© Reuters. Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, attends a press conference following the general election, at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, May 15, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
By Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s political heavyweights were set for an intense round of deal-making on Monday after an election that delivered big gains for the opposition over parties allied to the military but with no clear indication of alliances taking shape.
Sunday’s election showcased an extraordinary surge by the progressive Move Forward party that almost had a clean sweep of the capital Bangkok, followed closely by the populist Pheu Thai party, which had been the dominant force in every Thai election this century.
Between them the two opposition parties decimated parties with ties to the royalist army but it is far from certain the opposition will form the next government, with parliamentary rules drafted by the military after a 2014 coup skewed in favour of its allies.
To govern, agreements may need to be struck with multiple camps, including rival parties and members of a junta-appointed Senate with a record of favouring conservative parties led by generals. The Senate takes part in a combined vote of the 750-seat bicameral parliament on who becomes prime minister and forms the government.
Move Forward was galvanized by a wave of excitement among the youth over its liberal agenda and promises of bold changes, including breaking up monopolies and reforming a law on insulting the monarchy.
The party made inroads in some conservative strongholds and added a new dimension to the battle for power that was for years centred on the billionaire Shinawatra family, the driving force behind Pheu Thai, and a pro-military establishment, that brought two decades of on-off tumult.
DREAMS AND HOPES
“Change is possible if we start working on it today … our dreams and hopes are simple and straightforward,” Move Forward’s 42-year-old leader Pita Limjaroenrat said on Twitter.
“Whether you agree or disagree with me, I will be your prime minister, whether you voted or not voted for me. I will serve all of you.”
Pita said on Sunday he was ready to partner with Pheu Thai but Paetongtarn Shinawatra, one of her party’s prime ministerial candidates, said it was too soon to discuss. Both parties were due to hold separate events on Monday.
According to a Reuters calculation, the two parties had more than triple the number of seats of Palang Pracharat, the political vehicle of the former junta, and the army-backed United Thai Nation party of incumbent premier Prayuth Chan-ocha, which won 41 and 36 seats respectively.
The preliminary results could be a hammer blow for the military and its allies, but with parliamentary rules on their side and some influential power-brokers behind them, they could still have a role in government.
Bhumjaithai, a regional party in the outgoing coalition, came in ahead of them in third with 70 seats in the preliminary count, putting it in a strong bargaining position with the opposition and military-backed parties.
Jay Harriman, senior director of the BowerGroupAsia political risk consultancy, said the outcome was “a clear rejection of Thailand’s old-style politics” but Move Forward’s institutional reform plans could put it on a collision course with royalists and the military.
“Tensions could heighten if the next government moves aggressively on its campaign pledges,” he said.
“A Move Forward and Pheu Thai-led coalition will still fall short of the 376-seats needed to secure the premiership, so it will have to use its electoral mandate to win over votes from the appointed Senate, or alternatively turn to Bhumjaithai for its support.”
This story originally appeared on Investing