Rewriting the Political History of Thailand: A New Era Led by Young Minds
Since the Siamese revolution of 1932 transformed Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, the country's political history has been dominated by two alternating poles of power: the military and political dynasties. However, in the recent elections held on Sunday, May 14, a new chapter in Thailand's political landscape was written, driven by the will of the people through the ballot box. This time, the history will be authored by the younger generation. In the 28th election in the nation's history, the Move Forward Party, led by young individuals, emerged as the party with the highest number of votes, securing 14.2 million votes (38.5%) and capturing 152 seats.
|Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party and the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.|
A Shift in Power:
The Pheu Thai Party, whose leadership also consists of young politicians such as Paetongtarn Shinawatra (36 years old), the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and part of Thailand's political dynasty, gained the second-highest number of votes: 10.6 million (27.66%) and secured 141 seats. As a result, the two opposition parties led by young leaders garnered around 70% of the votes, claiming 293 seats out of the 500 seats in the Lower House. On the other hand, the two parties led by military-backed generals, the United Thai Nation Party and the Palang Pracarath Party, received only 11.9% and 1.35% of the votes, respectively, with a combined total of 77 seats.
The Rise of Progressive Youth in Politics:
Thailand has been a Southeast Asian country with the least progressive political tradition. The only period of progressive politics in the Land of Smiles was in 1946 under the leadership of Prime Minister Pridi Banomyong. Pridi, who led the civilian faction in the Siamese Revolution of 1932, is remembered as the father of Thai democracy. His legacy includes Thammasat University, a renowned campus with a progressive tradition. Similar to Indonesia, youth movements have played a crucial role at almost every turning point in Thailand's political history. From student movements opposing dictatorship in the 1970s to pro-democracy movements in 1992, Thammasat University has always been the starting point and the hub of resistance.
The Emergence of the Future Forward Party:
Not surprisingly, in 1976, when the military and right-wing forces launched a counterattack, the university became a bloody site known as the Thammasat Massacre. In 2018, after more than a decade of anti-junta street protests led by the political network of Thaksin Shinawatra and his red shirt movement, the youth began to conceive an alternative political agenda within Thammasat University. In March 2018, dozens of young individuals from diverse backgrounds, including entrepreneurs, academics, and activists, established a new political party: the Future Forward Party (FFP). Two key figures in this youth-led party, Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, were Thammasat University alumni. The FFP pursued a progressive political path, not only challenging the dominance of the military and monarchy in politics but also advocating for economic justice. Interestingly, despite being labeled as progressive and claiming to represent the voice of the common people, the party's leaders were young individuals who ranked among the wealthiest in Thailand. Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit, the Chairman of the FFP, is the owner of Thai Summit Group, a leading automotive parts
manufacturer in Thailand. Regarding this matter, Thanatorn had an intriguing response. "I may be from the 1%, but I stand for the 99%," he said, as quoted by the Bangkok Post on November 1, 2018. The FFP introduced what they referred to as the "Third Way" in politics, attempting to steer Thailand away from the political battleground between Thaksin Shinawatra and his red shirt movement versus the royalists (monarchy supporters) and the military with their yellow shirt movement. They brought a new color to the scene: orange. The FFP's political approach garnered significant electoral support. In the 2019 elections, the party secured 17.3% of the votes, making it the third-largest political force in Thailand. Unfortunately, as a backlash to their threat to the status quo, the party was dissolved by the Thai Constitutional Court in 2020 due to allegations of illegal campaign donations from its own party leader. The dissolution of the FFP triggered protests among the youth, which soon developed into the largest youth demonstrations in the country in 2020-2021. Interestingly, these protests not only questioned the military's dominance in politics but also challenged a taboo subject in Thailand: the monarchy. Concurrently with the eruption of these social protests, on March 8, 2020, Pita Limjaroenrat and 55 parliament members from the FFP formed a new party: the Move Forward Party. This new party had little difference from the FFP, except for a change in name while retaining the same color. The emergence of the Move Forward Party (MFP) demonstrated the enduring spirit of the youth-led parties in Thailand, which remained undeterred by military repression and continued to fight for change.
The Desire for Change:
The outcome of the Thai elections on that Sunday delivered a clear message: the Thai people, especially the youth, no longer feel comfortable living under military and monarchy rule. The headline of the Bangkok Post, a Thai newspaper, captured the wave of change with an intriguing statement: "The armed forces may stage multiple coups with weapons in their hands, but ordinary people will eventually send them back to the barracks with nothing more than paper and pen." In Bangkok, which served as the epicenter of the 2020-2021 protests, the MFP won 32 out of 33 contested seats. The MFP also gained an overwhelming majority of votes in cities such as Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chonburi, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, and others. However, Thai politics is unique. Winning the election does not automatically lead to forming a government. According to the constitution established by the military junta in 2007, the Prime Minister is chosen by the 500 members of the Lower House and 250 members of the Senate. To form a government, the MFP and its coalition need 376 seats. The problem is that the 250 Senate members are directly appointed by the military junta, posing a challenge for Pita Limjaroenrat and the MFP to establish a government. So far, Pita and his coalition have gathered only 310 seats, presenting a formidable challenge. In order to seize power, Pita and the MFP are forced to form the broadest possible coalition, even reaching out to non-democratic forces. To gain support from some Senate members, Pita and the MFP will be required to soften their demands.
However, based on various reports, it seems that Pita and the MFP are determined not to compromise. They will continue to advance their agenda of democratization, decentralization, and the dismantling of monopolies. Their efforts may encounter corrupt schemes similar to what the FFP
experienced, betrayal from the Pheu Thai party, or even another military coup. However, one thing is certain: the Thai people are no longer comfortable living under the shadow of military and monarchy domination. The young generation has risen to rewrite the political history of Thailand, and they are determined to shape a new future for their country.