Immediate Election Aftermath
By Enrique Chaljub
For a summary on the elections background, see our last entry
On Sunday, March 24th, Thai voters returned to the ballot box for the first successful general elections in almost eight years. During the last attempt at one on February 2014, the government opposition boycotted the election and yellow shirt protesters forcefully disrupted the process in dozens of polling stations. This time around the day was quiet and the voting went on peacefully.
Although in previous elections the unofficial results were known the day of, on this election the Electoral Commision (EC) did not publish them until late Thursday. It gave multiple reasons for this delay, which included (jokingly) a lack of calculators, an excuse which garnered a great deal of mocking in Thai social media.
Beside the vote count delays, cries of foul play are mounting due to perceived irregularities at the ballot box. These vary from a disproportionate number of invalidated ballots to accusations of ballot stuffing. However, the EC claims that all discrepancies are explainable.
The official results aren’t due until May 9th, the day of His Majesty Maha Vajiralongkorn's highly anticipated coronation. As a result, many uncertainties will linger until then. Despite this, the unofficial results, and the few developments that have followed it, has offered a few insights on how Thai politics under the 20th Constitution have begun to take shape.
The first skim at the election results will make one thing clear: multi-party politics are back. Since Thaksin’s election in 2001, Thailand had been governed by a two-party system, with the Democrat and pro-Thaksin parties as the only major political forces in parliament. This dichotomy seems (at least temporarily) a thing of the past with newcomers Palang Pracharat and Future Forward, as well as familiar names like Bhumjaithai taking large portions of the lower house. The exact numbers will not be known until official results are released May 9th, but one thing is certain: at least one of these new parties will be in the ruling coalition.
This takes us to the coalition building taking place. With the precise numbers still not out, there stands a fair bit of speculation when accessing situation. Pheu Thai (expected to win the plurality of seats) announced a coalition just days after the election, which it believes enough to control the House of Representatives. The self-named “pro-democracy” camp is composed of six other parties: Future Forward, Puea Chart, Prachachat, Seri Ruam Thai, Phalang Puang Chon and New Economics parties. They’ve bowed to oppose General Prayut and the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party.
Despite winning the most votes and automatically having 250 votes for the premiership via the military appointed senate, Palang Pracharat will have to form a coalition with at least one other major party to retain General Payut as PM. The only two other major parties left in the dark, Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties, have chosen to wait until after official results are known before choosing sides.
The biggest winners of these elections were Palang Pracharat, Future Forward, and Bhumjaithai. The pro-junta party’s win is self evident, it won more votes than any other party. It has used this point to claim its right to form a new government. Meanwhile, Future Forward and its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit have come from complete obscurity to the forefront of Thai politics in under a year. Its alliance with Pheu Thai was a political no-brainer, as both are decidedly anti-junta in nature.
Bhumjaithai had arguably the most impressive election. The likely force behind its miracle night: marijuana legalization. The party made weed its primary policy focus, aiming not only to make it legal both medically and recreationally, but to make it Thailand’s new cash crop. This would presumably fund the countless populist policies they (and most Thai political parties) promised to enact if in power.
Abhisit and the Democrat Party easily take the cake for biggest losers in these elections. The former PM resigned before the night was over, as it became evident his party would fall well short of its 100+ seat goal. It will be interesting to see Thailand’s oldest political party deal with its new reality and perhaps evolve.