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Thailand’s Opposition Wins Elections with Promise of Comprehensive Reforms

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Thai voters spoke out demanding change after nine years of rule by a former general who seized power through a coup.

In an important general election, the main opposition parties have emerged as the clear winners, edging out their rivals with the result reflecting a nation eager for reform and a new chapter in its political landscape.

The opposition Movement Forward party outperformed optimistic forecasts and appeared poised to win all 33 seats in the lower house of parliament in the capital, Bangkok. Together with the Pheu Thai Party, the favored opposition group, Move Forward campaigned for reform of the military and monarchy.

Move Forward has put these issues closer to the heart of its platform, and it has earned a reputation for being more extreme. Her outspoken support for minor reforms to the monarchy, while winning over young voters, antagonized conservatives committed to the establishment monarchy.

Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in a 2014 coup, has been blamed for a faltering economy, shortcomings in responding to the pandemic, and thwarting democratic reforms — a sore point especially with young voters.

“These are the people who say we want change,” said Saowanee T. Alexander, a professor at Ubon Ratchathani University in northeastern Thailand. “They say they can’t take it anymore. People are so frustrated. They want change, and they can make it happen.”

With more than 99% of the ballots counted early Monday, Move Forward appeared to have a small edge over Pheu Thai, whose leaders conceded Sunday they may not finish on top after a turnout of around 39 million voters, or 75% of registered voters. .

Movement Forward leader Pita Limjaronrat tweeted that he was ready to bring about change if he were the country’s 30th prime minister.

“Whether you agree with me or not, I will be your prime minister. Whether you vote for me or not, I will serve you,” he wrote.

Sunday’s winner does not guarantee his right to form the new government. A joint session of the 500-seat House of Representatives with the 250-seat Senate will convene in July to choose a prime minister, a process widely seen as undemocratic because the military appointed senators who would vote alongside elected lawmakers.

The Forward Movement captured just over 24% of the popular vote for the 400 constituency seats in the House of Representatives and nearly 36% for the seats reserved on a separate ballot nationwide for the 100 members elected by proportional representation.

Pheu Thai fell slightly behind, taking just over 23% for the constituency seats and around 27% for the party list.

The constituency vote count gave 113 House seats to Proceed and 112 to Pheu Tai, according to unofficial results released Monday from the Election Commission.

Prayuth’s UTNU ranked fifth in the constituency vote with nearly 9% of the total, but finished third in the party preference list with nearly 12% and 23 House seats in the constituency vote.

The three parties were considered the most likely to head a new government. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, daughter of billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has been favored in opinion polls to be the country’s next leader.

It now appears that the 42-year-old entrepreneurial leader PETA from Move Forward is a likely possibility.

Pheu Thai won the most seats in the 2019 elections. But his arch-rival, the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party, formed a coalition with Prayuth as prime minister and the unanimous support of conservative senators appointed by the military government after Prayuth’s coup.

Obon University’s Alexander warned that the current situation remains “very unpredictable” and that the results could be unilaterally affected by the election commission, which has previously excluded opposition parties or undermined challenges to the conservative establishment.

She suggested that the Bhumjaithai party, which came in third place, could be a “swing vote” because the seats of Move Forward and Pheu Thai might not be enough for a majority coalition. Bhumjaithai controls a large bloc of votes in the northeast and helped bring the army-backed coalition to power.

Move Forward’s beta is a potential target for what, from bitter experience, the opposition calls dirty tricks. Palang Pracharat candidate last week filed a complaint with the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission claiming that Pita failed to list shares in its due process declaration. Pita denied any wrongdoing in the secondary technical allegation.

However, the leader of the Future Forward party, the forerunner of the Move Forward movement, lost his seat in Parliament for similar technical reasons. His party was also seen as a radical challenge to the military-backed monarchist establishment, and disbanded.

There is a possibility that street protests could explode again if Move Forward meets the same fate as its predecessor, said Terrell Haberkorn, a scholar of Thai studies at the University of Wisconsin.

“The time has come for the generals and their allies in the palace and courts. The army can either listen to the electorate and step down gracefully, or lead the country into chaos,” Haberkorn said.

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