While eight political parties in Thailand have now found common cause and decided to support for the post of Prime Minister the candidature of Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party, the position remains far from certain. The party won the highest number of seats in the country’s parliamentary election and the eight-party coalition represents 313 of the 500 seats in parliament. But the constitutional provision that allows 250 senators, all of them nominated by the military, to also vote in the election for prime minister will mean that Mr. Pita needs 376 votes, a figure he is well short of. It is not surprising therefore that he has described the coming together of the eight parties as an “important first step”, for it is by no means certain that this coalition, despite representing the choice of an overwhelming majority of Thai voters will be able to take over the reins of government.
But it does pose a problem for the country’s military rulers, who will have to decide whether they wish to support the majority view or thwart the democratic engagement, especially as the latter option might result in an eruption of public anger. A major point of contention is the country’s lese majeste law, which the Move Forward Party had promised to amend during its poll campaign. This is opposed by the military, and the politicians it supports, as well as by some of the parties that have now agreed to support Mr. Pita. Not surprisingly, the agreement reached between the eight parties made no mention of this pledge, suggesting that even Mr Pita has agreed to put it on the back burner at least for now. The parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding whereby they agreed to rewrite the Constitution, recognize samesex marriages and end military conscription except in emergencies.
But the resolve to rewrite the Constitution, in order to make it more democratic and to strip the military of the overarching powers it now enjoys, will raise the hackles of conservative elements and of Thailand’s generals. By making the contents of the understanding public, Mr. Pita and leaders of the other seven parties are placing in the public domain their agenda for governance, a move they hope will force at least some of the military-backed senators to recognize the need for the country to be democratically administered.
The alternative, one where the senators and members of conservative parties join hands to block Mr. Pita’s bid will be an unpopular one and may cause citizens to take to the streets, as they had done in the recent past to press for a return to democracy. Thailand’s business community is anxious for an early resolution, and has asked those in the fray to pave the way for a new government as soon as possible. At the back of everyone’s mind must be the prospect of another intervention by the military to overturn the democratic verdict. Thailand is truly at the crossroads.