Thailand’s Reformist Opposition Emerges Victorious in General Election, Challenging Military-Backed Rule


In a groundbreaking election result, Thailand’s reformist opposition parties have secured the most seats and garnered the largest share of the popular vote, signaling a strong rejection of the military-backed parties that have governed the country for almost a decade. The progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) and the populist Pheu Thai Party have emerged as the primary victors, projected to win approximately 286 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, according to nearly finalized vote counts on Monday.

Despite their electoral success, uncertainties loom over the formation of the next government due to the skewed parliamentary rules that grant 250 members of a military-appointed Senate the power to vote on the prime minister. Consequently, the MFP and Pheu Thai will need the support of smaller parties to establish a new administration, raising questions about the feasibility of their victory leading to substantial policy changes.

The most remarkable outcome of Sunday’s election was the triumph of the MFP, a progressive youth-led party participating in general elections for the first time. The party’s bold platform advocating for reform of the monarchy and a reduction in military influence by rewriting the constitution and ending conscription resonated with voters. Preliminary results, with 99 percent of votes counted, showed the MFP poised to secure the largest share of the lower-house with a total of 147 seats. These figures include 112 directly elected seats and 35 party-list seats allocated proportionally.

Analysts hailed the MFP’s performance as “outstanding,” as pre-election surveys had anticipated Pheu Thai, linked to the influential Shinawatra family and a consistent winner since 2001, to claim the majority. Nevertheless, Pheu Thai still garnered a respectable total of 138 seats, with 112 directly elected and 27 from the party-list.

Conversely, the royalist-military parties faced a significant setback in the election. The United Thai Nation Party of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power through a coup in 2014, trailed in fifth place with 36 seats. Prayuth’s former party, the Palang Pracharath, secured approximately 40 seats, placing it fourth in the election results.

The election outcome reflects a shifting political landscape in Thailand, with voters demonstrating a desire for change and a departure from the established order. However, challenges lie ahead for the MFP and Pheu Thai as they navigate the complex process of forming a government, given the influence of the military-appointed Senate. The coming weeks will determine whether the progressive opposition can translate their electoral success into meaningful political reforms that reshape Thailand’s governance structure.

BRI: A journey from student to translator on the China-Thailand railway


Pannaros Boonserm, 33, is a translator in a supervision company for the first section of the China-Thailand railway project.

The China-Thailand railway, an important part of the trans-Asian railway network, will be Thailand’s first standard-gauge high-speed railway. The first section, linking the Thai capital of Bangkok with the Nakhon Ratchasima province, in which Pannaros lives for the moment with her grandparents, is expected to put into use in 2026 and shorten the travel time from more than four hours to over one hour.

When the second section finishes in 2029, the railway will be connected with the China-Laos railway. By then people can travel by train from Bangkok, through Laos, to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.

Having studied in Nankai University in north China’s Tianjin Municipality for several years, Pannaros visited many places in China and witnessed how high-speed railways have changed local residents’ life. She believed the China-Thailand railway will not only facilitate the traveling of local residents, but also help revive the tourism sector and economic growth in regions along the way.

“It took me more than 20 hours when I came back from Kunming to Thailand’s Chiang Mai in 2012. The trip was exhausting,” Pannaros recalled.

Thailand: Civilian façade of military


Thailand, the favorite destination for Indian tourists, is an instructive case for the study of civil-military relations. Control of the military by civil authority, the accepted democratic norm, is frequently challenged by the Palace, the third player even though monarchy is constitutional. An election is around the corner on 7 May with the parliamentary term ending on 23 March. Currently, a coalition led by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) the military which includes three Generals, all former Army Chiefs, has ruled the country since 2014. The two Generals in subordinate political positions are senior to the Prime Minister. The billionaire PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, was followed by his sister Yingluck becoming Prime Minister later and now his daughter Paetongtarn is carrying the flag of Pheu Thai Party (PTP). King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X, barred his elder sister, who renounced royalty, from contesting elections with Thaksin’s PTP. Shinawatra according to a report in The Bangkok Post in May 2005 had made arrangements with the Palace to control the Generals.

The PPRP is led by Deputy Prime Minister, Pravit Wongsuwon, the senior most General; Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha juniormost General is PM with Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda. Wongsuwon last month told reporters that his party will decide whether he will be PM but he prefers “military life to political one”. He was confident his party would remain in power as part of a coalition. The Sunday China Morning Post of December 2022 reported that three of four Thais think PTP should be in power and Paetongtarn was the favorite leader to end the decade-old military rule. The National Institute of Development Administration polls showed she was 10 percentage points ahead of Prayuth and PTP ahead of PPRP and other political parties. But unless all political parties unite against the Generals’ PPRP they have no chance of defeating them.

Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch said that the military has made itself invulnerable by framing laws to dissolve the main opposition party, control the Election Commission, and hand-pick the Senate (which decides on government formation) to thwart the will of the people. Wongsuwon publicly stated it is not difficult for his party to form a government as the Senate is ‘controllable’. Thai Generals have taken a leaf out of neighboring absolute military rulers of Myanmar’s 2008 constitution into their 2017 constitution. Only a landslide victory by a single party like the National League of Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi achieved in 2021 (which resulted in the coup) can undo military rule in Thailand. The 2017 constitution allows the nomination of 250 Senators (mostly Army and Police) that can dilute the verdict of the 500-strong House of elected Representatives. Rules have been so framed that the military needs only one-third of the elected house for government formation. The Generals have given a civilian façade to the military government – to put it crudely – like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The military (and police) in Thailand is one of the most politicized entities in this part of the universe. My Thai colleagues at Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (US) in 1975 mentioned how they made their political choices while in the Military Academy. Recently, the constitution was believed to have been amended to give the King special powers and certain special forces placed under his command. The Army Chief 2018, the son of a former coup leader, led his officers on bended knees and folded hands, to swear an oath of allegiance to the King at Army Headquarters in Bangkok. Gen Prayuth outdid him saying: “I will worship and protect monarchy”. Generals are galore – for every 212 troops one flag rank officer. In India, 21,000 soldiers make one General. The Army has prepared a 20-year Strategic Development Plan which governments are required to follow.

Although absolute monarchy ended in 1932, the constitutional monarchy prevailed with the previous monarch the most revered King who ruled for 70 years, slightly less than the term of Queen Elizabeth II. It is not clear which way the pendulum is swinging in Palace-Military relations at present. South China Morning Post reported that ‘normally the Army proposes and the King disposes of. Very strict laws exist on royal defamation under lese’ majeste – 15 years in jail under Law 112 for expression against Monarchy. Protests for reforming monarchy erupted recently though mostly by youth who use code words to refer to their targets.

Two tragic events occurred last December – the sinking of a Thai warship with several sailors drowned; and the cardiac arrest of the Crown Princess (apparently first in the line of succession) still in a coma. The effects of the pandemic have struck a body blow to tourism, the mainstay of the economy. Fortunately, the tourist footfall in 2022 has crossed the 10mn mark.

India has strong and friendly relations with Thailand with 50,000 Indians gainfully employed from Gaggan Anand’s two Michelin Star restaurants to Gunjan Kumar’s mobile chana jor garam enterprise. Statues of Hindu gods and goddesses are dotted all over Thailand with many beautiful Tamil kovils. There are strong Buddhist links also with Thailand. The Shinawatra scion may give the Generals shivers but the ruling trio of Generals is bound to return for a third term four months from now.