Sanctions, betrayal and impasse: how Thailand’s old guard may react to election results


Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party (centre), at a rally in Bangkok, Thailand on 18 May 2023.

Valeria Mongelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Thailand’s initial election results were a victory for the progressive Move Forward party, but its reforms look set to threaten conservative forces that could move to prevent the pro-democracy party from governing.

Move Forward leader and elected prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat has announced a six-party coalition that includes Phu Thai, the populist, pro-democracy party that came second in the polls.

This gives the coalition 310 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament. Whoever the coalition appoints as prime minister must win 376 parliamentary votes – a combined number from the 250 seats, the military-appointed Senate and the lower house. A vote for the PM is expected in August after the Election Commission certifies the election results.

Analysts say Move Forward faces a daunting task to shore up the remaining 66 votes because of its controversial proposed policies – a new constitution, ending military dominance in politics, ending compulsory military conscription, trade monopolies To abolish and amend the law of insults. to Raja with jail time.

The Move Forward agenda is an affront and a frontal challenge to established centers of power.

thitinan pongsudhirak

Professor, Chulalongkorn University

The Move Forward party recently said that potential coalition partners do not need to endorse its stance on lèse-majesté as it plans to present it independently in parliament – ​​potentially ruling out a compromise. The allied and majority junta-led Senate could also secede.

Ahead of the prime minister’s vote, political observers anticipate a variety of outcomes, including the possibility of coercive intervention by the country’s powerful military-monarchy coalition.

“The Forward agenda is an affront and frontal challenge to established centers of power,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science and senior fellow at its Institute of Security and International Studies.

“It’s likely when and how — not whether — they will strike back.”

establishment led growth

Given the dogmatic stance of Move Forward, experts expect some sort of power play that will shape the outcome of the establishment’s priorities.

Arch-royalist move forward, could go so far as to ban the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) warned in a report,

This is a plausible scenario as the royalist-conservative elite wield influence over official bodies such as the Constitutional Court, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Electoral Commission. For example, the opposition party Future Forward was disbanded by the Constitutional Court in 2020 for violating election laws in the 2019 election – an allegation that Human Rights Watch called “Politically Motivated”.

In a separate report, analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said the courts “could find enough moves forward to change the balance of power and find ways to nullify the Phu Thai victory.”

There is also a possibility that the father himself may also be targeted.

He was recently accused of constitutional violations for being a minority shareholder of a now-defunct media company while serving as a member of parliament, which he denies. According to Pongsudhirak, this may have been a possible basis for his disqualification and enabled the less-radical Phu Thai to lead the coalition.

Noted Napsia Wetoolkit, a political scientist at Naresuan University, said the PITA case has a precedent to clear.

The conservative forces have all the necessary tools to stop the government from moving forward.

Susannah Patton

Lowy Institute

He noted that in 2001, the Constitutional Court acquitted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of concealing assets even after being convicted on corruption charges. “If the elite choose to respect the vote of the Thai people, they can surely do the same this time as they did for Thaksin in 2001.”

The Senate has other ways to block the move forward. According to CSIS, senators could abstain from voting and refuse to ratify PITA, which could lead to a deadlock. Tea

Susanna Patten, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, said in a report that the Senate could also veto the prime minister’s choice of lawmakers in the lower house, unless a supermajority of 376 votes is achieved. he pointed statements from senators who indicated that they would not automatically support the candidate of the winning party.

Patten concluded, “Conservative forces have at their disposal all the necessary tools to prevent the government from moving forward.”

a fu thai betrayal

Led by the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin, Phu Thai is an opposition party that is more careful about its message on the monarchy. Analysts say it is likely to move forward to work with pro-military parties to negotiate strategic gains.

“Given Pheu Thai’s desire for power, the party leadership may see Move Forward’s progressive stance and its threat to the monarchy as a political liability,” CFR said in its report. “If Phieu Thai abandons his pro-democracy allies in the pursuit of power, the Bhumjaithai party will likely play a key role as the kingmaker in forming the coalition.”

Thai election: many want to break away from military rule

Bhoomjaithai, known for his strong support of marijuana legalization, is considered ideologically flexible as he is pro-establishment but open to working with pro-democracy organizations.

Pongsudhirak said, there is a major reason why Pho Thai may leave Move Forward – and that is to “make a coalition deal that would include Thaksin’s return to Thailand from exile on lenient terms related to his sentence and prison term.”

However, doing so meant long-lasting ramifications for Phu Thai’s image.

“Pheu Thai will risk being punished electorally by pro-democracy voters who are key supporters of Pheu Thai in the future,” WeToolkit warned.

playing the wait and see game

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After recovering from a pandemic-triggered recession, officials also don’t want to risk street demonstrations destroying investor confidence and economic development.

Patten said, “While the Thai military has in the past been willing to risk opposition from Thailand’s rural northeast, Move Forward’s commanding victories in Bangkok and other urban centers may make the military think twice.” he mentioned Comments from the Thai Chamber of Commerce This indicated a desire among business groups for a stable government rather than another period of political turmoil.

“The establishment may therefore judge that allowing Move Forward to take office is a better tactical move,” she continued. “In previous periods of instability such as the 2014 coup, the establishment acted when it thought all options had been exhausted.”

“This time, decision-makers can calculate that they can allow events to run their course and exercise legal options to act later,” Patton said.

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