Win by Progressives in Thai Election Could End in Showdown over Military, Monarchy

A big win for the progressive Move Forward Party in Thailand’s general election on Sunday (May 14) may mark a turning point for the role of the military and monarchy in the country’s politics. Move Forward campaigned on a platform of curbing the power of both institutions, which made it popular with voters but now puts it in the crosshairs of fellow legislators who remain staunch defenders of these institutions.

New kid on the block

Move Forward is a relative newcomer to Thai politics. The party is a reconstitution of the Future Forward Party, which launched in 2018 but was forced to dissolve after a court ruled that its finances had violated election laws.

Some of Move Forward’s most ardent supporters are young people who participated in the protests that erupted in 2020 and 2021 out of frustration with the country’s democratic trajectory. One source of that frustration is lèse-majesté, the law that makes insulting the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The current military-aligned government, which performed poorly in Sunday’s election, has charged more than 240 protesters under this law.

Irreconcilable differences?

The divide between those who want to protect the military and monarchy’s role in Thai politics and those who wish to challenge it is already becoming a major fault line. Move Forward has assembled a coalition of eight parties but is 63 seats short of the 376 it needs to form a government. Several senators, all of whom were appointed by the military and hold sway in the National Assembly that ultimately elects the country’s prime minister, have indicated they will vote against Pita Limjaroenrat — Move Forward’s pick for PM. Observers fear a stalemate over the issue may anger voters hungry for change, possibly setting off a new wave of protests and instability.