Thailand’s New Administration: Can Newly Formed Government Eliminate Military’s Intervention?

The framework of Thailand’s new coalition government has been decided upon with scant regard for the will of voters, who rejected the military’s political intervention in the general election. Progress in the country’s democratization is unlikely if pro-military parties are allowed to remain influential.

In the House of Representatives election in May, the democratic Move Forward Party came out on top, but it was unable to form a coalition government because the party’s candidate for prime minister failed to win the approval of a majority of the members of both houses of Parliament combined. A majority of the Senate opposed an administration led by the Move Forward Party, which advocated radical reforms related to the monarchy.

Subsequently, there were attempts to form a coalition centering on the Pheu Thai Party, which came second in the lower house election. As a result of a vote by both houses in late August, Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai Party was elected as the country’s new prime minister.

The Constitution, enacted in 2017 under military administration, allows senators, who are effectively appointed by the military, to take part in the selection of the prime minister as a transitional measure that will end in 2024. This mechanism for ensuring the military’s political involvement clearly violates democratic principles.

The new administration comprises a grand coalition of 11 parties, led by the Pheu Thai Party. The then ruling pro-military parties of Prayuth Chan-ocha’s administration — which suffered major election defeats — and other conservative parties also have joined the coalition.

This means that the will of the voters, who had demanded through the lower house election that the military depart politics, was treated with disregard. In an opinion poll, more than 60% of respondents said they were opposed to the entry of pro-military parties into power.

The Pheu Thai Party, which has been hostile toward the military, said during the election campaign that it would not work with pro-military parties. The party cannot escape the criticism that it has broken its campaign pledge in order to put priority on getting into power.

The Pheu Thai Party is a descendant of the political party founded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The former prime minister, who fled the country after being accused of corruption and other crimes, seemed to time his return to coincide with the election of a new prime minister, and his prison sentence was significantly reduced by the king. It is now widely believed that Thaksin will return to power.

Upon assuming the prime minister’s post, Srettha said he would “work for the benefit of the people,” but he has little political experience, making it uncertain whether he will be able to demonstrate his leadership.

If the new administration operates according to the intentions of Thaksin and the pro-military parties, it will merely spread political distrust among the public. Large-scale protests may erupt, possibly plunging Thailand’s society and economy into chaos.

To avoid such a situation, it is essential to reform the selection process for the prime minister to reflect the will of the people. The new administration must promote democratization, and the pro-military parties must cooperate.

With about 6,000 Japanese companies operating in Thailand, the country has close economic and historical ties with Japan. It is important for Japan to leverage this relationship and persistently convey to the new administration that eliminating the military’s political influence while advancing democratization will benefit Thailand’s interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 4, 2023)