The Will of the People is Clear, but Will the Military Respect It?

The pro-military ruling parties suffered a crushing defeat in Thailand’s general election, indicating that it is the will of the people for the long-lived military-led government to step aside. The election results must be respected and a stable government must be established.

In the May 14 election for Thailand’s 500-seat House of Representatives, the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) became the leading party, winning a majority of seats along with the Pheu Thai Party, which has a long-standing affiliation with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and which had been the largest opposition party before the election. The major pro-military parties supporting Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has a military background, won only 76 seats in total, down 50 seats.

The prime minister came to power in a coup in 2014 and has maintained power based on pro-military parties since the transition to civilian rule in 2019. During this period, an economic slump and the suppression of antigovernment protests, among other factors, have caused a sense of stagnation among the people, and it can be said that dissatisfied voters have turned to opposition parties.

Eight opposition parties have signed a policy pact and are aiming to form a coalition government with Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the MFP, as their candidate for prime minister. Whether this will happen, however, is unpredictable.

The process to elect a prime minister will be conducted through votes cast jointly by the lower house and the 250-member Senate, requiring the support of a majority of all votes. The seats of the eight opposition parties alone will not be enough to reach this goal. Senators have a strong tendency to support the military because the military appoints senators.

Pro-military parties succeeded in maintaining power in the previous general election by using this mechanism, even though their seats fell far short of a majority in the lower house.

If the same thing is repeated this time and the pro-military government continues to stay in power, it will only cause the public to become further disenchanted with politics.

A repeated pattern in Thailand has been that when politics becomes dysfunctional, the military intervenes with a coup and the king then gives it his blessing. The people, too, seem to have accepted this as a system to bring political stability, and it has been described as “Thai-style democracy.”

The election results this time, greatly reducing the seats held by pro-military parties, indicate that Thai-style democracy has turned a corner. It is a sign of the times that the MFP made great strides by appealing for the elimination of the military’s political influence and a revision of the law that penalizes insulting the royal family, winning overwhelming support among young voters and urban residents.

It is becoming more difficult for the current royal family to gain the prestige and public esteem once enjoyed by the previous king. There is no doubt that a political system better reflecting the will of the people is needed.

Thailand, as a democracy in Southeast Asia, is expected to exercise leadership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and play a role in regional stability. Thailand has deep ties with Japan, with some 6,000 Japanese companies operating in the country and about 80,000 Japanese residents living there.

The political chaos in the country needs to be resolved urgently. Self-restraint by the military is essential for the establishment of a government that reflects the will of the people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2023)