Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat in Bangkok on May 14 (Featured photo provided by Jack Taylor/AFP via Getty Images)
Recently, in the 2023 Thai general election that took place on May 14, Move Foward, an anti-military opposition party, won the majority of the votes. This means that the party now has the most seats in the country’s House of Representatives and the chance to elect their candidate as the next Prime Minister (PM). Move Foward surprised many after it got a whopping 14.2 million votes, even outperforming Pheu Thai, another opposition party and major populist force that’s been around for over 20 years. It also managed to obtain 32 of the 33 seats in Bangkok, which is known for being traditionally very conservative.
Throughout its campaign, the party promised to remove the military’s influence on politics, a historically major issue that has plagued the country for decades. Thailand had its first coup d’état in 1932, and its 12th and most recent in May 2014. Every time one happened, the military would establish a junta government and often rule in favor of the elites. However, this new win by the Move Foward party marks a huge turning point in Thai politics. “This is an unmistakable frontal rebuke, a rejection of Thailand’s military authoritarian past. It’s a rejection of military dominance in politics,” explained Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University.
The Move Forward Party also promised to make the country overall more democratic, break up big monopolies, modernize the school system, and reform the lese majesty law, which prohibits criticism of the Thai king. These values especially resonated with Thai youth, some of whom have even been arrested for protesting about these same issues.
However, while Move Forward might’ve secured the House of Representatives, there’s no telling whether it’ll be able to successfully its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, as the next PM. To outright form a government and elect Pita as the PM, they would have to have won at least 376 out of 500 seats in the House. The party only garnered around 151. Pheu Thai said that it would be forming a coalition with Move Forward, sharing its 141 seats, along with a few other opposition parties. Still, even with the coalition having a combined total of 309 seats, it’s a couple dozen short.
The coalition does have a majority in the House of Representatives, the PM is not only decided by it, but also by the House of the Senate. After the coup in 2014, the military junta made changes to the country’s constitution, making the 250 seats of the Senate entirely decided by the military. A party needs a majority of the combined houses in order to elect a PM.
This isn’t the first time a situation like this has happened, as it also occurred with Move Forward’s previous incarnation: Future Forward. The party did very well in the 2019 election, having gained much support from its young voters. However, after coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha won, Future Forward was dissolved and many of its lawmakers were banned from ever participating in politics again by the election commission, anti-corruption commission, and the constitutional court. Throughout the country’s history of military coups, 9 political parties have been forcibly dissolved, including Future Forward and some of the predecessors of Pheu Thai.
However, Move Forward doesn’t seem to be disturbed by this possibility, even challenging the Senate to go against the popular vote. “With the consensus which came out of the election there would be quite a hefty price to pay for someone who is thinking of abolishing the election result or forming a minority government,” said Pita. “And I think the people of Thailand would not allow that to happen.”