Thai election: Move Forward Party declares victory, leader Pita prepared to be PM

This file photo shows people using their smartphones on the platform of a BTS train station in Bangkok. (AFP Photo). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BANGKOK, May 15, 2023, ST. The Move Forward Party (MFP), which champions progressive policies that have rattled nationalistic establishments in Thailand, has declared victory in Sunday’s general election, The Straits Times reported.

“I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or not,” said 42-year-old party leader Pita Limjaroenrat on Monday, hours after Thailand’s election commission finished counting over 99 per cent of the votes.

Mr Pita said he had congratulated Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra for the hard-fought campaign, and invited her Pheu Thai Party as well as four others to establish a coalition of 309 MPs to form the government.

“I think it’s safe to assume that we have secured the majority in forming the government going forward,” he said.

The party has also set up a transition team to ensure a smooth handover from the previous government.

“To minimise the risk economically and politically, we will try to form the government as soon as possible,” said Mr Pita, who is MFP’s nominee for prime minister.

Unofficial tallies by the commission placed the MFP in first place, bagging 151 seats and some 14 million votes. This gives the party the biggest share of seats out of the 500 contested in the election.

Tentative results also show the party bagging 32 of the 33 seats in Bangkok, with the remaining seat going to Pheu Thai, and wiping out the patchwork of more established groups that won the capital in the 2019 election.

A record 75.22 per cent of the 52 million electorate turned up at the ballot boxes for this election, beating the 74.87 per cent turnout in the last vote.

Pheu Thai, which is linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, came in a close second with 141 seats, according to the commission.

The party, which, like other iterations of Thaksin-backed parties, had previously won the largest number of seats in every election since 2001, fell short in Sunday’s results and was also denied the “landslide” win it had campaigned heavily for.

Thaksin’s daughter, Ms Paetongtarn, 36, said Pheu Thai respects and supports the MFP’s win. But they have yet to discuss the details about forming a coalition government.

“Election is like a sport, there are winners and losers. Are we disappointed by the result? Yes, but at the same time we are celebrating the victory of democracy,” she said.

Mr Pita said his executive team will meet this afternoon to hammer out the details of the future coalition, including potential ministries the party will helm.

“The sentiment of the era has changed, and it was the right timing where people have been through enough of a lost decade,” he said, elaborating on what the party’s unexpected win meant for the electorate.

However, the election commission still has 60 days to certify the election results, and several issues have arisen that could threaten the MFP’s standing as winner of the election and its mandate to form the government.

While MFP can form a coalition government with five other parties to command a majority of the 500 seats in the Lower House, it will need more support to get Mr Pita elected as prime minister.

A prime ministerial candidate must get the support of more than half the 750-member Parliament, which comprises the 250 members of the military-appointed Senate and the 500 elected MPs of the Lower House.

MFP’s commitment to rewrite the 2017 junta-drafted Constitution, including amending the law against insult to the monarchy, could stymie its chances of assembling the 376 votes it will need to appoint its prime ministerial candidate.

And while conservative parties like caretaker Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s United Thai Nation (UTN) party are trailing behind, they could still make a comeback with the support of an electoral structure stacked in favour of military-backed parties.

The UTN, which was formed in 2021 and backed Mr Prayut for re-election in Sunday’s polls, came in third for the party-list vote with 4.7 million votes, the highest among all parties with ties to the former government coalition.

It bagged 36 seats, thus meeting the minimum 25-seat threshold to nominate Mr Prayut as prime minister, though the party will likely face an uphill battle justifying the legitimacy of this move.

Meanwhile, Mr Pita also faces a pending investigation regarding his ownership of shares in a defunct media company, which could result in his disqualification from the election.

“I’m not worried, but I’m not careless,” said Mr Pita when addressing the possible challenges to him helming the government.

“But with the consensus that came out of the election, it will be quite a hefty price to pay for someone who is thinking of botching the election results… I don’t think the people of Thailand will allow that to happen,” he said.

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