The political earthquake that young voters have caused in Thailand

7 min read

Voters in Thailand have delivered a surprising verdict in favor of a political party calling for revolutionary reforms in the country’s institutions.

Preliminary results show that the Move Forward Party has won 151 of the 500 seats in the lower house of the Thai Parliament, beating all expectations.

Before the election, Phew Thai Party, led by the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Chinawat, was ahead in opinion polls. But the Move Forward Party is now ahead with 10 seats more than them.

Analysts are describing the election result as a political earthquake, as it signals a significant shift in Thai public opinion.

At the same time, the election results sent a clear message of rejection to Thailand’s current prime minister and his military-backed political parties. The ruling coalition won only 15 percent of the seats.

“We spared no effort,” Pita Limzarrat, leader of the winning group Move Forward, told the BBC. People have suffered a lot in the last decade. Now a new day begins.”

Pheu Thai emerged as the second largest party in the election. The party said it had agreed to join a coalition with the Move Forward Party and four other smaller parties. As a result, the number of seats of this alliance in the new parliament will be more than 60 percent.

Mr. Pita spoke at a press conference on Monday
Mr. Pita spoke at a press conference on Monday

But even that majority would not be enough to defeat the 250-seat unelected Senate. Prime Minister Prayut Cha appointed the members of the Senate. They will be able to join the parliament during the next government. The progressive political program that Move Forward has championed has led to objections from members of the Senate, particularly the controversial proposal to amend the Insult of the Monarchy Act.

Many fear that the military and their supporters could take advantage of the political negotiations in Thailand over the next few days to block the formation of a government for the winning parties.

However, the threat of a military coup appears to be low. But the move forward party may be disqualified in a legal battle. Earlier in 2020, that was the case with the party’s predecessor, the Future Forward Party.

wind of change

Social media was abuzz with various posts by youngsters in favor of the Move Forward Party
Social media was abuzz with various posts by youngsters in favor of the Move Forward Party

Another question is how well the Move Forward Party and the Phew Thai Party can work together. Because their relationship in the previous parliament was not sweet at all. Mr. Peeta is a graduate of Harvard University and an accomplished parliamentarian. But he has yet to face the tough test of how shrewd and ruthless it must be to sustain a coalition government.

But despite these uncertainties, there is no denying that the people of Thailand are facing a changed political situation this morning.

Prajak Konkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat University in Thailand, said, “The verdict of the majority of voters shows that they want freedom from the Prayuth regime. This verdict shows that people believe in the changes that Move Forward is calling for.”

Thai social media is now abuzz with enthusiastic messages from supporters of the Move Forward Party. They describe themselves as “organic canvassers”. They are describing the party’s victory as a ‘wind of change’ and ‘dawn of a new era’.

Mr. Pita tweeted that he is ready to take over as the 30th Prime Minister of Thailand.

“We all have the same dreams, the same hopes. We believe that it is possible to make our beloved country much better. If we all work together, change is possible.”

He further said, “This election has proved that, even though only four years have passed, there has been a great change in the thinking of the people, among the pro-democracy, and within the existing power-structure. Democracy cannot be taken for granted.”

The possibility that the Move Forward Party overtook its rivals was at one time unimaginable. The group calls for a revolutionary transformation of Thailand – from the bureaucracy, the economy, the role of the military, to even the laws protecting the monarchy.

 

Voters have rejected a decade of military-backed governments and parties in Thailand
Voters have rejected a decade of military-backed governments and parties in Thailand

As the rise of the Move Forward Party

These were the main demands of the month-long student-led protests in Thailand in 2020. Many of the Move Forward Party candidates were leaders of that movement. And like those protests in 2020, young, dedicated voters played a big role in the Move Forward Party’s victory.

When campaigning was underway before the elections, such flashes of support for this young party were readily available. Thai social media was awash with various ‘memes’ for them. In keeping with the name of the Move Forward party, many were posting pictures of themselves taking the big step on social media.

Voters were seen taking the same ‘dramatic action’ at polling booths across Thailand on Sunday. This was the only way voters could tell which party they were voting for on polling day. Because according to Thailand’s election rules, voters cannot publicly say who they are voting for. Many wore bright orange shirts, sandals and shoes – the election campaign color of the Move Forward party.

