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Snap Insight: Thai general election - opposition parties win big but house of cards could still fall

Thai voters have voted for non-military-backed parties before, but incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s poor performance in the general election could pave the way for an opposition government, says Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Antonio Rappa.

Snap Insight: Thai general election - opposition parties win big but house of cards could still fall
Leader of Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

SINGAPORE: Thai voters have clearly indicated their desire for a new democratic government, heavily favouring opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward ahead of the ruling military-backed Palang Pracharat at the polls on Sunday (May 14).

Thailand has voted for change, but will change happen?


Pheu Thai, fronted by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daughter Paetongtarn (known by her nickname Ung Ing), was already the hot favourite leading up to the polls. But it is the Move Forward Party that has defied expectations so far.

Move Forward’s success is partly due to its leader, 42-year-old Pita Limjaroenrat. His credentials as a Harvard-educated businessman make him appealing to both former Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt supporters, while his charisma and lakorn (TV soap opera) good looks appeal to the new urban and young voters.

The wave of support for Pheu Thai and Move Forward indicates a shift towards charismatic individuals who are social media savvy, and critical of the strait-laced, corruption-riddled military leaders.


But Thai voters have called for change at the ballot box before. In the last general election in 2019, Pheu Thai had won the most seats but was unable to secure the numbers for a coalition government. Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward Party was the third-largest party in parliament after the 2019 election.

It’s likely that Pheu Thai and Move Forward Party will form a coalition government. Palang Prachrath (led by General Prawit Wongsuwon) may cut a deal with Pheu Thai and Move Forward Party.

Even though Move Forward’s Pita had vowed to form a government that is “anti-dictator-backed, military-backed parties”, such a coalition would break up the military-skewed senate’s stranglehold on the subsequent race to the premiership.


However, the entire house of cards will fall in the case of a military coup, in a country that has seen two military coups ousting democratically elected governments in the last two decades. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may not rule out military action yet, as there are many military figures who have been bound to his Senate and parties since the 2014 coup.

But coups are only successful if backed by the monarchy. A three-way coalition - with Move Forward, Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat - will be more acceptable to the Palace and make it less likely to assent to any coup.

Even if there is a smooth transition of power from the current administration, there may be internal struggles in the opposition government. Opposition supporters may need to be placated if the coalition includes a military-backed party.

With Pheu Thai and Move Forward relatively even matched in the number of seats so far, the struggle will shift to deciding whose candidate will become prime minister and how to divvy up other ministerial and senatorial positions.

Antonio Rappa is Associate Professor and Head of Security Studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences and a former Visiting Professor of Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University Department of Political Science.

Source: CNA/ch


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