Ministry-making in Thailand faces hurdles despite coalition win in polls

MOU signed by eight partners signals strong faith in democratic transition


Thailand's Move Forward party just signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with coalition partners after achieving an unexpected victory in the May 14 general election. The MOU serves as a framework for the coalition government, outlining 23 key agendas that the parties agree to work on collectively. Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of Move Forward, emphasised that the MOU reflects the shared responsibilities of the coalition parties and their commitment to advancing the agreed-upon agendas through governmental and parliamentary mechanisms.
Some of the significant issues outlined in the MOU include drafting a new constitution, legalising same-sex marriage, revisiting the ban on cannabis, and transitioning from compulsory enlistment to voluntary recruitment during peacetime. Importantly, all parties involved in the coalition expressed their commitment to preserving the constitutional monarchy's and the monarch's inviolable status while pursuing these agendas.
The coalition comprises eight parties: Move Forward, Pheu Thai, Prachachat, Thai Liberal Party, Thai Sang Thai, Fair, Plung Sungkom Mai, and Pue Thai Rumphlang. Together, they hold 313 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, indicating a strong majority.
The signing of the MOU holds significance as it marks a historical milestone in Thailand's transition back to a democratic system following the coup d'état in 2014. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power from the democratically elected government at that time and ruled the country for almost five years before a general election was held in 2019 under a constitution drafted by a military-appointed committee.
While Pheu Thai won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, Prayut's Palang Pracharat Party managed to build the government with its political allies, resulting in Prayut's premiership. However, Prayut's new party, United Thai Nation, failed to secure victory in the recent election.
The MOU also emphasises the joint governance of the country by the coalition parties, with a focus on protecting citizens' rights, civil liberties, and public interests. While the MOU does not explicitly mention Move Forward's policy to amend Thailand's royal defamation law (Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code), Pita Limjaroenrat affirmed that his party would continue to advocate for its reform within the parliamentary process.
Thailand's Move Forward party coalition signing the MOU signifies their commitment to working together and advancing key agendas. The MOU provides a roadmap for the coalition government and reflects the shared responsibilities of the member parties. With a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, the coalition is poised to make significant progress in implementing their agreed-upon missions.
The signing of the MOU represents a crucial step in Thailand's democratic transition. It demonstrates the country's ability to peacefully transition back to a parliamentary system, marking a milestone in its political history. In addition, the coalition's unexpected victory in the general election and subsequent commitment to working together send a positive message about the country's democratic aspirations.
The MOU's focus on drafting a new constitution is particularly noteworthy. A new constitution can pave the way for necessary political reforms and address critical issues in Thai society. Additionally, the coalition's determination to legalise same-sex marriage shows its commitment to promoting inclusivity and equal rights. This progressive stance aligns with global trends towards recognising and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
It is essential to note that the MOU emphasises the commitment of all parties involved to uphold the constitutional monarchy's and the monarch's inviolable status. This reaffirms the coalition's respect for the existing system of governance and ensures that their proposed agendas do not infringe upon the monarchy's position in Thai society.
Experts predict that Move Forward, due to its uncompromising stance, may face a power struggle to shape outcomes to suit the establishment's preferences. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) warned that arch-royalists could ban Move Forward. This scenario is plausible given royalist-conservative elites' influence over key institutions such as the Constitutional Court, Anti-Corruption Commission, and Electoral Commission. The dissolution of the opposition party Future Forward in 2020 by the Constitutional Court on politically motivated grounds adds weight to this concern.
Analysts at the Center for Strategic and Studies (CSIS) have suggested that the courts might find ways to invalidate enough victories of Move Forward and the Pheu Thai party to shift the balance of power. Additionally, Pita, the leader of Move Forward, could become a target. He is currently facing charges of a constitutional violation due to his previous involvement with a defunct media company while serving as a member of parliament. If disqualified, this could pave the way for the less radical Pheu Thai party to lead the coalition, as noted by Pongsudhirak.
Nevertheless, there is a precedent for Pita's case to be resolved favourably, as seen with the acquittal of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2001 on similar charges. Napisa Waitoolkiat, a political scientist, suggests that if the elites choose to respect the will of the Thai people, they could similarly handle Pita's case.
Furthermore, the Senate has various means to obstruct Move Forward. Senators could abstain from voting or refuse to confirm Pita, resulting in a deadlock. Susannah Patton, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, also points out that the Senate could only accept the lower house's choice for prime minister if a majority of 376 votes is obtained. Some senators have already hinted that they may not automatically endorse the winning party's nominee.