It seems a new era has dawn on Thailand after more than two decades of on-and-off changes of regimes between the so-called “old money” and “new money” in the ensuing power struggle, alternatively taking the country’s helm, with the majority of time span being in the hands of old money clique and still under its sway as the interim government, pending the election of a prime minister and the government.
The “old money” is represented by traditional urban elite and urban middle class, the military, and the bureaucracy, while the “new money” is represented by Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters. The “new money” strata is the product of wealth accumulation due to the country’s economic growth since the 1960s.
“However, the “new-money” elite group, led by Thaksin, was able to gain the support of the poor by exploiting the conditions of economic inequality through populist policies, which have been dubbed“Thaksinomics”,” according to Miemie Winn Byrd, in her piece “The Perfect Storm? Thailand’s Security Predicament”.
The dawn of the new era is evident by the fact that the winner is not Thaksin’s daughter headed Pheu Thai Party which has been usually the case but Move Forward Party (MFP), led by young energetic new generation Pita Limjaroenrat, who entered the election with three Ds slogan: demilitarization, demonopolization and decentralization, apart from the promised amendment of the lese majeste law.
This shows that the Thaksin clan’s headed party has been unable to win a landslide election victory like in the past which usually was the case since 2001. Thai Rak Thai, People’s Power Party and Phue Thai Party all won elections with landslide before being ousted by the military.
According to the yet unverified vote count, Move Forward has bagged 152 House seats, followed by Pheu Thai with 141, Bhumjaithai (70), Palang Pracharath (40), and United Thai Nation Party (36).
But given the need to win 376 votes from two combined houses, 500 lower house and 250 upper house or military appointed Senate, MFP faces a tough hurdle to overcome.
Reportedly, to date, MFP has been able to assemble a total 313 seats from 8-party coalition but still have to go a long way to reach 376, in order to be elected as a prime minister and formed government.
The MFP-led coalition parties are Pheu Thai, Prachachat, Thai Sang Thai, Seri Ruam Thai, Fair, Pue Thai Rumphlang and Plung Sungkom Mai.
The speculation is that the military appointed 250 seats Senate won’t side with the MFP alliance as it is considered to be aggressively anti-monarchy. But this may not wholly be the case, as Pita rightly speculated that the sentiment of the electorates have changed significantly from the last four years. Reportedly MFP gathered 15 million votes or 36.23 per cent popular vote according to preliminary results. This is 2.5 times more votes than what the Future Foward Party achieved votes during the 2019 election, which was the forerunner of MFP and eventually dissolved.
However, it may depend on how the MFP-led 8-party coalition would present it’s political package and how it envisaged to go about with the business of governance. Only time will tell how the scenario will pan out.
MFP on Myanmar conflict
Whatever the case, let us look at Pita’s stance regarding the conflict in Burma, or rather the ongoing civil war which is affecting Thailand and having to burden the spill over effect, whether it likes it or not.
In Pita’s first interview with Zain Asher of CNN on May 17, he spelled out his position on Myanmar as follows: “In terms of Myanmar we want to push ahead to make sure that the Five-Point Consensus is really achieved and, you know, with the proximity of Thailand and Myanmar whether you call it an asset or liability without Thailand presence the Five-Point Consensus is not going to be achieved. And I think what we have to start off is to establish a humanitarian corridor between Thailand and Myanmar. It has been a protocol in the country for a long time. We have the legal basis to do it given the past experience we have gone through. So hopefully we will start off with the humanitarian journey, especially with BURMA Act that has the Congress in America, I think we can start that and work with the international community to make sure we have the right amount of pressure and incentive for the people of Myanmar to resolve their own conflict.”
Similarly, Center for Strategic and International Studies, on May 16 writes: “In his first press conference after the elections, Pita recognized Thailand’s role in making sure Myanmar adheres to the ASEAN-brokered Five-Point Consensus peace plan, which Myanmar’s military has wholly ignored since its establishment in 2021, and said one of his priorities would be establishing a humanitarian corridor between Thailand and Myanmar and aiding the implementation of the United States’ BURMA Act. A Move Forward-Pheu Thai government is also likely to align much more closely with the United States on Ukraine—a position that Pheu Thai at least has already taken by condemning the Russian invasion in much stronger terms than Prayuth’s government had.”
Pita’s take on Myanmar issue is in line with most international players, such as ASEAN, US, EU, China and India, among others. But he is seen as being quite sympathetic to the plight of Burmese migrant workers according to the video clip widely distributed on social media. In addition, he even wore Karen traditional shirt during his election campaigns and drove home the message that his politics was transparent and clear like the shirt, which has the same look on front and back sides, with no pocket.
The outstanding statement is his endorsement of establishing humanitarian corridor and making use of the US legislation BURMA Act and its possible implementation. This is significant as it would mean cross-border humanitarian intervention may be possible in a more open and transparent mode, unlike the present secretive or at times under the cloak operations which many of the INGOs and NGOs along the Thai-Myanmar border have to make use of in discharging their duties.
Just imagine the long borderline stretching from Shan State going down to Karenni State, Karen State, Mon State, all the way down to Tanintharyi Region or Division, which are all war zones with thousands of IDPs due to the ongoing civil war, sharing more than two thousands kilometers long with Thailand.
However, this doesn’t mean that there will be an about turn in Thai foreign policy and the MFP-led government will become friendly to the Myanmar junta’s opposition groups and side with them. It will probably maintain its neutrality and friendly, working relationship with the power that be in Naypyitaw and would selectively go about and decide on Myanmar related issues in a la carte mode, as Pita has outlined in his statement.
But first, Pita will has to go through the three-stage process of official endorsement of the election candidacy, election of the house-speaker, and finally joint-voting between the lower house and upper house or Senate for the election of prime minister and eventually the government. Even then it won’t be a smooth sailing, with all the horse-trading and unfriendly, reluctant military-appointed Senate, the outcome is far from certain.
Meanwhile, Bangkok Post reported on May 19 that at least 14 Senators are gearing to support Pita’s bid for premiership and some member of the Democrat Party, which won 25 seats and not part of the MFP-led coalition, said that they are lobbying for Pita’s premiership in the spirit of “preserving democracy”. However, no one can be sure on how the outcome will look like in July when the two houses meet to determine the future of the country.