcos “the son”, has retracted a decades-long policy in which it allowed the US military to establish bases in the country, which must be seen in the context of escalating military tensions. Between China and America in the South China Sea and its contexts.