Protesters rallied in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday demanding that conservative senators cease opposing the appointment of the people choice for prime minister from a victorious coalition established during the May general election, a stance that risks a potentially destabilising political gridlock.
Protesters braved the rain to express their rage and displeasure at Senate members who were appointed by the military and pride themselves on defending old royalist ideals, which they believe are under attack.
The Move Forward Party, the surprise election winner, failed in two attempts to get its leader Pita Limjaroenrat approved as the next prime minister, partly due to a lack of support from senators who are concerned about the party’s reformist policy agenda.
With umbrellas and raincoats, up to 1,000 protesters flocked to Bangkok’s popular Asok crossroads. “Senators, get out!” yelled many. Speakers at the peaceful rally also urged political parties in a coalition put together by Move Forward not to “switch sides” by joining forces with other parties that supported the outgoing government of Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a 2014 coup as army commander and was re-elected prime minister after the 2019 election.
Sombat Boonngam-anong, the rally’s organiser, informed the gathering that senators only have the power to vote yes, and that voting nay is unlawful.
“You can only vote yes because the people have already voted yes.” “You don’t have the right to vote on anything else,” he said of the senators’ duties.
The Move Forward Party won the general election in May, forming an eight-party coalition that earned a majority of 312 members in the 500-member House of Representatives. However, under the military-enacted constitution, a new prime minister must win the backing of a combined majority of both the lower house and the unelected 250-seat Senate.
Pita was defeated in the first round of voting and was eliminated from candidature in the last round when a procedural vote determined he could not be nominated a second time.
The alliance convened a meeting on Friday and announced that its second largest member, the Pheu Thai Party, would nominate a candidate and take the lead in building a government. Srettha Thavisin, a real estate billionaire; Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup; and Chaikasem Nitsiri, the party’s chief strategist, are the party’s three prospective nominees.
While declaring that the coalition will stick with its original members for the time being and try to win more votes from conservative lawmakers before the next vote on Thursday, Pheu Thai did not rule out the possibility that Move Forward could be excluded from the coalition entirely if it is to form the government.
On Saturday and Sunday, Pheu Thai met with representatives from many political groups who supported Prayuth as Prime Minister in 2019.
While denying any discussions about joining the alliance, the parties that met with Pheu Thai over the weekend, included the military-backed Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation. They also stated that they would not be willing to do so as long as Move Forward is a member of the bloc.
Some Move Forward supporters believe that the coalition should stand firm rather than welcome new members from the other side of the political spectrum, and that their Pheu Thai colleagues are putting power ahead of principle.
Pheu Thai is the latest in a long line of groups strongly associated with populist millionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in exile to avoid a prison sentence for power abuse that he claims was politically motivated. Supporters of Thaksin’s parties launched repeated major protests against the conservative establishment that deposed him, sparking deadly crackdowns, particularly in 2010, when at least 94 people were killed.
Move Forward’s success was fueled by a popular desire for fundamental structural change in Thailand following nine years of military-backed administration, particularly among young people. The party also seeks to limit the power of the military, which has launched more than a dozen coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, as well as huge commercial monopolies.