End to military rule in Thailand?
May 17, 2023

In a significant political shift, opposition parties in Thailand emerged victorious in Sunday’s general election, as nearly all votes were counted. The results pave the way for a possible end to the military-backed government that has held power for the past nine years.

The Move Forward Party took the lead in the election, closely followed by the Pheu Thai Party, with 99 percent of votes tallied. This outcome marks a crucial moment of change, considering that incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ascended to power through a coup in 2014.

The winning party is not guaranteed to form the new government. A joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives and the 250-member Senate is scheduled to convene in July to select the new prime minister. This process has been widely criticized as undemocratic since the Senators were appointed by the military rather than elected. Nevertheless, they will vote alongside the winning lawmakers from Sunday’s election.

Prime Minister Prayuth has faced extensive criticism over his government’s handling of the country’s economy and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, his administration has been known for suppressing democratic reforms and prosecuting activists, drawing widespread disapproval.

Analysts have described the MFP’s performance as “outstanding,” as pre-election surveys had predicted a dominant victory for the long-standing Pheu Thai Party, linked to the billionaire Shinawatra family. However, the latest results indicate Pheu Thai won a total of 138 seats.

The military-backed parties, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s United Thai Nation Party and the Palang Pracharath, fared poorly in the election. The United Thai Nation Party was trailing in fifth place with 36 seats, while the Palang Pracharath secured around 40 seats.

The Bhumjaithai Party, known for leading the campaign to legalize cannabis in Thailand, stood in third place with an estimated 70 seats. The MFP’s impressive performance, in the process of forming a government poses difficulties. In order to secure a prime minister, the MFP needs to accumulate a combined total of 376 votes from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The MFP’s pledges to enact reforms in the monarchy and the military, which involve amending Thailand’s stringent lese-majeste laws, present challenges in gaining support from the Senate. Article 112, which is vaguely worded and carries a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years, has faced criticism from human rights organizations for suppressing political activism.

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