Move Forward Supporters Gather in Bangkok to Protest Obstructed PM Bid

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Move Forward Supporters Gather in Bangkok to Protest Obstructed PM Bid

The 1,000-strong demonstration at the capital’s busy Asok intersection could be a harbinger of further unrest to come.

Move Forward Supporters Gather in Bangkok to Protest Obstructed PM Bid

Supporters of the Move Forward Party display mobile phones with flash lights on during a protest in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, July 23, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters gathered yesterday in Bangkok in a show of support for Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP), after he was blocked from taking his rightful position as Thailand’s prime minister.

The MFP won May’s general election, winning 151 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, but has fallen afoul of a system that has been engineered to prevent anti-establishment candidates from taking power.

Despite holding a healthy majority of 312 seats in the House, the eight-party coalition led by the MFP was effectively blocked by the military-appointed Senate, whose 250 members participated in the prime ministerial vote.

Senators twice blocked the MFP’s leader’s accession to the country’s top office, voting against his prime ministerial candidacy on July 13, and then blocking him from renominating himself for a potential second vote on July 19.

According to The Associated Press, around 1,000 converged last night on the busy Asok intersection in central Bangkok, braving heavy rain to voice their opposition to the subversion of the people’s will. As the AP reported, many shouted “Senators, get out!” while others urged other members of the MFP-led coalition not to “switch sides” by joining hands with more conservative parties.

“We will keep fighting … no matter how many months we have to support democratic principles,” an activist said on stage drawing cheers from the crowd, according to a report by Reuters. The crowd responded by chanting the name of the MFP leader.

Conservatives fear the MFP’s progressive policy platform, which included pledges to reform the military, abolish mandatory conscription, and break up Thailand’s powerful business monopolies. Most controversially, it promised to amend Article 112 of the criminal code, the so-called lese-majeste law, which protects the country’s monarchy from criticism or political challenge. Of course, it is precisely these bold policy stances that led to Move Forward’s surprising victory on May 14, fortified by strong youth turnout. And to its credit, the party has refused to dilute any of its policy demands to win the support necessary to form a government.

With Parliament set to once again convene on Thursday for the next prime ministerial vote, there is a growing likelihood that the MFP will find itself outside of the governing coalition altogether. The MFP has agreed that its partner, the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), will be allowed to nominate a candidate for the next parliamentary vote, but in discussions with conservative parties in recent days, the latter have said that they will not support any government that includes parties advocating changes to the lese-majeste law. This might well put PTP in the position of either choosing to jettison Move Forward, or to enter opposition itself.

The eight-party alliance will meet tomorrow to determine whether the MFP will still join it in forming the new government, the Bangkok Post reported. Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew said that they intend to approach all parties, except the Democrat Party, which does not currently have a party leader and appears unready for talks. “Before Pheu Thai nominates its prime ministerial candidate, the alliance will have to conclude how it can secure at least 375 votes in support of the candidate,” Cholnan said, according to the Post report.

Either of the two most likely outcomes – a Pheu Thai-led government minus the MFP or a minoritarian government led by military-aligned conservative parties – is likely to prompt political unrest, and yesterday’s protest in Bangkok may turn out to be a harbinger of larger, more coordinated protests. During the PTP’s meeting yesterday with the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), some protesters broke into the party’s office and scattered flour, demanding that Pheu Thai refuse to work with the military. The flour was a reference to the past of PPRP powerbroker Thammanat Prompao, present at the meeting, who in 1994 was convicted of conspiring to import heroin to Australia. (Thammanat claims that he was caught with flour and not heroin.)

However things shake out, Thailand’s wongchon ubat – its “evil cycle” of political crises – seems set to take yet another turn.