Thailand holds general election: finally a time for change

Though this was the highest voter turn-out in Thailand, as people showed how much they needed and wanted change in this year’s election, it is still unclear whether these changes will be brought about as the military still holds the power when it comes to the final say in the election.

Nikkei Asia

Nikkei Asia

Thailand, renowned worldwide for its thriving tourism industry, is a destination cherished for its scenic beauty and attracts budget travellers from all corners of the globe. However, beneath the surface of this enchanting land lies a complex political landscape that often goes unnoticed by many visitors.

Due to recent events, many are finally taking an interest in the political turmoil of Thailand as voters took a historic step in order to rebuke the military ruling over the nation. These developments shed light on the significance of the 2014 coup, which stands as a pivotal moment in the nation's political history where an army led by General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the military seizure of power on May 22, 2014, ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and dissolved the Thai parliament.

Rise and Fall of Thaksin Shinawatra:

In order to truly understand the occurrences in 2014 and what led to the recent voter turnout, we first need to look into the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was appointed as Prime Minister in 2001 after gaining support from rural and working-class voters.

While he was elected by the working-class voters, his rule was short-lived, ending in 2006 following a mixture of policy reforms which were heavily focused on economic growth and alleged corruption and abuse of power. Following this, in 2006, Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup, leading to a period of political instability and conflict in Thailand between the “Red Shirts” and the “Yellow Shirts”.

Much like many countries around the globe, Thailand has its own political divide, with the general public supporting two major factions: the “Red Shirts”, supporters of the Shinawatra family and their affiliated parties and “Yellow Shirts”, supporters of royalists, conservatives, and urban elites who oppose the Shinawatra family.

Following these protests, occupations of government buildings, and violent confrontations, Thaksin’s sister was elected, whose Government was yet again accused of corruption and mismanagement, with the opposition claiming she was just a puppet for her brother.

The real coup, however, came about in 2014, following the attempt by the ruling Government, Yingluck’s Government attempting to pass a controversial amnesty bill, which many believed was an attempt to absolve Thaksin and his political allies of wrongdoing, triggering widespread protests and leading to a political deadlock.

With the military justifying the intervention by citing the need to restore order, end the impasse and reform the institute, the military junta, known as the NCPO, seized power, dissolving the parliament, imposing strict censorship, curtailing civil liberties, and detaining politicians and activists. During this time, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha assumed the role of Prime Minister, initiating a period of military rule that lasted until 2019.

Not everyone was against the coup as some viewed the military takeover as a means to restore stability, while others condemned it as undemocratic and regressive. The coup marked a significant turning point in Thailand's political landscape and left lasting consequences for the country's democratic development.

The 2023 elections - finally a time for change

Following the military coup, Prayuth-Chan-Ocha acted as the interim Prime Minister, and finally got elected in 2019 by the Parliament in the country’s first-ever general election following the 2014 military coup. Though some supported Prayuth and his rule, many saw his grab for power as he continued to stay on as Prime Minister following his term limit. And now, the people of the country were faced with another reality, as Prayuth would be faced with another opportunity to continue his long rule if he gets re-elected in the second general election to be held since the coup.

Faced with this reality, during the election that was held on 14th May 2023, where the future of the country heavily relied on the voters. It was finally time to vote for a change, following years and political turmoil and a grip on power by the military. With voters predicting the majority of votes to be cast for either the opposition Pheu Thai Party or the youth-led Move Forward Party (MFP), both excitement and fear surrounded this election as voters needed to make a drastic change to the country’s political situation.

It was reported that, on May 15 2023, following the count of more than 99 percent of the votes, just like it was much predicted by the voters the Progressive Move Forward Party (PMF) is projected to win 151 seats with Pheu Thai in second place.

With this vote, the citizens of Thailand have made their opinion of the current ruling Government very clear, as the vote is an evident statement on the change that people want to finally bring about in the country, which has been silenced by the military dictatorship since 2014.

Following this major win, the Move Forward Party’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat took to Twitter to make a statement.

“We believe that our beloved Thailand can be better, and change is possible if we start today … our dream and hope are simple and straightforward, and no matter if you would agree or disagree with me, I will be your prime minister. And no matter if you have voted for me or have not, I will serve you.” 
Pita Limjaroenrat, Leader of the Move Forward Party

With the new hopes following the vote, Pita has stated that one of his priorities after getting elected is going to be supporting those people who are facing jail terms on lese majeste charges, which states that anyone who insults the monarchy could face up to a 15-year jail term. These numbers, as one can imagine, are not low following the youth-led protests in 2020 with many rallies breaching this law as the youth openly called for royal reform.

Though this was the highest voter turn-out in Thailand, as people showed how much they needed and wanted change in this year’s election, it is still unclear whether these changes will be brought about as the military still holds the power when it comes to the final say in the election.

In Thailand, in order to form a Government and elect a new Prime Minister, the party must form a coalition and win a majority of the combined 750-seat lower and upper house of the parliament. And when it comes to this, the military holds an unfair advantage as Thailand’s 250-seat senate is chosen entirely by the Junta military and the general consensus is that they are most likely to cast their vote for the pro-military dictatorship to continue on as is.

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