Thailand Opposition Secures Stunning Election Win, Crushes Military Parties
Thailand’s opposition secured a stunning election win after trouncing parties allied with the military, setting the stage for a flurry of deal-making over forming a government in a bid to end nearly a decade of conservative, army-backed rule.
The Move Forward Party (MFP), the newest force in Thai politics that channelled the energy of youth-led pro-democracy protests in 2020, secured the most votes.
The liberal Move Forward party and the populist Pheu Thai Party were far out in front with 99% of votes counted, but it was far from certain either will form the next government, with parliamentary rules written by the military after its 2014 coup skewed in its favour.
To rule, the opposition parties will need to strike deals and muster support from multiple camps, including members of a junta-appointed Senate that has sided with military parties and gets to vote on who becomes prime minister and form the next administration.
Sunday’s election was the latest bout in a long-running battle for power between Pheu Thai, the populist juggernaut of the billionaire Shinawatra family, and a nexus of old money, conservatives and military with influence over key institutions at the heart of two decades of turmoil.
But the staggering performance by Move Forward, riding a wave of support from young voters, will test the resolve of Thailand’s establishment and ruling parties after it came close to a clean sweep of the capital Bangkok on a platform of institutional reform and dismantling monopolies.
Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old former executive of a ride-hailing app, described the outcome as “sensational” and vowed to stay true to his party’s values when forming a government.
“It will be anti- dictator-backed, military-backed parties, for sure,” he told reporters. “It’s safe to assume that minority government is no longer possible here in Thailand.”
The preliminary results will be a crushing blow for the military and its allies. But with parliamentary rules on their side and influential figures behind them and involved behind the scenes, they could still have a role in government.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a retired general who led the last coup, had campaigned on continuity after nine years in charge, warning a change in government could lead to conflict.
On Sunday, he slipped away quietly from his United Thai Nation party headquarters, where there were few supporters to be seen.
A handful of staff sat beside plates of uneaten food as a giant television screen showed a live speech by Move Forward’s leader.
“I hope the country will be peaceful and prosper,” Prayuth told reporters. “I respect democracy and the election. Thank you.”
Pheu Thai had been expected to win having won most votes in every ballot since 2001, including two landslide victories. Three of its four governments have been ousted from office.
This election was the first since the 2020 protest that demanded curbs on the power and spending of Thailand’s king.
The demonstrations petered out as Covid-19 curbs were imposed and dozens of leaders were arrested, but their energy fuelled growing support for the more radical opposition MFP.
“Younger generations these days care about their rights and they will come out to vote,” Pita told reporters as he arrived to vote on Sunday.
MFP sought millennial and Gen Z voters, who make up nearly half the 52 million-strong electorate, but early results indicated their inroads across all demographics.
The party swept Bangkok, capturing every district but one.
It is predicted to also take districts in the staunchly Pheu Thai northern territories — even flipping Thaksin Shinawatra’s home district near northern city Chiang Mai.