A radical reformer is poised for a surprise election victory in Thailand

The billionaire’s daughter Phaethongtarn is unlikely to win the election in Thailand, but the Kennedy-like Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old tech entrepreneur who wants to radically reform and democratize his country, is very likely. At least if his party is not banned.

Noel Van Bemel

Thailand collectively chose on Sunday to return to democracy and social and structural reforms. The 42-year-old innovator Pita Limjarronrat, who wants to demolish countless sacred cows, has managed to expand his wild popularity among students to a national majority in recent weeks, with 80 percent of the vote counted. Together with clear winner Phaethongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of the still popular former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the opposition won nearly two-thirds of all seats in the Thai parliament.

The significance of this election was underscored by the massive turnout: More than 80 percent of the 52 million eligible voters waited hours in the blazing sun to cast their ballots. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former general who seized power after a 2014 military coup, received just 6% of the vote. He did not admit his loss Sunday night.

Elite around the royal family

Observers say the coming weeks will be tense, because it remains to be seen whether the business and political elite surrounding the armed forces and the royal family, who hold power in Thailand, will allow the formation of a progressive government. Thailand witnessed 13 military coups in 90 years and also witnessed mass demonstrations after the previous elections because the former generals remained in office.

In recent weeks, the opposition has already been heading for a massive victory in the polls. Many Thais grumble that their country has been at a standstill in terms of the economy for ten years and has been overtaken by neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. In addition, young people in particular are calling for the restoration of civil rights such as democratic elections, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. Hundreds of protesters, including children, have been charged with lese majeste in recent years and face 15 years in prison. Observers say dissatisfaction was expressed on Sunday.

Potential winner Limjaroenrat, a media-savvy tech entrepreneur who studied at Harvard University, is leading the Move Forward party. He is the only person who would dare advocate for a smaller role for the royal family and repeal the royal chastity law. Other campaign promises: Repeal constitutional amendments that undermine democracy, abolish the military draft, dismantle corporate monopolies, restore press freedom, and more rights for LGBT people.

Double the minimum wage

Popular Phaethongtarn goes further: she believes there should be a “talk” about the role of the royal family. It also promised a doubling of the minimum wage, a more generous care package, higher agricultural prices and a one-time subsidy of €270 for those over 16. In foreign policy, the parties are more Western-oriented than the current government.

Tongtren Shinawatra, daughter of the still hugely popular former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, casts her vote.AFP photo

Together, the two opposition parties hold nearly 300 out of 500 parliamentary seats. But this is not enough in Thailand to supply the prime minister. It is appointed by Parliament and a 250-member Senate appointed by the military. Thus, Limjarronrat needs 376 seats to declare himself Prime Minister. Anything less than that means he must start negotiating with all the other parties.

Nor is it unreasonable for Limjaroenrat to be charged or Move Forward banned, as happened in 2020 with that party’s predecessor (due to campaign funds). This was the beginning of large-scale demonstrations that paralyzed the country.

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Denton Watson

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