Thai elections: Will military block strong vote for democratic reform?

June 2, 2023
Thai Move Forward Party
Thai Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat (holding the rainbow flag) with members of the LGBTIQ community. Photo: @PitaMFP/Twitter

In an exclusive interview with Green Left, popular Thai dissident and scholar Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun shared his perspectives on the outcome of the May 14 general election in Thailand.

Chachavalpongpun has been living in exile in Kyoto, Japan, since 2014, after he was branded an "enemy of the state" by Thai authorities. He is currently visiting members of the Thai community in several cities across Australia.

Chachavalpongpun explained that while the election result was a “good step forward” for the democracy movement, there were still several obstacles in the way of the pro-democracy Move Forward Party (MFP) and the Pheu Thai Party (PT, associated with former Prime Minister Shinawatra Thaksin) forming government.

This is despite these two parties winning 293 seats (MFP with 152, PT with 141) out of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives.

“Many people expected Pheu Thai to win the elections but it was Move Forward — which raised many critical issues, including the reform of the lese-majeste law [Section 112 of Thai Criminal Code states: ‘Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.’] and reform of the powers of the monarchy and the military — which won the most votes.

“This was a big signal that a lot of people in Thailand want to see change.

“This vote is a reflection of the youth-led protests in 2020–21, although Move Forward did not take up all of the 10 demands of that movement, the party making the monarchy an issue in the election campaign was a success in itself.”

The 10 demands of the youth-led democracy movement were:

  1. Revoke Article 6 of the 2017 Constitution that does not allow anyone to make any accusation against the king. And add an article to allow parliament to examine the wrongdoing of the king, as had been stipulated in the constitution promulgated by the People’s Party.
  2. Revoke Article 112 of the Criminal Code, as well as allowing the people to exercise freedom of expression about the monarchy and giving an amnesty to all those prosecuted for criticising the monarchy.
  3. Revoke the Crown Property Act of 2018 and make a clear division between the assets of the king under the control of the Ministry of Finance and his personal assets.
  4. Reduce the amount of the national budget allocated to the king to be in line with the economic conditions of the country.
  5. Abolish the Royal Offices. Units with a clear duty, for example, the Royal Security Command, should be transferred and placed under other agencies. Unnecessary units, such as the Privy Council, should be disbanded.
  6. Cease all giving and receiving of donations by royal charity funds in order for all of the assets of the monarchy to be auditable.
  7. Cease the exercise of royal prerogative over expression of political opinions in public.
  8. Cease all public relations and education that excessively and one-sidedly glorify the monarchy.
  9. Search for the facts about the murder of those who criticised or had some kind of relation with the monarchy.
  10. The king must not endorse any further coups.

Under the undemocratic 2016 Constitution, written by the 2014 military coup regime, the Prime Minister has to be elected by a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and 250 military-appointed Senators. In the 2019 election, this mechanism allowed the military-backed forces to deny PT government, despite it winning the popular vote.

The bi-cameral vote to appoint the PM is not expected until early August.

“The military junta set up the senate to counter-balance the elected House of Representatives,” said Chachavalpongpun. “It is a bit like the situation in Myanmar but there the military stacks both houses of parliament.”

This undemocratic constitution puts pressure on parties to attempt to form a broad government coalition and sacrifice political positions, and on May 22, it was announced that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) had been agreed between MFP, PT and six other parties to form a governing alliance. Reform of the lese-majeste law was not included in the MOU.

The MOU states all parties agree to not affect Thailand’s status as a “democracy under a constitutional monarchy”, or the status of the monarchy itself. The MOU also promises to restore democracy and draft a new constitution, pass a marriage equality act, reform the police, military and justice process, revive the economy and combat corruption.

MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat said his party was still committed to reforming the lese-majeste law.

“In terms of 112, we have been very consistent. Before the election and after the election, I have made my interviews with a couple of media outlets, it is something Move Forward Party confirmed the law amendment will be continued, and it’s not going to be pressured in the sense that any other coalition parties will have to be part of that MOU. I don’t think when the time comes, Move Forward Party will be alone in a sense that we have submitted this law amendment,” he clarified.

The eight-party alliance is still short of a majority in a bi-cameral vote, so negotiations, including appeals for support from the unelected Senators, are continuing.

Winning the bi-cameral vote is only the “first hurdle”, Chachavalpongpun explained.

“The second one could be an intervention by the constitutional court. They are talking about the court disbanding a government led by Pita because of his alleged investments in a media company. This happened before to the Future Forward Party [the precursor to the Move Forward Party].

“The third could be street protests organised by the royalists picking up on the issue of lese majeste and accusing Move Forward of trying to overthrow the monarchy.

“And the last one could be a military coup.

“Just when you think that the military might have learned their lesson that this is no longer acceptable to the people of Thailand, they might prove that they haven’t!”

Video: Pavin Chachavalpongpun on the 2023 Thailand general election result - Green Left.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.