A difficult road ahead for the Move Forward Party - Hindustan Times
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A difficult road ahead for the Move Forward Party

ByHindustan Times
May 22, 2023 02:23 PM IST

This article is authored by Premesha Saha, Fellow, Strategic Studies Programme, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

The 2023 Thailand election results showed the willingness of the Thai masses especially the youth to see a change from a royalist conservative military-backed government to a more liberal and reformist one. The victory of the Move Forward Party (MFP) which won 151 of the 500 contested seats, followed by Pheu Thai at 141 is a big blow to the incumbent regime led by Prayut Chan-o-cha. The military-backed parties won merely 80 seats. This is the second time that the MFP contested the elections and its election mandate this time, which helped it win so many votes, lays out strong political reforms like limiting the role of the military in politics, reforming the lèse-majesté law, which has been ingrained in Thai society for a long time. Bringing about these reforms, even if it comes to come to power with afull majority will be an extremely difficult task. After the election results were declared, the leader of the MFP, Pita Limjaroenrat, said at a press conference, “…the party was ready to form a government. The people of Thailand have already spoken their wish, and I am ready to be the prime minister for all of you whether you agree with me or you disagree with me.” But the question is, will it be an easy task for the MFP to form the government?

Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. (Shutterstock)
Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand. (Shutterstock)

To form the government, any winning candidate will need 376 votes across the House of Representatives and Senate. Parties must win 25 seats in the lower house to nominate a prime minister (PM). The 250-member unelected Senate, which normally extends its support to the military-back leaders has the power to overturn the will of the lower house of the Parliament and also the popular will. The 2019 elections bear testimony to this when the Senate voted unanimously for Prayuth Chan-o-cha, despite his party winning fewer seats than Pheu Thai. Additionally, the country’s constitutional court, national anti-corruption commission, and electoral commission do not really have any power and independence. They can ban the leader of the MFP and his Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as the parties with whom the MFP is planning to form the coalition. The MFP’s predecessor, the Future Forward Party was banned after the party surprisingly managed to come in third in the 2019 polling. Pita Limjaroenrat already faces corruption charges for not declaring the shares of a media company that he owns. The progressive changes that the MFP promises to bring about in Thailand, which helped it secure these popular votes can stand in the way of getting the support of the upper house, which mostly comprises people backed by the military, given that the MFP aims to reduce the influence of the military in Thai politics. Pita has already announced his eight-party coalition plan comprising 313 MPs, with himself as the PM. The MFP and the Pheu Thai have around 293 seats in the House of Representatives, the remaining 20 seats are being divided among six other political parties, which are: Prachachat, Thai Sang Thai, Seri Ruam Thai (Thai Liberal), Fair, Plung Sungkom Mai (New Force) and Peu Thai Rumphlang. There were also reports that MFP’s deputy leader, Phicharn Chaowapatanawong stated that, “Chartpattanakla Party, with two house seats, had also agreed to join the coalition”, which raise the number of MPs to 315, making this the ninth party to join the coalition. But given the party’s past record of its leader being a part of the seven-month-long Bangkok shutdown and the anti-Yingluck Shinawatra protests that had ultimately led to the military coup of 2014 which had toppled her administration, its admission to the coalition drew a lot of criticism against the MFP. Therefore, ultimately, the MFP had to drop the decision of including the Chartpattanakla Party in this coalition. There is also growing support for Pita in the Senate as well. It is being said that he already has the support of around 16 senators, who are willing to honour the public will and are, therefore, rallying behind the MFP. So, there are rising chances that the MFP-led coalition will form the government with Pita as the PM. But the MFP will still need to win at least 376 votes in the 750-seat parliament comprising of 500 MPs and 250 senators. The MFP will have to reach out to more senators and parties outside this eight-party bloc or coalition (MFP-led coalition). There have been statements from some members of the Democrat Party, which isnot yet a part of the MFP-led coalition that they too are willing to support Pita for premiership in order to “preserve democracy”.

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But given the MFP’s insistence on amending Article 112, which is the lèse-majesté law, this will be a major contention point in its drive to acquire more MPs and parties to join the coalition, as well as to rally the support of more senate members. The senators might want Pita to lay out the roadmap or give out a proper explanation in how he plans to bring about this reform. The amendments that the MFP is willing to bring about in the law is to reduce prison terms and stipulate that only the Bureau of the Royal Household can lodge a complaint, as against the situation now, where anyone can lodge a complaint and the police are obligated to investigate. Still, most senators who appointed the incumbent PM, Prayut, have said that they will not lend their support to the MFP. Other parties like, the Bhumjaithai Party which too fared well in these elections and came in third by acquiring 70 seats said they will not support the MFP if they push to reform Article 112. Some analysts have pointed out that not forcing parties to adopt their position on Article 112 might help the MFP to garner more support and get additional votes. The MFP is not looking out to its coalition partners to support its Article 112 amendment agenda, and they are even willing to incorporate that in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which the coalition parties are set to sign on May 22, 2023. The parties do not support this stand to be a part of the government and that the MFP will table its proposed amendment to Article 112 independently in parliament.

The journey ahead still seems very difficult for Pita and the MFP as there are reports of crack already between the two largest parties of the coalition, the MFP and the Pheu Thai. Pheu Thai leader, Cholnan Srikaew has reportedly said that his party has some reservations with the MOU that has been drawn up by the lead party, MFP that all the eight parties of the coalition are expected to sign on May 22, 2023. The MOU lays out the guidelines for the Party’s coalition, and addresses national, political, economic and social crises that grapple Thailand. The final details of the MOU are set to be announced on May 22 itself, which also marks the ninth anniversary of the 2014 coup. The coalition will form a working group which will enable the smooth transition from the caretaker government to the new administration and will also look into the possibility of other parties joining the coalition. There is still some hesitation from Pheu Thai about signing the MOU, with statements like subsequent discussions on proposed changes from partners and the MFP’s openness to accepting them would determine if the MOU could be agreed upon. There are also differences in opinion between the MFP and Pheu Thai with regard to who will be in charge of the main cabinet posts. The MFP is eyeing to occupy portfolios like finance, foreign affairs, defence, energy, and ministries handling security affairs so that the MFP can push for reforms they promised during elections, while Pheu Thai will be given economic portfolios like transport, commerce, and industry ministries. Apparently, this has not been taken well by Pheu Thai which also wants to be in charge of key ministries. But these reports of ministries being already allotted have been shunned by the MFP pointing out that discussions and decisions will be taken during the signing of the MOU.

Though the MFP leader appears very optimistic about the support his party will receive and the backing he too would be receiving to become the 30 PM of Thailand given the willingness to uphold the will of the masses, it is still a rocky road ahead. It would need to deal with opposing voices both within and outside the coalition that it is trying to form.

This article is authored by Premesha Saha, Fellow, Strategic Studies Programme, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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