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The Move Forward party is bringing hope to Thailand’s youth

The progressive political party led by Pita Limjaroenrat won the Thai general election this week thanks to widespread support from Gen Z and Millennials

Young people in Thailand have been celebrating the election triumph of Move Forward: the progressive, anti-military party led by Pita Limjaroenrat and widely supported by Gen Z and Millennials.

In the general election held on May 14, Move Forward won 14.2 million votes and 152 seats, more than any other party, and acquired all but one seat in the country’s capital, Bangkok. Analysts had expected the Thai electorate to vote against the military-backed establishment that has been in power since a 2014 coup, but did not predict that Move Forward would win so many votes. United Thai Nation, the conservative party of current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s party, performed poorly, winning just 36 seats.

Move Forward have campaigned to remove the military’s influence from politics to make the country more democratic, dismantle the big monopolies that dominate the economy, expand the welfare system, modernise the school curriculum, scrap mandatory conscription, and even reform the ‘lese majesty’ law which makes it illegal to insult the monarch of Thailand. Some of the party’s MPs are young political activists with criminal charges on their records for their participation in street protests.

The party is immensely popular among young Thai people, and its success in the election is reflective of the appetite for progressive change among the country’s youth. Commentators have pointed out that Move Forward were able to capitalise on their popularity among young people by using social media platforms such as TikTok to keep momentum for the movement going. The official Move Forward TikTok account surged from 400,000 followers at the start of April to nearly three million at present, while younger MPs have their own platforms too. Rukchanok Srinork (also known as Ice), a 28-year-old who built up a social media following on Clubhouse, captivated young voters by posting videos on Twitter and TikTok of herself canvassing votes while riding around the Bang Bon district on a bicycle.

Youth dissatisfaction with the ruling class has been brewing for some time. In 2020, high school and university students led mass protests in response to a court decision to dissolve Future Forward, a prominent opposition party, after they were found to have violated election laws regarding donations to political parties. Many argued that this was further evidence of the military’s interference in politics and that other parties’ finances were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

Students who took part in the widespread protests were largely united around calls for parliament to be dissolved and Prayuth to be removed as prime minister, an end to the intimidation and harassment of government critics, and for democratic changes to the military-backed establishment. Others also called for the country’s monarchy to be reformed, risking 15 years in prison for breaking the country’s lese majesty law (King Maha Vajiralongkorn ultimately requested that nobody who took part in the protests should be prosecuted under the law).

Despite Move Forward winning the most votes in this general election, they did not secure enough seats to form a majority. They have now agreed with Pheu Thai, another opposition party that came second to Move Forward, to form a coalition government. However, they may face difficulties in ensuring Pita actually becomes prime minister.

This is because Thailand’s prime minister is not only decided by the House of Representatives, whose 500 members were determined by Sunday’s election, but also by the unelected Senate. At present, all 250 senators were appointed by the military after the 2014 coup, and they are generally regarded as part of the conservative establishment. It’s likely that Move Forward’s more radical policies, such as reforming the lese majesty law, could make senators reluctant to allow Pita to lead the country.

Still, Pita is undeterred and optimistic about Move Forward’s victory and Thailand’s future. “It is the consensus from the people, which every side should accept. Resisting the consensus will be of no benefit to anyone,” he said. “The people of Thailand have already spoken their wish, and I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or disagree with me.” In any case, things are looking hopeful, with a number of senators already coming forward to pledge their support for Pita. If (when?) the new government takes office, it’ll make history as the youngest and most progressive government in Thai history.

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