Thai people's move to change
Last week's general election (held on May 14) in Thailand has sent a strong message across the region. The message is about change. And as the election result showed, it is the young voters of the country who promise to be the drivers of that change. However, it does not mean that Thai youths (aged between 15 and 24 years) comprise the majority of the population. In fact, Thailand is an ageing nation of which the youths comprise only 14 per cent of the 52 million voters out of a total population of over 70 million. The party that got the highest number of seats (152) out of a 500-member lower house (House of Representatives) is named Move Forward. It is a new party led by 42 years old Pita Limjaroenrat, a Harvard graduate. Members of this party include those youths who were at the forefront of 2014's anti-establishment movement when the present military-backed ruling coalition seized power through a coup d'etat.
The party that came second winning 141 seats in the Thai lower house is Pheu Thai led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. Despite the fact that Pheu Thai has a longer history of anti-establishment movement and has a strong support base among the voters, the Move Forward could garner wider support due to its radical reformist agenda that promises to change the establishment politics lock, stock and barrel. The military-backed present government is led by the prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's United Nation party and coalition partner General Prawit Wongsuwon's PalangPracharat party. However, Wongsuwon did part ways with General Chan-ocha before the election. His coalition could manage to get 15 per cent of the lower house seats. Move Forward's leader Pita looks very optimistic about forming the next government as he claims Pheu Thai and four other smaller parties are willing to join a coalition led by his party. But the optimism notwithstanding, the change in power is not going to be that straightforward. There is a strong nexus of the military, the monarchy, the civil bureaucracy and the Thai social and political elites who would resist any change. Moreover, the parliamentary system of Thailand has been created in such a way that within the existing setup, forming majority without the support of the army will not be possible. To form a government, the winning party along with its coalition partners will have to show that they have 376 votes out of 500 in the lower house. Then there is 250-strong upper house, the Senate, whose members are unelected and mostly chosen by the military. In fact, the party willing to put together a ruling coalition will also require the support of the 250 senators. But with its radical reform agenda that includes doing away with the Thai monarchy's privileges including amendment to the law that can put a person in prison for up to 15 years on charge of insulting the monarchy-lese majeste, it has made difficult for Move Forward to move forward.
If Pheu Thai is consistent in its present promise to be a coalition partner of a future government led by Move Forward, they will require the support of other smaller parties. For together, Move Forward and Pheu Thai have 293 seats. To make 376, they would require 83 more seats. If the smaller parties come up with 20 seats, they will still require 60 plus seats to show majority.
Again, there are 250 senate votes. So, even after the big electoral win for Thailand's pro-democracy forces, their road to power remains thorny. Will Move Forward's PitaLimjaroenrat will finally be able to deliver the promised change to his people?