The candidates of the Move Forward Party had much less money than their rivals. They have to rely on social media. Many times they have used bicycles for their campaigns. The fact that their plans were much clearer than others helped them a lot.

The Move Forward Party has said it will not form a coalition government with any party linked to the 2014 military coup. Another reformist party Pheu Thai refused to rule out the possibility of such an alliance.

People in Thailand are waiting for change, and it has gone completely in favor of the Move Forward Party. In Thailand, the number of voters under the age of 26 is not high, only 14 percent of the 5.2 million voters. But they have worked hard to win over older voters.

But the biggest question at the moment is whether the two reformist parties will be allowed to form a government in Thailand despite this public vote for change.

Mr. while talking to reporters on Monday. Peeta seemed quite optimistic. “The consensus that has been created through this election, even if anyone thinks of canceling this result or forming a minority government, will have to pay a heavy price for that.” It’s a nightmare now. I don’t think the people of Thailand will allow that to happen.”

 

The way the party campaigned

Move Forward candidate Rakchanak Ays Srinarc campaigning on a bicycle
Move Forward candidate Rakchanak Ays Srinarc campaigning on a bicycle

The way the Move Forward Party campaigned with their limited resources, using young volunteers, was quite novel.

Ahead of the election, a visit to their small office on the outskirts of Bangkok found a group of volunteers enthusiastically sorting out election leaflets. They used to go out every day with these leaflets to seek votes.

Move Forward candidate Rakchanak Ais Srinark is a 28-year-old energetic woman. His team bought some cheap bicycles for election campaigning. Volunteers ride these bicycles to campaign every day. Ignoring the intense heat, they go from house to house in the Bang Bon area.

Ice is one of a group of young, idealistic candidates fielded by the Move Forward Party. They have entered mainstream politics with the hope that these elections will break Thailand out of the vicious cycle of military coups, street protests and broken promises that have plagued it for the past two decades.

Move Forward Party is actually the successor of its predecessor Future Forward Party. The emergence of this party in Thai politics five years ago.

The Future Forward Party brought a very different way of thinking to Thai politics, they were calling for a radical change in the political structure of Thailand. Limiting the power of the military, even talking about changes to the monarchy, is out of the question in Thailand.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies said, “Their main agenda was to return the future of Thailand from the powerful to the youth. In this century, young people in Thailand have to live in a country that is caught in a vicious circle and is about to disappear. We have had two military coups here, one party after another has been dissolved in the name of justice. I think the younger crowd was tired and disheartened by it. The Future Forward Party has capitalized on that.”

It surprised everyone by entering parliament as the third largest party in the 2019 elections. Thailand’s pro-monarchy military officers, bureaucrats and judges then formally joined forces to dissolve the party through the Constitutional Court, banning its leaders from politics. Such incidents have been done many times before in Thailand.

But in recent times Move Forward Party has become popular as a new party in this politics. Many opinion polls suggested that Pita Limzarrat, the party’s young, handsome and smart leader, was the likely prime ministerial candidate.

 

Who is Pita Limzarat?

Pita Limzarat of the Move Forward Party at an election rally in Chiang Mai
Pita Limzarat of the Move Forward Party at an election rally in Chiang Mai

Mr. Peter’s political career began in 2019 when he was elected as an MP from the Future Forward Party. As an opposition MP, the speeches he gave in Parliament soon attracted everyone’s attention. He was being described as a rising star in politics. He spoke of a strong position in favor of reducing the military’s role in politics and reforming laws related to the monarchy.

Born into a wealthy family in Thailand, his family had close ties to politics. His father was an adviser to Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and his uncle was a close aide of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Chinawat.

Mr. Pita says he became interested in politics while a school student in New Zealand.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Thammasat University, Thailand. After that he did Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But he started his career by joining his father’s business. Later he was also the executive director of ride sharing company Grab. Married to Thai actress and model Chutima Tinpanatke, later divorced. Now she lives alone with her seven-year-old son Pipim.

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