Tropical showers didn’t stop Thai today. Hundreds of protesters and their umbrellas turned the Asoke intersection in central Bangkok into a sea of color. “What are the elections for? You fooled us,” read one of the banners. It is addressed to the established power.
Blockade by the Senate
Hundreds of demonstrators also demonstrated last Wednesday evening. That afternoon, Thai senators blocked the prime ministership of Pita Limjaroenrat, who won elections in May with his progressive Move Forward party. He received 14 million votes.
But he shouldn’t celebrate too soon. To become Prime Minister, a majority of parliament and senate also had to agree, but Pita had already foreseen that this would not work. The members of the senate were appointed by the army and do not like Pita’s reform plans which target the power in place. The 313 votes he got in parliament were not enough.
Already during the debate, Pita shared his disapproval on Instagram. “It is clear that in the current system, gaining the trust of the people is not enough to lead the country.” At the top of his tally is still “Thailand’s 30th prime minister candidate.” It’s just a dream that fell apart in a few hours on Wednesday.
“Party supporters don’t accept this,” said Southeast Asia correspondent Tom Schelstraete, who spoke to protesters today. For example, Phurin, 30, says he has lost hope. “Young people have finally found hope, but it’s not fair.”
The protester points out that a small group of “losants” is in charge in his country. “They don’t care how we live and how we are.” He protests to make it understood that it is “enough”. “Our future and our hope have been taken away from us.”
Pita could also overlook a rematch. He was deprived of a second ballot because he had to leave Parliament the same day. The Thai court suspended him because he allegedly owns shares in a media company. This is not permitted under Thai election law. “But this media company hasn’t existed for fifteen years,” explains Schelstraete. “According to opponents, it is a ruse of the military regime to marginalize Pita.”
Who should then run the country? Pita himself had already anticipated that the senate would oppose him and therefore announced ahead of Wednesday’s vote that the opposition Pheu Thai party should take over in this case. This party was already in opposition in recent years and became the second party in the elections. The two parties would form a coalition with six other parties.
But Pheu Thai proved to be anything but popular in Thailand this weekend. The party has entered into talks with a number of other military-affiliated parties. Pita absolutely did not want to form a coalition with this. “There’s a lot of anger about it,” says Schelstraete. “What threatens to happen now is that the military will always join the coalition and therefore remain in power.” The Thai people do not expect this.
Move Forward’s great success in the elections is seen as a rejection of the current military regime that took power nine years ago in a coup. Many young voters even voted for Move Forward, as Pheu Thai did not want to rule out making deals with the military.
Move Forward itself, on the other hand, has become not invited for an interview with Pheu Thai who has resumed government formation. According to Pheu Thai, this is because Move Forward does not elect a new party leader until August 6. Parliament will meet on Thursday to choose a new prime minister.
Unrest in Thailand is expected to escalate if Pheu Thai joins forces with military affiliates. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the protests has been “friendly” so far, says Schelstraete. That’s not to say people aren’t pissed off. “There are major problems in the country, such as a weak economy. With this new party, Thais hoped there would finally be an improvement.”
Thailand has a history of coups and similar political depositions. Since the year 1900, 22 coup attempts have been made, of which 13 have been successful. Move Forward’s predecessor, Future Forward, was also dissolved by the Constitutional Court in the 2019 elections. The party allegedly violated electoral rules.
Also, since 2008, three prime ministers have been sacked after toeing the line of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a 2006 coup.
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