Thailand Opposition Wins Big in Parliament Election but May Fail to Topple Military-Backed Ruler

Thailand's Opposition coalition scored a thumping victory in the parliamentary elections but it is unclear if they will be able to form a government, marking the end of the military-backed administration's 10-year rule.

Main Opposition parties Move Forward Party and Pheu Thai have grabbed nearly 300 of the 500 seats to which elections were held. While Pita Limjaroenrat's Move Forward won more than 150 seats, Pheu Thai, which is led by the daughter of former prime minister Taksin Shinawatra, got 141 seats. These two parties are also supported by four other minor coalition partners, helping them stitch together a united parliamentary front of about 310 members in the 500-seat parliament.

Thai referendum: Junta-backed constitution gets approval despite severe criticism
A Thai electoral worker prepares to start counting ballots at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in Bangkok, Thailand. Reuters

Major Roadblock

'The major roadblock for the Opposition are the provisions in the new constitution scripted and approved by the military-backed government in 2017. According to the constitution, the prime minister will be elected jointly by the 500 elected MPs in the lower house of the parliament and the 250-member senate. The catch here is that all 250 members of the Senate were appointed in 2019 by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

Genera Prayut has been in power since 2014 when he led a coup and toppled the last democratically elected government in Thailand, which was led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin.

Military's Stranglehold

As a means to perpetuate the military's rule in the country, the government of Prayut, which is called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), appointed the current 250 senators in the upper house.

Ten bomb explosions in south Thailand right  before the referendum
A Thai woman casts her ballot at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in Bangkok Reuters

The new constitutional provisions mean that the strength of the electoral college that gets to elect the prime minister will be 750. The winning candidate must garner at least 376 votes. At the moment, the united opposition has only the support of 310 MPs, despite scoring a decisive victory in the parliamentary election.

While the two main parties secured more than 300 seats, the Bhumjaithai party got 70 seats and Palang Pracharath Party grabbed 40 seats. General Prayut's United Thai Nation party won in 36 seats and the Democrats took 25 seats.

Meanwhile, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat staked the claim to form a government. "I would like to announce here that the Move Forward Party is ready to lead the forming of the future government," he said.

Coalition Talks

Pheu Thai party, the major Opposition party, said it was willing to join the coalition government led by the reformist Move Forward Party.

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha
Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha Wikimedia Commons

Move Forward Party is on course to be the biggest party in parliament, and Pheu Thai said it would accept leader Pita Limjaroenrat's invitation to join a coalition, saying he had earned the right to lead the government.

Pita said he had called Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Pheu Thai's lead prime minister candidate, to congratulate her on her campaign and invited her to join the coalition.

Shinawatra's party congratulated Move Forward, saying Pita has won the right to form the new government. "Pheu Thai has no plan to form any other government," its leader Chonlanan Srikaew said, according to the Channel News Asia.