Thailand’s opposition was poised to secure a landslide election victory on Sunday after crushing parties allied with the military.
It now forms the background for a jumble of agreements to form a government in an attempt to end almost a decade of military-backed rule, writes Reuters.
The liberal Move Forward party and the populist Pheu Thai party were far ahead with 99 percent of the vote counted, but it is far from certain that either will form the next government, with parliamentary rules written by the military in their favour.
To govern, opposition parties must strike deals and gather support from multiple camps, including members of a junta-appointed senate that has sided with military parties and gets to vote on who becomes prime minister and forms the next government.
Sunday’s election concluded a long-running struggle for power between Pheu Thai, the populist juggernaut of the billionaire Shinawatra family, and a clutch of old money, conservatives and the military with influence over key institutions at the heart of two decades of turmoil.
But the staggering progress of Move Forward, riding a wave of support from young voters, will test Thailand’s establishment and the ruling parties after they nearly made a clean sweep in the capital Bangkok. Offering a platform of institutional reform and the dismantling of monopolies.
Move Forward came out on top, closely followed by Pheu Thai, preliminary results show. According to a Reuters calculation, both were likely to win more than three times as many seats as Palang Pracharat, the junta’s political arm and the military-backed United Thai Nation party.
Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat described the result as “startling” and promised to be true to the party’s values when forming a government.
There will certainly be parties that support the dictator and the military, he told reporters.
It is safe to assume that a minority government is no longer possible here in Thailand, he added.
He said he remained open to an alliance with Pheu Thai but has set his sights on becoming prime minister.
It is now clear that the Move Forward Party has received overwhelming support from the people around the country, he wrote on Twitter.
The preliminary results show a crushing setback for the military and its allies. But with parliamentary rules on their side and influential people behind them and involved behind the scenes, they can still have a role in government.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired general who led the previous coup, had run for continuity after nine years in power, warning that a change of government could lead to conflict.
On Sunday, he quietly disappeared from his United Thai Nation party headquarters, where few supporters were to be seen.
A handful of staff sat next to plates of uneaten food while a giant TV screen showed a live speech by Move Forward’s leader.
I hope the country will be peaceful and prosperous, Prayut told reporters.
I respect democracy and the election. Thank you.
Pheu Thai was expected to win after receiving the most votes in every election since 2001, including two landslide victories. Three of the country’s four governments have been deposed.
Pheu Thai, which was founded by polarising exiled tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, remains hugely popular among the working class had expected to be swept back to power in a landslide due to nostalgia for its populist policies such as cheap healthcare, micro-loans and generous agricultural subsidies.
Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn (36) has been tipped to follow in the footsteps of her father and aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra and become prime minister. Yingluck and Thaksin were both overthrown in coups.
Paetongtarn said she was happy for Move Forward, but that it was too early to discuss alliances.
The people’s voice is the most important, she said.
Move Forward saw a late surge in opinion polls, banking on 3.3 million first-time voters to get behind the party’s liberal agenda, including plans to weaken the military’s political role and change a tough royal insult law that critics say is being used to stifle dissent.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said Move Forward’s success showed a major shift in Thai politics.
Pheu Thai fought the wrong war. Pheu Thai was fighting the war of populism that they had already won, he said.
Move Forward takes the game to the next level with institutional reforms. It is the new battleground in Thai politics, he concluded.