Analysis: Election results show young voters want more progressive Thailand, but uncertainty remains over next government and PM
SINGAPORE — The results after polling closed for Thailand’s general election on Sunday (May 14) indicated that young voters want a more progressive nation. However, political watchers said that there will still be uncertainty in the coming weeks on who will form the final government since no party has won a clear majority.
- Results from Thailand’s general election on May 14 showed that the opposition Move Forward Party is in the lead
- The party is known for being progressive and this indicated that Thai youth want to see genuine reforms in the country, political analysts said
- Yet, without winning a clear majority, uncertainty remains over who will form the next government and be the next prime minister
- Analysts said that the political instability ahead for Thailand will not bode well for the country, region or Singapore
SINGAPORE — The results after polling closed for Thailand’s general election on Sunday (May 14) indicated that voters, especially the youth, want a more progressive nation. However, political watchers said that there will still be uncertainty in the coming weeks on who will form the final government since no party has won a clear majority.
The Thai military is also likely to influence the outcome of the final government and the political stability in the country, they added.
RESULTS OF POLLS
Poll results on Monday showed that the opposition Move Forward Party, known for its progressive policies including its stance on reforming the lese-majeste laws that forbid the insult of the monarchy, won 152 of the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament.
Pheu Thai party — which counts former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, as a candidate — took 141 seats. Her party had been tipped as the frontrunner for the election.
Pro-royalist Bhumjaithai party, led by former deputy prime minister and health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, won 70 seats.
The Democrat Party, headed by Mr Jurin Laksanawisit, won 25 seats. Mr Jurin resigned from the party on Monday after the party's poor showing.
The military-affiliated United Thai Nation Party, led by incumbent prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, won 36 seats.
Another military-affiliated party, Palang Pracharat Party, led by incumbent deputy premier Prawit Wongsuwan, won 40 seats.
On Monday, Move Forward Party’s 42-year-old leader Pita Limjaroenrat declared victory in the election.
“I think it’s safe to assume that we have secured the majority in forming the government going forward,” he said.
His party and Pheu Thai also agreed to enter into a coalition with a handful of small parties making up a total of 309 seats — 67 short of the seats needed for Mr Pita to be elected as prime minister.
Mr Pita said that his party would also press ahead with its plan to amend the lese-majeste laws, which its coalition partner Pheu Thai has said that it would oppose revoking.
Mr Pita said that the party will use parliament "to make sure that there is a comprehensive discussion... in how we should move forward in terms of the relationship between the monarchy and the masses".
Asked if Pheu Thai would back that, Ms Paetongtarn said: "Pheu Thai has a clear stand that we won't abolish (Section) 112 but there can be a discussion about the law in parliament."
Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states that whoever "defames, insults or threatens" the Thai monarchy will be punished with jail of between three and 15 years.
The royal family is officially above politics and the king is constitutionally enshrined to be held in "revered worship".
This is Thailand’s second general election since the 2014 military coup, and the first since the country was rocked by massive, youth-led pro-democracy protests in Bangkok in 2020 that had called for reforms to the monarchy, among other things.
A record 75.22 per cent of the 52 million electorate voted in this election, slightly higher than the 74.87 per cent turnout in the last vote.
UNCERTAINTY IN NEXT GOVERNMENT
Political analysts said that Move Forward Party’s showing at the election showed how young Thai voters wanted to see institutional changes in the country.
Dr Felix Tan from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), whose research interests cover Southeast Asian politics, said: “Many of Move Forward Party’s supporters are from the younger generation of Thais who want to see a change to the infamous lese-majeste laws and see genuine reforms in the country.”
Yet, without any clear majority at this point and with the military still playing an influential role in politics, the outcome of the final government in Thailand remains uncertain, with the possibility of different scenarios playing out, analysts told TODAY.
To form a government, a party or coalition has to win a majority of the combined 500 lower house seats in addition to the 250 unelected senators in the upper house.
This means that 376 votes are needed to become the governing party or coalition in parliament.
Thai citizens vote for their representatives in the lower house during the election, while the unelected senators are appointed by the military and approved by the Thai King.
Following the general election in 2019, despite leading a coalition of only 254 members of parliament, General Prayuth won 500 out of 744 votes in a session with the senate to be elected the prime minister.
In a commentary for the Bangkok Post newspaper published before the latest election on May 12, political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said that unless the poll results are “clear and unassailable”, it is likely that “more funny business” will take place after the election.
Dr Thitinan, a senior fellow of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of political science, said that without a clear majority, the post-poll government formation process could be “drawn-out and stuck in a deadlock”, with incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth remaining in charge in the interim.
General Prayuth has been the premier since leading the 2014 military coup that ousted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Likewise, Dr Tan from NTU said that the trouncing of military-affiliated political parties in this election “does not bode well for Thailand’s political stability”.
Even if Move Forward Party and Pheu Thai are able to amicably work together as a coalition government for some semblance of stability in the short term, this would irk the royalist-military elites, which might lead to yet another coup, he added.
Both Pheu Thai and Move Forward Party have said that they will not form a coalition with military-linked parties, but have not outright dismissed the possibility of co-opting other parties such as Bhumjaithai and Democrat Party.
Dr Thitinan said that the unelected senators would also stand in the way of the two parties and object to reforms by Move Forward Party that it considers radical.
Besides amending the lese-majeste laws, Move Forward Party had campaigned on limiting the military's role in politics and on breaking up monopolies.
Its predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in 2020 over a loan it received from its former leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
THE NEXT PRIME MINISTER
Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap, a visiting fellow and coordinator of the Thailand Studies Programme at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said that he expected a few more weeks of political tension in Thailand as Move Forward Party will not be able to win enough support from most of the 250 unelected senators who are affiliated with the military.
The Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute is a research centre dedicated to the study of socio-political and economic developments in Southeast Asia.
After the election, Mr Pita commented on the role of the senators: "It is time for the 250 senators to think and decide their stance, whether they would listen to the people's wish. If they care about the people, there will be no problem for Move Forward to eventually form a majority government."
Mr Pita may be disqualified from the premiership race since he is being investigated for owning shares of a defunct media company while he served as a member of parliament in 2019.
If he is disqualified, Pheu Thai will likely step in to work with other parties that are more acceptable by the military, such as Bhumjaithai or Democrat, Dr Termsak said.
Dr Paul Chambers from the Centre of Asean Community Studies at Naresuan University in Thailand said that even though a premier from Pheu Thai could last longer in office, he or she may not be supported by the royalists.
“All of this means that Thailand might soon experience political turbulence, as counter-demonstrations occur either supporting or opposed to different potential prime ministers,” he added.
Dr Thitinan said that if the United Thai Nation Party, led by General Prayuth, wins the 25-seat minimum to nominate its prime ministerial candidate, General Prayuth may seek to get himself voted in for another term with the backing of the unelected senate.
Most of the analysts said that the political instability ahead may not be good sign.
Dr Tan from NTU said: "If the royalist-military elites refrain from engaging in another coup, and let the democratic process evolve organically, then there will be stability for the region and Singapore.
"However, if the military will do whatever it can in its arsenal to ensure that only parties aligned with it forms the government, then we will might see more protests in the country.
“That would not bode well for Thailand, the region and Singapore, especially when businesses and investors are watching and hoping for some semblance of political stability."
On Monday, the main stock market in Thailand was down 1.3 per cent on concerns over political uncertainty.
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