In a dramatic turn of events, Thailand witnessed a pivotal day in its political history as parliament took decisive action to avert a potential crisis. Simultaneously, one of the nation’s most polarizing figures, after 15 years of self-imposed exile, returned to the scene.
On Tuesday, Thai lawmakers selected Srettha Thavisin, a real estate tycoon and political novice affiliated with the populist Pheu Thai party, as the nation’s 30th prime minister. This outcome ended a three-month-long deadlock but came at the cost of forming a coalition with long-standing military adversaries.
Srettha, aged 60, secured 482 out of 747 votes in both houses of parliament, comfortably exceeding the majority required for the prime ministership. His appointment received the King’s endorsement on Wednesday, officially confirming him as the prime minister. In his post-ceremony speech, Srettha vowed to bring about significant changes in the next four years, with a commitment to improving the lives of the people.
However, the return of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former ousted prime minister and the patriarch of the Pheu Thai political dynasty, added an intriguing layer to the unfolding political landscape. While some supporters celebrated his return, others remained uncertain about the implications it might bring.
According to some analysts, Thaksin’s return may have been part of a broader arrangement with Thailand’s powerful conservative and royalist establishment. This arrangement potentially involved a reduced prison sentence or a possible pardon in exchange for preventing the election-winning Move Forward Party from implementing its reformist policies, which targeted the core of the establishment.
So why isn’t the leader of the winning Move Forward party Thailand’s new prime minister? And why did Thaksin’s party align itself with the same military faction that had ousted him and his sister Yingluck in previous coups?
The Rise of the Progressive Parties First and foremost, it’s essential to understand that Thailand’s modern history has been marked by coups and has often been controlled by a small yet influential faction with deep ties to the military, royalist circles, and business interests.
In recent times, this establishment faced one of its most significant challenges, primarily due to demands for comprehensive reforms from the country’s youth. The May election saw progressive parties sweeping the polls, delivering a substantial rebuke to the military-backed leadership that had governed Thailand for nearly a decade since the 2014 coup.
It was also the first instance in over two decades where a party connected to Thaksin suffered an electoral defeat. The Move Forward Party, a newcomer, gained substantial popularity among young Thais for its reformist agenda, which included changes to the military, the economy, power decentralization, and radical proposals to amend Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, despite the topic’s taboo status.
This platform resonated not only with young Thais but with a broader segment of society weary of continued dominance by established forces, who had made little progress in addressing issues such as wealth distribution, economic growth, and employment prospects.
While Move Forward secured a remarkable election victory, it did not secure enough seats to independently form a government. Instead, it entered into a coalition with like-minded parties, including the Pheu Thai party, which came in second place.
Obstacles on the Path to Power The unelected Senate, stacked with military appointees under Thailand’s post-2014 coup constitution, served as the initial roadblock. This Senate maintained a significant say in determining who could form