‘They want change’: Opposition parties win big in Thailand on promises of reform

Opposition supporters cheering election results in Thailand
Supporters of the opposition Move Forward party cheer as they watch the Thai election vote count on television in Bangkok.
(Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press)

Election results Monday showed that voters in Thailand want change after nine years under a former general who took power in a coup, with the main opposition parties easily besting other contenders in the general election.

The opposition Move Forward Party outperformed even optimistic projections and appeared poised to capture almost all 33 of Bangkok’s seats in the House of Representatives. Along with the Pheu Thai Party, the favored opposition group, Move Forward campaigned for reform of the military and the monarchy.

Move Forward put those issues closer to the heart of its platform, earning a more radical reputation. Its outspoken support for minor reforms of the monarchy, while winning younger voters, antagonized conservatives committed to the royal institution.


Incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who came to power in a 2014 coup, was blamed for a stuttering economy, pandemic shortcomings and blocked democratic reforms — a particular sore point with younger voters.

“This is people saying that we want change,” said Saowanee T. Alexander, a professor at Ubon Ratchathani University in northeastern Thailand. “They are saying that they could no longer take it. The people are very frustrated. They want change, and they could achieve it.”

With more than 99% of ballots counted early Monday, Move Forward appeared to have a small edge over Pheu Thai, whose leaders conceded Sunday that the party might not finish on top following voter turnout of about 39 million, or 75% of registered voters.

Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree and other young activists want to rein in the monarchy and its military allies who have ruled Thailand since a 2014 coup.

Sept. 24, 2020

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat tweeted that he is ready to bring about change should he become the country’s 30th prime minister.

“Whether you agree or disagree with me, I will be your prime minister. Whether you have voted for me or not, I will serve you,” he wrote.

Sunday’s biggest vote-getter is not assured the right to form the new government. A joint session of the 500-seat House will be held with the 250-member Senate in July to select the prime minister, a process widely seen as undemocratic because the military appointed the senators, who will vote along with elected lawmakers.


Move Forward captured slightly more than 24% of the popular vote for the 400 district-based seats in the House and nearly 36% for the 100 seats allocated by proportional representation in a separate nationwide ballot.

A Thai man is sentenced to two years in prison for selling calendars featuring satirical cartoons of yellow ducks that a court said mocked the king.

March 8, 2023

Pheu Thai lagged slightly behind with slightly more than 23% for district-based seats and about 27% for the party list.

The tally of district-based House seats gave 113 to Move Forward and 112 to Pheu Thai, according to unofficial results Monday from the Election Commission.

Prayuth’s United Thai Nation Party held the fifth spot in the district-based vote, winning 23 House seats with almost 9% of the vote, but did better in the party-preference tally with close to 12% of that vote.

The three parties were considered the most likely to head a new government. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the 36-year-old daughter of billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was favored in opinion polls to be the country’s next leader.

Move Forward’s 42-year-old businessman leader Pita now seems a likely prospect.

Pheu Thai won the most seats in the 2019 election. But its archrival, the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party, cobbled together a coalition with Prayuth as prime minister and unanimous support from conservative Senate members appointed by the military government after Prayuth’s coup.

Ubon University’s Alexander cautioned that the current situation remains “very unpredictable” and the results could be affected by the Election Commission, which previously disqualified opposition parties or otherwise undermined challenges to the conservative establishment.

She noted that the Bhumjaithai Party, which came in third, could be key since the combined Move Forward and Pheu Thai seats might not be enough for a majority coalition. Bhumjaithai controls a large bloc of votes in the northeast and helped put the military-backed coalition into power.

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Aug. 11, 2020

Move Forward’s Pita is a possible target of what the opposition, from bitter experience, calls dirty tricks. A Palang Pracharath candidate last week filed a complaint with the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission claiming that Pita failed to list a stock holding on a statutory assets declaration. Pita denied any wrongdoing.

However, the leader of the Future Forward Party, the forerunner of Move Forward, lost his parliamentary seat on similar technical grounds. His party, also considered a radical challenge to the military-backed royalist establishment, was dissolved.

Tyrell Haberkorn, a Thai studies scholar at the University of Wisconsin, said there was a chance that street protests could erupt again if Move Forward meets the same fate as its predecessor.


“The time is up for the generals and their allies in the palace and the courts. The military can either listen to the voters and step down gracefully or lead the country into chaos,” Haberkorn said.